Rathfinny Wine Estate


Wine drinkers: what role does the packaging of your wine and, more precisely, the label play in your decision to purchase? Does it influence your enjoyment of the product inside?

To me, label quality is very important. I have tasted fantastic wines with labels of mediocre quality (cheap paper, unimaginative design, neither classic nor original), but I often prefer a bottle that is nicely packaged. After all, the whole wine experience starts long before the liquid has been poured into a glass.

If a bottle is attractive, with a label on thick, textured paper, it lends an additional dimension to its enjoyment. The tactile sensation of the fingertips running along a finely embossed, debossed, or foiled label is an additional sensory component to evaluating a product.

Rathfinny is in the midst of designing its label and, as with other new brands I’ve been involved with in California, it is quite an exercise to achieve an elegant, informative, original label that both respects tradition yet stands alone.

Famous Champagne house Veuve Clicquot is, interestingly, suing an Italian sparkling producer because of label colour, which Veuve Clicquot views as an infringement on their iconic image: the yellow-orange Champagne label. Clicquot claims that the design and, specifically, the colour are too similar and would confuse customers.

My preliminary, non-legal viewpoint from online label images is that the prints on the labels are distinct, with only one commonality: the word Brut.  Particularly interesting is that this legal battle is being waged not against another Champagne brand (where one would think the real marketplace competition would be), but with what appears to be a small, seemingly innocent Italian sparkling producer.

At first glance, like in the image below, I see little room for confusion. But, as I browsed online for various pictures of either label, it is interesting to see how the difference in angle, lighting, and photography can influence our perception of the label. For online shoppers, it becomes increasingly clear how this may lead to consumer confusion.

The article I read on wine-searcher.com justifies my above opinion, as you will see that while both labels are a bright colour that would pop on a shelf, one is salmon, the other gold:


While the above appear to be printer’s proofs, when the Italian label is photographed in a different context (an actual label on a bottle in the real world), it’s easier to see possible room for confusion:

original-veuve Ciro Picariello

That said, I can see two other Champagne labels whose label colour closely resembles that of Veuve Clicquot’s iconic yellow-orange one, depending on photography:




Has Clicquot taken legal action against those colleagues/competitors as well? Not that I’ve heard. But the text is totally distinct, and each label here has a unique image unlikely to be confused with Cliquot. It is most likely a different colour in person.

Clearly, the digital environment offers a different consumer experience than shopping in person: browsing the shelves, touching the labels, seeing the real-life colours and logos. It can influence our decision to buy, or not buy. Where a product might be confused online, it might be totally distinct in person, or vice versa.

However, I maintain that, in order to understand the actual possibility of brand confusion, it must be done on a physical label, on bottle, in hand.

I guess what I am asking is: can anyone send me a bottle of each so I can make a proper assessment?

Jonathan Medard – Winemaker

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Flint Barns take shape

Another busy, varied week which started with a trip to the Home, Craft and Top Drawer exhibition at Earls Court with Georgia and Nikki.  Not only were we looking for ideas for the Gun Room’s spring and summer collections, we were on the look out for everything to fit out the Flint Barns.  After what seemed like miles of trekking down row after row of over-lit aisles, trying to keep up a pace, we left exhausted but full of ideas.

The Gun Room and Heritage Centre with its history of Alfriston and the Cuckmere Valley, has been a big success and Nikki and her team have done wonders in creating a stylish, peaceful place to escape, read and browse.  I for one am sold on the Caudalie range of beauty products (made from grape and vine extracts) – you may not recognise me, I look so young and radiant!  The candles, wine jellies, leather notebooks, gorgeous glasses, vases, books about Sussex – the list goes on and on – are soon to be supplemented by a new spring range and we are talking to local artists about new ideas.  Watch this space!


Equally exciting was my first visit to the Flint Barns since the roof has gone on.  It has really changed the space and made it seem much bigger.  Within the ‘body’ of the old barns, two floors have now appeared and you can really begin to see the vision.  It’s been, and will continue to be, a challenge.  I’m so glad we started work on them before the recent storms, as I’ve no doubt they wouldn’t be standing if we hadn’t.  (They were originally damaged in the 1987 hurricane).  As always, we are trying to mix the old with the new, keeping and restoring the original flint walls for example, yet creating windows that will allow the light to flood in.

We are aiming to achieve a comfortable, stylish ‘home’ that will house and feed up to 50 people at a time, be they seasonal workers tired from the vineyards, groups of school children who have spent the day exploring the Cuckmere Valley and the South Downs or a special interest group of 12 who have spent the day bird watching, painting or writing.  It’s an ambitious project – we’re not a hostel, but we’re not a hotel.  We hope to be a ‘home away from home’.


Final exciting ‘high’ of the week is that we have agreed to become sponsors of the Charleston Festival, a literary festival that runs between 16th – 26th May and again with Small Wonder, a short story festival in the autumn.  We aim to collaborate with them on a range of things as time goes by, so again, watch this space.

Sarah Driver

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Why does English Sparkling sell at a discount to Champagne?

One question we are often asked is why does English Sparkling Wine cost so much? I think we should be asking “why does English Sparkling wine cost less than Champagne?”

No one seems to question the price of French Champagne or alternatively question why many Prosecco’s are cheaper than Champagne and English Fizz! So I thought I’d try and explain and hopefully convince you that far from being expensive, English Sparkling Wine is in fact a bargain.

In the BBC’s recently aired “The 12 Drinks for Christmas”, drinking buddies Alexander Armstrong and Giles Coren ‘chose the booze that will give them their Christmas spirit’. They each chose a sparkling wine for Christmas day and tasted it against the other. Armstrong chose Bollinger Special Cuvée, a safe choice. A wonderful rich, premium Champagne, aged for over three years on the yeast lees and made predominantly of pinot noir with chardonnay and pinot meunier. Giles Coren chose an English Sparkling Wine – Gusbourne’s 2008 Brut Reserve, made predominantly of chardonnay with pinot noir and meunier. And guess what? When tasting the two wines side by side they both agreed that the Gusbourne was the preferred wine. This is nothing new. English fizz has won more awards in international competitions than any other wine region in the world over the last eight years. However, the most interesting thing for me is that Bollinger generally sells for £35 a bottle whilst Gusbourne costs £25.

So why do people keep saying that English Sparkling Wine is expensive? Perhaps they are comparing it with Prosecco or other new world fizz. So let me explain why you may not be comparing like with like, or apples with apples.

The reason is that English fizz is made in the “traditional or Champagne method”: the grapes are hand picked, the whole bunches are pressed in the same way, the juice is fermented in similar tanks, then the wine is bottled with a little sugar and yeast for its secondary fermentation and aged on the yeast lees for a length of time (generally 2-3 years). The secondary fermentation puts the bubbles in the wine! Yes, some English fizz is made of the grape variety Seyval Blanc, but the majority is made predominantly from the same classic three varieties (chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier) as Champagne. It therefore costs the same to produce, if not more, as we generally don’t have the same economies of scale as the French. Oh, and the excise duty and VAT involved is the same on both wines.

cellar taittinger

So why is Prosecco and certain other fizz cheaper? The main reason is that it that might not be made in the same “traditional method”. Prosecco is the coca-cola of the wine world. It is generally mass-produced in large tanks in what’s called the “Charmat or Italian method”. This means that the secondary fermentation (which puts the fizz in the wine) takes place in these large stainless steel tanks and the sparkling wine is then transferred into bottles under pressure. Whilst the “traditional or Champagne method” means that the secondary fermentation takes place in individual bottles over a number of years, not months. So please don’t compare English fizz to Prosecco, compare it to the Italian Franciacorta, which is made in the “traditional method” and interestingly costs £28-60 a bottle!

Next time you are looking for a sparkling wine to celebrate a special occasion, reach for the English and stop saying that English fizz is expensive. As Messrs. Armstrong and Coren discovered it’s actually very good value compared to French Champagne. It’s the same wine, made in the ‘traditional method’ and often considered better.

Wine made in the same method, on the same band of chalk, just 80-100 miles north of the Champagne region, often considered to be better than and priced at a 20-50% discount to the French stuff, sounds like a bargain to me!!

So perhaps it’s time we started saying “why does English Sparkling wine cost less than Champagne?”

Mark Driver

PS – Before you write and tell me how much you like Prosecco, or Cava, I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t or that they are not good wines. I’m not a wine snob, but please consider the differences rather than the similarity i.e. they are both fizzy, but certain wine producing methods cost more than others and lead to other benefits – bottled fermented wines yield finer bubbles, which last longer in the glass and have those yeasty characteristics and depth of flavour.

PPS – Have you visited our shop or the Heritage Centre yet in the Gun Room on the Tye  Alfriston?


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Grenada and back for Christmas

As many of you will have heard, I recently sailed across the Atlantic from the Canaries to Grenada in the Caribbean. It took us seventeen days and it was a real adventure.

I’d always wanted to cross the Atlantic, but in a comfortable boat with enough water and food, in a safe enough environment, in a boat designed for the task. So with six like-minded chaps we set off from Gran Canaria on the 22nd November in an Oyster 66 sailing yacht and headed south to find the elusive trade winds that are meant to blow you over the Atlantic. We sailed and motored south then west then south again and sadly we didn’t find the ‘Trades’ until we were six hundred miles from Barbados. We did catch lots of fish and read a few books on the way. Some of you might have followed our blog – http://goodwindsatalantic.wordpress.com


When we arrived in Grenada our wives had flown out to join us and we had a brief cruise up through the Grenadines to St. Lucia where we left the boat to fly home for Christmas.

We returned to a damp, stormy UK. Luckily the vines are resting at this time of year, and although our old cattle barn sustained a little damage and the Cuckmere flooded the valley and parts of Alfriston, the rest of Rathfinny got off lightly from the recent storms and luckily the new roof had been completed on the Flint Barns.

Flint Barns

I’d like to thank everyone at Rathfinny for all their hard work over the last year. We have achieved a lot in the last twelve months – we planted a further 20 hectares of vines and the vineyard team put up all the trellising. We completed the Winery building, removed all the overhead electricity cables running across the estate and replaced them with underground cables, and we opened the Gun Room, our store in the Alfriston. We started work on the seasonal workers accommodation at the Flint barns and got planning permission for a new entrance. It has been a very busy year.

Happy New Year to all and may the weather gods shine brightly on us for a more normal summer in 2014.

Mark Driver


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More than meets the eye

The Heritage Centre and our cellar door, the Gun Room, are now in full swing and just like any puppy they are simply ‘not just for Christmas’

Upstairs the Heritage Centre provides an insight to the wealth of history in the village of Alfriston and its surrounds.  There’s information on the history of wine with some key facts on its production in England.  This is enhanced by a time lapse film showing the rise of Rathfinny Wine Estate up from the Downs supported with some stunning still photography from Viv Blakey.

Going back downstairs and into the warmth of the oak clad cellar door (where in the future we will be selling our wine).  Now – we are all happy in the knowledge that Jonathan bathes in Beaujolais Nouveau.  But the power of wine does not stop there.  I always tell myself that a glass here and there is good for me, and now I know that wine and the mighty grape IS good for me!

I can consume it and wear it.  Thanks to Caudalie who produce a vast array of products made from grape stems, seeds and skins which form the basis of their skin care range.  Being a bloke I was rather sceptical of all the blurb.  Breaking away from the mould I decided to read the instructions (ingredients in this case).  As I’m not adverse to wearing pink, I can say that it is rather clever and from my point of view – natural.  And it works.

So now I have younger looking skin – what next?  Firstly, we need to gem up on our wine knowledge and that can be done with the hand picked selection of wine literature available or even tickle our nasal hairs with some olfactory obstacles in the form of a wine sensory kit.   But this is not as good as the real thing and for that you need some attractive looking receptacles.  There are glasses, goblets and decanters to suit all tastes and consumption levels.

Once replete with the beverages there are some fantastic champagne chocolates and the devilishly tasting Brix ‘slabs’ of chocolate specifically created to accompany wine.  Absolute heaven. (Did you know that Brix is the measure of sucrose in solution and more importantly the name of Jonathan’s dog? – Ed.)

So skin smooth, stomach sufficed and glass full.  Now to sit back, light a candle, read a book or just relax.  Did I mention there are wine smelling candles, leather bound folios and a myriad of other gifts?

In the future the Gun Room will also be the start and finish point for our Estate Tours and will also be holding specialist events so keep your eyes peeled for updates on the website and in our Newsletter.

Richard James – Trainee Assistant Shop Substitute

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As most of our avid readers will now know, we have come to the realisation that we do indeed have a windy site. The trees that we planted, some of them over 2 years ago are slowly growing up to provide shelter for the vines, but the problem being the operative word is slowly.

So we’re now installing windbreaks for our windbreaks.


With a start made toward the end of November, the guys from Negus Glass have been first setting out the lines and then drilling holes ready for the upright supports of the windbreaks- they even managed to find where our water main went, which has always been a bit of a mystery to its exact location.

Over the last couple of weeks they’ve been setting in the base steel, before the uprights go in. As we do get such strong winds these windbreaks have to be of a top standard and as a result are incredibly sturdy.

This is not a 5 minute job, these guys will be on site for the next 3 months.


Once finished we’ll have 4m high windbreaks, which should provide shelter for most of the vineyard, meaning we can finally get the growth that we’ve been waiting for on the vines. The other benefit being that it will allow our trees to grow up to their full potential, once this has happened we’ll then be able to recycle the windbreak for another part of the property to allow other trees to grow faster. The idea of the windbreaks is not to completely stop the wind, just slow it down to a level that we can live with, the product we are using will slow the speed down by 50%.


In terms of vineyard team, they as Richard mentioned in the last blog have been clearing scrub- and repairing the odd water main. It’s a quiet time of the year for the vineyard before we start pruning. It’s the time of year when everyone takes a well-earned break and we can catch up on all the essential maintenance and odd jobs that need doing.

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