Celebrate English Wine Week 2021: Sip Rathfinny Sussex Sparkling wines at your summer parties and picnics.
Vines have been cultivated across England since Roman times, with the Domesday Book referring to Southern English vineyards as early as the 11th century.
There are now more than 700 vineyards across England and Wales, backed by £6 million of government investment to develop modern methods and technology to protect the countryside and land. The climate complements the growth of slow-ripening grapes giving them their unique, delicate flavour.
Today, sparkling wine makes up to 72% of all wine produced in the UK and is served regularly at Royal state dinners and government receptions. In the last couple of years, England has become one of the fastest expanding wine regions in the world and continues to gain international acclaim for fine quality.
English Wine Week takes place from the 19th-27th June 2021, so the perfect time to support local vineyards and try something different.
Primarily made with the same grapes as Champagne (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier), English sparkling wine is also produced in the “traditional method”, so home-grown fizz can be as good as the famous French brands. A few champagne houses, such as Taittinger, have been buying prime vineyards in the UK due to suitable climate and terrain.
The Rathfinny Wine Estate in East Sussex was founded in 2010 by Mark and Sarah Driver taking on the challenge to produce their own brand of fine sparkling wine. It occupies the main part of Cradle Valley just three miles from the sea, near Alfriston village.
After eighteen months of preparation Rathfinny planted the first 60,000 vines on a 50 acres site in April 2012 and now has 375,000 vines over 226 acres. Further development will continue over the next few years with an environmentally friendly, sustainable ethos.
The principal grapes varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – have been planted for the Sussex Sparkling Wine, with a few blocks of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris for their Cradle Valley Still wine. Sussex has limestone chalk soils, resulting in high-quality grapes similarly found in the area of Champagne, France. Also, the cool climate preserves the acidity needed to make quality sparkling wine. With the sea in such close proximity any frost risk is well mitigated while a breeze keep the fruit ventilated. Grapes are picked in late October for the perfect, very ripe, healthy fruit.
Rathfinny Estate has a knowledgeable team of staff with international experience: Cameron Roucher from New Zealand is the Estate Manager, and Jonathan Médard, is a French winemaker from Épernay, who has also worked in California. They both agree that this Vineyard has the perfect location, soil and climate to produce world class sparkling wines.
The first Still wine was released in 2015 under the Cradle Valley label, and the inaugural Sussex Sparkling, Blanc de Blancs launched June 2018. Summer 2020 unveiled an exciting full range of Classic Cuvée, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Brut.
“We produce small amounts of still wine, but we’re predominately a sparkling wine producer. High quality ‘Sussex’ Sparkling wine requires at least three years to mature in the bottle to develop all those complex flavours, so I’ve had to learn to be patient, but we’re very proud of our first sparkling wines.”
Mark Driver, co-owner of Rathfinny Estate
Rathfinny Sussex Sparkling has received glowing praise from wine critics including Will Lyons of The Sunday Times describing Rathfinny’s Blanc de Noirs as “decadent and world-class.”
Recently released, Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs Brut 2017 is the third vintage of Sussex Sparkling with a limited production of only 9,333 bottles, made from 100% Chardonnay and aged for 36-months on the lees. 12% ABV.
What Rathfinny say:
A luminous, flaxen-gold hue leads to a heady nose of ripe papaya and creamy lemon balm, a refined beading of white peach and fennel pollen with a silken, yuzu zest finish.
This refined sparkling wine meshes sublimely with the sweet delicacy of lobster, the velvet-texture of a goat’s cheese and fig tartlet or pairs perfectly with oysters.
THE TASTE TEST
Colour – translucent with a pale gold shimmer.
Time to serve: the sparkling effervescence is lively, but this settles quickly with delicate bubbles rising to the surface.
Aroma: well-balanced, fresh, with the fragrance of crisp apple and citrus.
Flavour: an enticing basket of peach, apricot and apple fruitiness with earthy herbal tones; the ripe, tart, juicy chardonnay grapes is to the fore with lingering fresh zesty lemon and smooth honey tones. Underlying a soft subtle sweetness, a hint of buttery toasted brioche gives a delicately dry finish on the palate.
Serve well chilled as an aperitif with canapés and this signature English fizz is just perfect for celebrations.
Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs is light in texture and perfect to complement seafood – smoked salmon, tuna nicoise, grilled lobster with garlic butter and oysters.
The establishment of a Sussex wine PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) ensures that Sussex wines have provenance and quality and will continue to be considered amongst the very best in the world.
When at full capacity, the Rathvinny aims to produce nearly eighty thousand cases of Sussex Sparkling wine per annum, making Rathfinny one of England’s most significant wine producers.
“Our ambition is that in twenty years’ time you will walk into a bar or restaurant in New York or Beijing and you’ll be asked, ‘would you like a glass of Champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex, I can recommend the Rathfinny.”
As well as a wine producer, the Estate is a popular destination for visitors, walkers and food and wine enthusiasts. Working with Natural England, National Trust and South Downs National Park, a programme of improvements has enhanced the local habitat to encourage wildlife and The ‘Rathfinny Trail’ allows the public access to parts of the Wine Estate.
Visit Rathfinny Estate for wining, dining and short break experiences.
Book a tour to learn all about how the harvested grapes are crafted into sparkling wines, concluding with a tasting.
Rathfinny Picnic Hampers for gourmet alfresco feasts of seasonal, locally sourced good food complemented by chilled Rathfinny Sussex wines. https://rathfinnyestate.com/summer-al-fresco-dining/
The Tasting Room with scenic views overlooking the Vineyard and South Downs, serves a menu of modern British cuisine and awarded a Michelin Plate in 2020. Head Chef Chris Bailey has worked in London and Spain, receiving a Michelin Star at The Black Rat, Winchester and now at Rathfinny, he works closely with local farmers and suppliers for seasonal quality produce.
The Tasting Room is open for Lunch, Wednesday – Sunday, 12 – 3pm, and a Tasting Menu Dinner, Friday and Saturday, 6.30 – 8.30pm, with the option of a Sussex wine flight.
Stay, wine and dine at Flint Barns
The stunning landscape of the South Downs, Sussex is ideal for a relaxing getaway staying at Flint Barns in the heart of the Wine Estate. Summer weekend and short break experiences are very popular and selling out fast due to the rush to book UK Staycations in 2021.
‘Dine and Unwind Package’ from £200 for two guests, which includes bed and breakfast, tea, homemade cake with a glass of Classic Cuvée; three-course dinner at the Flint Barns Dining Room and breakfast.
Flint Barns Dining Room serves simple, tasty gastropub dishes, open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday. Breakfast for residents only.
Guest reviews of Flint Barns
‘The most wonderful all round staycation experience. The food and wine were fabulous. The accommodation was excellent, great value for money. Viva Team Rathfinny!’
‘I can’t recommend Flint Barns highly enough – we had a wonderful few days of delicious food, stunning countryside, excellent service and first class accommodation.’
Check out the range of Sussex Sparkling: Classic Cuvée, 2016, Blanc de Blancs, 2016 & 2017 Blanc de Noir 2016, and Rosé Brut. 2016. By the bottle and choice of Signature, classic, portfolio and vintage cases – the perfect gift for friends and family. Also Cradle Valley Still wine and other food and drink.
Rathfinny wines can be purchased from various retails including Harvey Nichols, Lea and Sandeman, DBM Wines and Rathfinny online shop.
The Wine Estate Cellar Door shop, is open daily, 10am-5pm. Click and collect service too : shop.rathfinnyestate.com
Happy English Wine Week!
Rathfinny Wine Estate
Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5TU