Rathfinny Wine Estate

Thinking about wine storage

We are starting to work on the next phase of Rathfinny’s development, and one of the most important projects involves the storage of wine whilst it matures on the yeast lees in the bottle.

Between bottling the wine and disgorging, the bottled wine will be stored in cages. They are literally metallic cages, each approximately one metre long, one metre wide, one metre high. Each cage holds 504 standard bottles, and the cages are stackable, which is rather practical for storage.


Imagine this: when the vineyard is completely developed, the plan is to produce 1 million bottles a year. That means, we’ll have to store about 2000 cages for the first peak year. Say that our stacks are 5 cages high, it would require 400 stacks that would occupy a floor space of 400m2.. But we need to be able to move these cages, and separate the different types of wine: we’ll have to create alleys to allow for forklift traffic, and leave a bit of space to work around. Maybe an additional 30% space would be useful. This ups the floor space requirement to 520m2. Assuming a square room, it would have to be 23 metres by 23 metres, and 6 or 7 metres high. As we are planning on ageing the wines for about 3 years, we need 3 times this storage space. We are now at 1560m2. As one square room it would have to be 40 metres by 40 metres, at the same 7 metre height. Now, this is the minimal workable space. I’d like a bit more for operational flexibility, maybe rounding up to 1700 or 1800m2. This would be quite a large building: an 1800m2 footprint, to give a sense of scale, is 7 tennis courts. Or, if the cages were not stacked, they would cover an entire rugby pitch (don’t mention Rugby!).

Instead of using cages, we could go the old fashion way. Sur lattes, which means “on (wood) slats”, the bottles are piled with wood slats between rows to stabilise, as shown on this picture:

Sur lattes

We’d have to dig and carve caves in the chalk like producers have in Champagne, such as this one:


It would be very pretty, no? Unfortunately, I estimate it would have to be over 1.5 kilometres long…

Form versus function: which do you prefer?

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

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Sarah’s a wine expert – it’s official!

We have had the most wonderful weather over the last few days – long may it last!  Sunny, warm, blossom on the cherry trees and no mud – truly gorgeous. Our local farmer is now concerned that we’ve had our rain for the year!  In the vineyard the pruning has finished, the buds are starting to swell and Cameron is telling me we may have an early bud burst this year.  There is a sense of excitement around the place that is all to the good.


What have I been up to?  Well, the most exciting thing has been that Georgia and I took our WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 – and passed, with distinction!! (I think I even got a higher grade than Mark, though he responds with ‘a little knowledge can be dangerous Sarah!’)

Anyway, as I’ve long wanted to do, I want to write an easy explanation of tasting and enjoying wine, which I have to confess I am starting to learn to do.  I never thought I would be the one to swill a glass and say “mmmm, spicy, black fruit with hints of pepper!”

Here goes ….. (for the experienced among you, just skip this bit)

Approach your tasting as you would a glass of wine – no, not a grab and gulp but with your

EYES – is it clear or hazy?

How intense is it – pale or deep?

What colour is it?  If it’s white, is it lemon or amber.  For red, purple or ruby?  Hold it, slightly tilted, above a sheet of white paper and see the difference.

NOSE – does it have an intense smell and what can you smell?

Clue – at first I didn’t notice much, but after you’ve tasted a chardonnay a few times and everyone says oak, you’ll start to notice it, especially if you put it next to a un-oaked one, which is currently becoming more popular.  You may start to think lemons and limes or mango and pineapple, depending upon where the chardonnay came from.  Mark says go to a supermarket and literally smell the fruit.

Clue 2 – hotter climates produce more tropical flavours – just relate it to what you would find on your holidays.  If you’re in northern France, it’s more apples, whilst in Australia or South Africa it’s melons and passion fruit and pineapple.  (Now someone’s going to tell me you don’t get those in S Africa!!)

MOUTH (though it’s posh to say Palate!) – 5 things here:-

  • Sweet – this isn’t too hard to work out
  • Acidity – here you’re judging how much your mouth waters – think ‘lemons’ and you’ll know what I mean
  • Body – mmm, kind of the depth and feel in your mouth.
  • Flavour – to be honest, often much the same as the aromas you’ve smelt.
  • Finish – how long the taste lingers.

To do all of this you need practice – and more practice – yah!!!

I thoroughly recommend the WSET course – check out http://www.wsetglobal.com – because it gives you the chance to try lots of wines and then you’re off.  See – an expert already.  Watch this space for more exciting info on how to be a wine whizz!  You never know, one day it might be me they want to interview!

For an outline to the WSET systematic approach you can download the following file: http://www.wsetglobal.com/documents/l2_wine_satcard_2012_eng_new.pdf


Sarah Driver

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Spring’s arrived….

After what has been the wettest winter since records began it is a relief to have a bit of sunny weather. My daughter has taken to posting pictures of blue sky on Instagram and we stare in awe at the night sky seeing stars again.

So the question I’m asked the most at the moment is, ‘how has the wet weather affected the vines?’

Flint Barns feb14

Well the honest answer is that apart from some soil erosion as you can see from the picture above, the fields look white as the chalk becomes more exposed, the main effect of the rain is that it has been very hard to get things done. Typically during January and February, as explained in Cameron’s latest blog, we are pruning our vines. However, pruning vines in the rain spreads diseases so we have had to wait for dry days. Consequently we are about two weeks behind on pruning and we are about three weeks behind on the building work on the Flint Barns which will provide accommodation for seasonal workers. However, the main problem this winter for us has been the wind. We had gale after gale to contend with. We lost a chunk off the roof of one of our grain barns and it has slowed down the contractors who are putting up temporary wind breaks. During the last severe gale, eight posts were bent over, when wind speeds of over 120mph were recorded on the Isle of Wight!

Alfriston has also suffered. Luckily the Environment Agency dredged the entrance to the Cuckmere just prior to the worst of the rain and so, although the entrance to Alfriston village was closed for a while due to flooding, the Cuckmere was emptying reasonably well, until the storms moved the shingle along the beach again and closed off the entrance. I hope the EA look at dredging the Cuckmere river around Alfriston and keep dredging the entrance otherwise Alfriston will be lost under water.

Wet Cuckmere

However, we are now seeing real signs of spring and although the winter was very wet it has been very mild. We haven’t had any really cold weather at all and lately the vineyard crew are almost in T-shirts again. Spring bulbs have burst out and the buds on the vines are noticeably swelling. If it stays this way we could have an early bud-burst, which is good for the season but worrying as we might get a late frost.

Lastly – we have been active on Twitter recently highlighting how much tax is paid on wine in the UK.

As you can read on the Baudoc Blog – http://blog.bauduc.com/2014/02/11/why-the-uk-duty-on-wine-is-unfair/ – over 57% of the cost of the average bottle of wine is tax. We have one of the highest rates of duty on wine of any country in Europe and we pay VAT on top of this excise duty!

The problem started in 2008 when Alistair Darling introduced a duty escalator on wine, beer and spirits. This was meant to last for four years but was extended on wine and spirits in 2013 by George Osborne. It means that duty rises by 2% above the rate of inflation, so duty has risen by over 54% over the last five years! It’s about time we called time on this horrendous rise in excise duty.

Mark Driver

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Are we making a mark in history?

On returning from a family holiday to Champagne, France, I was awakened to the history that surrounds winemaking.

It was my first visit to Champagne and my first real look at its history and how champagne came about. Coming from New Zealand where there are wineries on nearly every street corner, I never realised or thought about the fact that grape growing and winemaking has been around for so long. The wine industry in New Zealand is reasonably new in comparison, as we are a very young country. We grow and make amazing wines, but nothing remarkable was founded there.

We visited Rue De Champagne (a very nice road in Epernay, that situates all of the Champagne Houses) and stopped off at Moet & Chandon to take a guided tour through their 17 miles of underground cellars. The tour started in the house of founder Claude Moet, with a brief history of the beginning of Moet, in front of a rather large oil painting of Claude himself.


Over 250 years ago, Claude Moet’s vision was to transform a prestigious but little known regional wine, into a favourite of people throughout Europe. It was however, his grandson, Jean-Remy (also in large oil painted form) who took Moet out into the world and made the wine and himself famous.

Sounding all so familiar?!

It was in the car travelling home that I discussed making a mark in history. I think of history makers as a thing of the past, things have been done already. It suddenly dawned on me that being a part of Rathfinny, we are all creating something that in many years and generations later will be considered a huge part of English Wine history.

I came away from Epernay with an insight into old and new, and how Rathfinny is merging the two. Using traditional winemaking methods in a new world wine environment, Rathfinny is creating a sparkling wine, and it’s English! Growing vines over the largest single site vineyard in England and aiming to produce over one million bottles per year….that to me is making a mark in history.

Along with the success of their champagne, it was Moet who pioneered some of the great traditions we still see. The ritual of sabering the bottle, the tower of champagne glasses, the christening of ships and of course the car racing celebration of spraying the crowd in champagne. So, those have already been traditions done, but soon there will be no need to reach across the channel to celebrate triumphant moments, when these moments can be celebrated with an English Sparkling, making them even more spectacular as it’s home-grown. Rathfinny in the future, I’m sure will have its pioneering moments.

250 years later……Is when founders Mark and Sarah Driver, posing, from their large framed oil painting, welcome visitors to the Rathfinny Cellars. What we do as a company now will be remembered years later. Now, to get the Drivers to sit for their historical oil painting…….It’s a must in history for the founders of great things!

Nikki Roucher – Manager, Gun Room

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Pruning expectations

Managing a vineyard is as much about managing expectations as it is managing vines.

Pruning is a typical case, what can sometimes look like a harsh haircut is in fact the best thing for the vine. On the other hand a poorly pruned vine may take some years to recover, which is why it is so important to get right.


Pruning is single-handedly the most expensive operation in a vineyard and the most important part of the growing season. It determines how much fruit the vine will try to crop, and how many shoots it will grow. This is the key factor in managing the growth and potential fruit for the coming season, as vines will only produce fruit from one-year-old wood.


While there is often expectation to see a crop early from the vines this is often not a good idea, the vines have to be able to carry the fruit without putting stress on their system- its all about balance, and while the vines are young it is often difficult to predict the correct crop load.

In our case we are erring on the side of caution – we’ve had 2 unusual seasons (in the case of our older vines). The first year it was very wet during the growing season, which meant the root growth was minimal- which in turn means the shoot growth is minimal. The second season it was very dry during the growing season, which also means minimal root and shoot growth. This is why we are not pushing the vines to get too much fruit this year. We will have some, and while the quality will be there we won’t have huge tonnages.

Cameron Roucher – Vineyard Manager

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