I had no idea what to expect when I visited Rathfinny Wine Estate by chance last Summer. It was a spur of the moment idea. The vineyard I had initially decided to visit had no time slots left and did not accept visitors without bookings. Fair enough. It was a smaller family run vineyard and they obviously have constraints they need to work with.
That day however, Google was my friend and when I searched for ‘Sussex cellar doors’, Rathfinny Wine Estate was suggested. Why Sussex? Well, the day was sparklingly clear, and I wanted to head south of London but within an easy commute. Rathfinny ticked all the boxes for a spur of the moment decision to visit an English winery around a 90 minute drive from the M3/M25 junction to the west of London. I did not even have time to do any research at all. Something that is quite unusual for me.
I have to confess here, that I had not heard of Rathfinny Wine Estate. Arriving at the entrance, I realised that maybe this was not quite the small vineyard I expected. My focus since moving to the UK has really been on keeping in touch with the happenings in the Australian wine industry and learning as much as I can about the emerging regions within Europe. Of course, England is one of those regions however I am working to rectify the gap in my knowledge…
So, let me tell you what I learned during my visit….
Rathfinny is right beside the sea. In fact, from parts of the estate, you have a lovely view over the rolling hills that protect the vineyards from the winds and out to the channel to the south. Mind you, it is hard to find anywhere on this estate that is not scenic as it sits within the stunning South Downs. An area famous for its very English beauty.
The estate’s 600 acres is on south facing chalk soil. This chalk soil is ideal for making the sparkling wine which England has become renowned for. It is the same band of chalk that you will find in Champagne.
The owners, Mark and Sarah Driver, have the ambitious aim to put Sussex Sparkling wine on the international table. The aim for this winery, is to grow the vineyard area to around 400 acres. That would make it one of the large wine estates of Europe. So far, less than 200 acres has been planted to vineyards with a large area is still being farmed with other crops such as wheat and barley. This is a work in progress with the first vines only being planted in 2012. It then follows that the first sparkling wine released by Rathfinny was only recent, in 2018.
While the main focus is on sparkling production with predominantly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier planted, there is also some Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris planted as well. These make still white wines under the Cradle Valley range. So, while they continue to plant the vineyards, Mark and Sarah have also committed to creating wildlife corridors and improving wildlife habitats on the estate.
This includes reviving the grassland to increase biodiversity in addition to continuing to work the fields.
About the cellar door…
You are reminded on coming up to the cellar door, that this is a fully working winery complete with its own bottling plant.
There is a restaurant here with some amazing views and a verandah to take it all in from if you don’t fancy being cooped up inside for your visit. While that menu looked really appetising, I was there just for tasting their wines. If you have been to any other of the larger wineries in England, it will not be a surprise that Rathfinny also make Gin and Vermouth.
The Rathfinny Trail ….
Now, if you are like me, you like to get out into the vineyards.
Mark and Sarah encourage you to do just that, and so they have developed the ‘Rathfinny trail’. Which has a couple of options and the one I took is a self-directed short walking circuit from their Flint Barns’ accommodation. There is a longer one that goes further along the bottom of the vineyards. The team at the cellar door are only too glad to help with directions, and once you are on it, there are signs and maps to direct you with some handy audio guides on the track as well.
And it is an easy walk.
One that leads you through vineyards, worked fields, a sample of the woodlands of the area and if you come at the right time of year, black berries everywhere in the hedgerows. This is a great way to get to see the vines and to get to know the region better. There are guided tours of the winery and vineyards as well if you prefer.
If you are wanting to have the entire vineyard experience, there amongst the vines is the restored historic Flint Barns that offer accommodation.
So, next time you are looking for a winery to visit in the South of England, I would suggest that you add this Rathfinny Wine Estate to your itinerary. The wine alone is a good enough reason. The welcome and that Rathfinny trail are just as good reasons to visit.
The South Downs’ views over the vineyards make it irresistible.
For more English sparkling wine reviews, click here.
For more information, please visit the Rathfinny Estate website.
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