Rathfinny Wine Estate

The Great Rathfinny Bake Off

It has been said in the office that when Mark and I are working at ‘full steam,’ it takes everyone three days to recover.  I thought about this at some length this week and think I have worked out why that is.  We are all dealing with such a variety of issues and that, in itself, is tiring.

For example, I now know more than I ever wanted to about fire standards, PSV operator licences, the strength of bunk beds, modern lighting regulations and employment contracts to say nothing of trade marks around the world.  I have been to design fairs showcasing English products, tested soaps for the Flint Barns, chosen pepper pots for the Tasting Room, learnt about the million ways you can make coffee, chosen floorboards, designed a bar, learnt about branding, PR and marketing and on it goes!  Life is never boring and it is certainly full, but it wasn’t quite what I imagined when my husband wistfully said one balmy evening – “shall we start a vineyard?”

And then to top it all, we now have the Great Rathfinny Bake Off.  It started with a flippant remark by one of the vineyard team.

“It would be nice to have a bit of cake with our morning coffee… I hear Sarah makes a good lemon drizzle.”  It has been reported that Nikki (Cameron’s wife) was heard to retort, “that’s because she’s been doing it for 50 years!” You can guess where this is going.  Suddenly (and I’m talking the very next day) she produces a Victoria sponge, complete with cream and home-made jam (behind my back!)

photo 2

Then Liz, who at one stage taught home economics (cooking to you and me) in New Zealand, chimes in with a claim that she makes the best scones in Western Europe and that she won a ‘highly commended’ medal from some local fete in some part of Christchurch, NZ.  The next thing I know, she has snuck down to the vineyard with gingerbread and started selling cakes to the guys building the winery to raise money for Macmillan nurses!

photo copy 2

I had decided to rise above the fray, keep the mystery of the lemon drizzle a mystery and leave it at that.  However Mark decided to take an experimental ginger cake (I blame the recipe) down to the cabin on Monday.  Let us just say Cameron took great pleasure in informing me 3 days later, there was still some left!!

Has no one heard that Christmas bonuses are under review as I write??

PS  Felix did say thanks so I guess he’s safe!

Sarah Driver – The Boss

Read Mark's Article

Rollercoaster Ride

Our progress to enhance the landscape and wildlife on the Estate has really gathered pace over the summer.  I was going to highlight our plans for next year’s provision for more pollen and nectar rich wild flower planting or the technicalities of planting over 100 mature trees to landscape the winery.

Then I took this image of a levitating kidney-spot ladybird and following on from Cameron’s blog, I thought I would extoll the virtues of our wild flower areas being a haven for predatory insects which will assist us in controlling vineyard ‘pests’.


However, my subject matter changed again as the other weekend I was present for the world’s finest rollercoaster ride.

On the 15th September my ride commenced from the vertiginous 13th floor of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospital.  I was a passenger and my wife had a special reserved seat.  After an incredible undulating journey with apprehension, excitement, tears and fears – the finale was quite incredible!

My wife (and passenger me) are now the proud parents to spontaneous triplets to join our 6 year old daughter Romilly – instant large family achieved.  Edward took the finishing tape at 11.43am weighing in at 4lb 15, closely followed by Miles (3lb 4) and Cordelia (4lb 6).


Edward is a particular boy’s name we chose, Miles is Latin for soldier as he had to be a little fighter during his time ‘inside’ and Cordelia was King Lear’s favourite and youngest daughter.

My wife and I will forever remember the rollercoaster for various reasons and she has recovered amazingly well from the journey.  She is the proverbial rock.  All 3 small dudes are now in the incredible care of the Trevor Mann Baby Unit.  The level of care is indescribable.  All of the staff should wear halos.  I am completely in awe of the work they undertake to look after all the “little people”.

So deep breaths.  Shoulders back.  Work to be done on the vineyard and surrounding Estate.

What a ride though.

Richard James – Landscape and Environmental Officer

Read Richard's Article

Completion of the winery in sight

We are at that stage in the building program when everyone is blaming everyone else for the delays, and our winery building is still not finished. It’s very frustrating as we had hoped to be in by now and testing all the new equipment, instead of which we are still waiting for various areas to be completed.

Winery nearly complete

One of the main factors being blamed for the delay is the fact that the new power supply was only switched on last Monday. I didn’t know how complicated and disjointed our power network is in the UK. The new power cable into the sub-station behind the winery has been in for months but we then needed a meter, but before you have a meter you need something else, which has to be done by someone who is not connected to the meter provider. Round and round you go and eventually when everyone returns from summer holidays, they then try and work through the backlog and power gets turned, on six weeks late.

The other factor being blamed is the tradition of European factories closing down in August and it would appear that the UK has become European; even our local cement company closed down for three weeks in August and we are still waiting for a ceiling, which was ordered in July, to be delivered for our tasting room.

winery landscaping

In the meantime the landscaping is continuing and we have planted nearly a hundred trees on the bank in front of the winery and now the shrubs are being planted.

Whilst we wait for the winery building to be completed the steel frame in the Flint Barns, to be used for seasonal workers accommodation, is going up and the structure is starting to take shape.

steel in FB

Oh, and the vineyard team are still putting in wires and trellising posts and spreading compost under our young vines. It’s all go….


I hope it warms up as it feels like winter has arrived!

Mark Driver

Read Mark's Article

The French press

There was great excitement at Rathfinny last week when our gleaming new French grape press arrived.

Our new grape press, manufactured by Coquard, near Reims, France, in the Champagne region, required a specialised lifting system to lift it into place at the eastern  entrance of the winery.


Note the customised red colour – it should be bright enough to keep the press operator awake even late at night!

There are 2 main types of presses, horizontal and vertical, but the Coquard breaks the mould:

– A vertical press, as traditionally used in Champagne, is a circular structure with a vertical axle. It gets filled with grapes and a plate moves down and compresses the mass, allowing juice to flow out.

VerticalpressOnce grapes have been squeezed and juice has been extracted, the mass becomes a “gâteau” (cake), quite compact and hard to keep pressing. In order to extract some more juice the press releases the pressure, and using forks, the press operator has to turn up that cake, to uncompact the mass and rearrange it so it can be pressed again.
This action is called, in Champagne, “la retrousse”.

– A horizontal press is a metallic cage rotating on a horizontal axle.
Nowadays, lots of presses use a technology combining compressed air and a membrane (some say a bladder).

The membrane inflates, creating pressure and squeezing juice out of the berries.
The cycles consist of alternating inflation and deflation. Sometimes, while the membrane is deflated, the cage rotates a few times, rearranging the mass of grapes within the cage, facilitating further cycles of pressing. This rearrangement or “turn up” mimics the “retrousse”.

The Coquard press is hydraulic. Its principle is that, with 2 plates, one immobile and one moved by a piston, it replicates the traditional vertical Champagne press. But having both these inclined, when the moving plate releases the pressure, and creates space, the cake is inclined and its weigh makes it fall, creating a natural “retrousse” by gravity.

The press sit 6 meters over our heads in the cellar, which will allow juice transfer by gravity, rather that having to use a pump – it is considered a more gentle process.

Jonathan Médard – Winemaker

Read Jonathan's Article

Bad hare day… a thing of the past.

Being a photographer I tend to work in images rather than words however, something happened this week which has inspired me to add a few words to accompany some of my images. After 18 months of watching and waiting I have finally managed to photograph one of the more shy and elusive creatures who inhabit Cradle Valley at Rathfinny Estate, The Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Hare 1

When I discovered that hares were living on the Rathfinny estate I was naturally enthusiastic about this photographic opportunity and felt the need to photograph them quickly before the vineyard developed, became to busy and perhaps scared them away .   However,  I was later intrigued to discover the  fact that hares are often associated with vineyards across the world to the extent that some vineyards and wines are named after them; these are just a few I discovered after a quick search:

  • Dancing Hare Vineyard, Napa Valley USA ( produces a bottle of red called Mad Hatter)
  • Running Hare Vineyard, Maryland USA (which produces a Jack Rabbit red and a Jack Rabbit white)
  • The Leaping Hare Vineyard Restaurant in Suffolk
  • Wild Hare Vineyard, Kansas

Clearly hares were enjoying life at Rathfinny long before the first vine was planted but interestingly, and despite the fact that hares are on the decline in the UK, their numbers appear to be increasing at Rathfinny.  Maybe they like the shade and the protection against predators that the vines offer and perhaps they just have a fondness for foraging the wild downland grasses that grow on the estate.  Whatever the reason, they appear to be respectful of the vines and are living in harmony with the vineyard.  The Leverets (young hares) even appear to enjoy playing games of dodge with the tractors as they drive up and down the vines.

Hare 2

For those of you who have never seen a hare and are wondering what the difference is between a hare and a rabbit here are a few hare facts:

  • Hares are significantly larger than rabbits, their ears are longer with black tips
  • Due to the length of their back legs their gait can be likened to that of a wallaby or kangaroo – almost a lollop in comparison to the rabbits dainty hopping. This almost clumsy walk/hop gives way to a graceful and spectacular run. And at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour hares are the fastest mammals in the UK.
  • Hares do not give birth to their young below ground in a burrow but above ground in a ‘form’, which is a shallow depression in the grass.
  • Unlike the rabbit, hares are born with their eyes open and covered in hair.
  • Generally nocturnal and shy in nature hares change their behaviour in spring where they can be seen chasing each other and standing on their back legs striking each other with their paws (boxing) which is generally the female fighting off the males unwanted attention. It is this spring frenzy or mating dance which has lead to the English idiom “Mad as a March Hare”.

Capturing an image of this elusive creature soon became a bit of a personal mission for me.  Hours of fruitless waiting and watching has lead to the phrase ‘bad hair day’ taking on a whole new meaning in our household. On one occasion I had been lying still watching in vain for hours, when I decided to call it a day and stood up to go.  A hare sprung and ran from less than 10 feet away from me!  It must have been there all the time.  When feeling threatened, hares will flatten themselves to the earth to avoid being to noticed –  it works!  He was too fast and I too slow, all I managed to capture was a blurry back leg.

Hare 3

My mission is far from over,  there has been a sighting of some leverets playing amongst the vines at present and  I hope to capture some images of the hares boxing in the spring, so keep a look out on the Gallery.

Viv Blakey – Resident Photographer at Rathfinny Wine Estate

Read Mark's Article


Alfriston is undergoing essential mains water replacement and there is no through access from 3rd January – 30th May. Click below for alternative routes: