Newsletter & Events

Autumn 2016

Rathfinny Wine Estate

Autumn Reflections

Sarah Driver - Owner

We’ve got a full newsletter about all that is going on at Rathfinny and what’s coming up over the next few months.  As I reflect on the harvest this year, there are certain highlights that linger in my mind.  Told we would never get reliable, local workers I was especially delighted to see a crew of over sixty assemble every morning with smiles on their faces and a genuine joy at being out on the land.  It was good to see people from last year and to welcome new members to our Rathfinny family.  A particular highlight was our ‘Friends and Family Picking Day’, where we were blessed with glorious weather and over a hundred people joined us.  After a morning of picking we whiled away the early afternoon eating stew and mash from vintage brown cardboard boxes, supping wine and chatting in the sunshine.  It was a similar format, this time with soup and cheese, for our ‘Village Picking Day’ and we had a good time catching up with our neighbours.  For those who want to see what harvest was like, we’re featured on Countryfile on 20th November. 

I hope you will come and visit us at Rathfinny over the next year, either visiting our cellar door, the Gun Room, in Alfriston, coming on a Vineyard Tour, the Writing or Yoga retreat, having a popular Sunday lunch at the Flint Barns or staying a few nights when you explore the South Downs.  

Rathfinny Wine Estate

harvest is over

Jonathan Médard - Winemaker

We are thrilled, harvest is now over and we can relax knowing that, most importantly, the grape quality we have produced this vintage is excellent across all of Rathfinny’s different varieties. Summer started with a cool June and July, but August, September and October were nice and warm—the best summer weather I have experienced since arriving in England in 2012.

We have produced about 44,000 litres of wine this year, which is equivalent to about 60,000 bottles. This is a major increase on last year’s harvest, it has more than doubled. Everything went quite smoothly and we didn’t suffer any breakdowns, mechanical or human – and that’s always a good thing!

Some of the Pinot Noir lots are approaching the completion of their alcoholic fermentation and will then commence its malolactic fermentation soon afterwards.  In the New Year, after allowing time to settle, the wines will be properly tasted and fully assessed. In the meantime we will closely monitor fermentation progress and will continue cleaning-up the mess we made in the Winery during those crazy 16 days of our October harvest!

Rathfinny Wine Estate

local team

Cameron Roucher - Vineyard Manager

Harvest is such a wonderful time of year. It’s the conclusion of a full season’s hard work and really is the manifestation and the proof of our efforts over the previous months.

This year has been great for Rathfinny.  Whilst many producers are reporting poor yields, our harvest has been virtually on target. Directly after pruning, our early estimates were for 80 tonnes and we ended up with 74.5 so in terms of yield estimations, that’s as good as it gets.

Whilst 74.5 tonnes may not be huge it is a dramatic leap-up from last year’s crop. Nevertheless, with that increase comes all the trials and tribulations you can expect, not least sourcing the staff to actually pick the fruit.

There is always some anxiety when organising your own pickers, as opposed to just calling up a contractor and saying “I need 30 people on Wednesday”. Will they all turn up? (No); will they all handle the work? (No); will they all have decent coats? (Certainly not)!   But it’s not all bad news and the piece written by Cat below gives readers an idea of what they experience.

This year, we had a great bunch of people for our harvest. They were mostly locals from our surrounding area plus a few from other parts of the country who stayed at Rathfinny’s Flint Barns.  Some have also expressed an interest in coming back to prune in the New Year too – so then we’ll see just how good their coats and spirits are on a cold and frosty winter morning!


Rathfinny Wine Estate

Diary of a grape picker

Cat Neilson

It’s 7:45am and there we all were: 70 of us standing on a hill in the beautiful South Downs. None of us knew one another and most of us had never picked grapes before. Looking around at my new colleagues, we resembled a group of giggly, excited students on our first day at school!  With our sharp vine-snippers in hand, we were then taken into the vineyard full of its ready-to-harvest fruit. There, Dave our supervisor told us all we needed to know: ‘You just snip off the grapes and let them land in the bucket.’


Wow, I loved it.  It was so satisfying; I loved the simplicity of it all.  There was a real community spirit, which you could feel in the air. Small conversations buzzed around the lines of grapevines.  A burst of laughter rang out a few rows along. I hadn’t felt like this since my school days. We worked together, happily cutting the plump bunches of grapes and all to the sound of:  ‘Snip snip, thwomp. Snip snip, thwomp.’


It was a long day; not too arduous but just enough to make me feel that I deserved that extra piece of chocolate in my lunchbox and an extra glass of wine with dinner. 


By the end of our time at Rathfinny, my grape-picking team had formed a bond. We knew who the jokers were as well as the quiet ones amongst us. Everyone had come for a different reason: some extra cash before a gap year, a chance to enjoy the fresh air, a simple change of scene or an opportunity to keep busy, whatever the reason, everyone seemed content with our lot.   The grape-harvest is genuinely a communal effort and we could see in the faces of the Rathfinny staff that they were grateful for our help.

Rathfinny Wine Estate

retreats and well-being

Georgia Mallinson - Head of Business Development

We thought that things might be calming down once the summer season came to an end but actually that hasn’t been the case. Our extra Vineyard Tour dates sold out and we have now launched next season’s schedule and added a Sunday slot into each month. You can book a place or buy your voucher on-line or otherwise telephone the Gun Room (01323 870022).  They make great and easy Christmas presents and are delivered in a ribboned box.  A few of our guests also now stay at the Flint Barns to coincide with their tour, so they can enjoy the full Rathfinny Estate experience.


Words Away is organised by the writer Kellie Jackson alongside award-winning author and tutor, Emma Darwin.  Words Away sessions are monthly creative-writing salons held in London at the Tea House Theatre Cafe, bringing writers together in a creative environment to help explore the writing process. Each month guest writers conduct focused discussions on particular topics.

However, next Spring Friday 17-19th March, Words Away is heading out of London to the beautiful Sussex Downs for a weekend of tutored creative writing at the Flint Barns.

Writing Fiction at Rathfinny offers the time and space to develop writing skills amongst a creative group of like-minded people.  With wonderful, luxurious accommodation and delicious home-cooked meals served in a spectacular rural setting, all our guests need to do is focus on their literary skills and well-being.

Morning workshops are intended to develop and extend writing ability.  Some exercises may use characters and settings from guests’ current projects, if they have them, whilst others will be designed to introduce new skills.  We hope to also explore why some people experience ‘writer’s block’ and even sabotage their own writing.  There are also ideas about looking at the book industry as a whole, the challenges of first getting published and the world of self-publishing.

The afternoons will be left free for our guests to plan.  They could find a secluded corner to work, go ahead and experience something new or apply the morning's workshop to an existing project.  Emma will be there for one-to-one sessions, she can discuss specific short pieces of writing, or people’s larger hopes and aspirations.  We hope our literary guests will leave with novel skills and understanding, renewed energy and enthusiasm and maybe even the first lines of a new story.

For more information on the Writer’s Retreat or to book a place, please refer to the Words Away website. 

We can also confirm the date of our next Yoga Retreat which is 5-7th May 2017. Everyone who attended our earlier retreat said they had thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and would like to return.  The opportunity for a new Sussex based venue was deemed too good an offer to refuse and we will release full details about Rathfinny’s yoga retreat with booking details in the New Year. Lucy Newport will return again as our instructor.

We believe that good health and welfare is an important feature in promoting our working and living environment and Sarah Driver has fully embraced this by organising an excellent teacher, Caroline McGee, to hold Pilates classes in the Winery on a weekly basis.

This has proved very popular and we now hold two classes per week with representation from all parts of our business. There is a bit of moaning, particularly from the Vineyard crew and Mark Driver when Caroline encourages us to stretch that bit further, but we’re all feeling the benefits.  Caroline has converted even the most sceptical to relish the opportunity for some self-preservation on Monday or Tuesday evenings! 

Next on the agenda: Sarah hopes to launch a badminton league but this is proving a little more tricky to plan.


Rathfinny Wine Estate

treats in store

Alison Cowley - Gun Room Manager

It’s that time of the year when the clocks have gone back and, when we close the Gun Room at the end of the day, it is cold and dark.  But we have a few things to brighten these darker days.

First is our support for Alfriston’s Dickensian event, which happens on Saturday 19 November. We’ll stay open late, fairy lights will be twinkling and the girls will be dressed in Dickensian costume to serve our spiced Sussex Sparkling and traditional mulled wine. It’s always a lot of fun, especially as the Gun Room is right in the thick of things down on the Tye.

A week later on 26 November we have our own Christmas Shopping Day - and what a beautiful selection of gifts we have! We are setting the scene for a cosy and indulgent Christmas on so many levels: in the home with the sleek, minimalist ceramics of Sue Pryke and vibrant cups from Julie Steel, exquisite mini tea lights by Luna Lighting, aromatic candles and room sprays from Parkminster, and our ever-popular throws from Tweedmill – now in Merino as well as lambswool. 

For those who like to cook, we sell aprons, tea towels, napkins and hankies by Thornback & Peel featuring designs reminiscent of Mrs Beeton’s cookbook.  And for those who take their drink seriously, we have some serious bartending ware – the Bar10der is known as the mixologists’ Swiss Army Knife, such is its reputation.

We’ve got great gifts for men: Captain Fawcett is a brand which takes male grooming very seriously so if you need a traditional shaving brush and razor, the Gun Room is your place to go. For the ladies, we have lovely organic soaps from exclusive producer Nathalie Bond in Winter, Lemongrass, Rose, Geranium, Patchouli and Eucalyptus scents.  And we’ve even got designer dog leads!

The area that interests us all and which sells consistently well is foods. We stock the lovely local Ouse Valley chutneys, marmalades and jellies which are made with loving care and great attention to detail.  We have Pomegranate Ketchup from street food supremo Aphrodite’s Food - which wins my label of the year award and it’s seriously tasty. Another company packing a punch is Buckshot Original, a family business producing Tomato, Brown and Chilli sauces. We have meat and fish in kilner jars from the Cornish Charcuterie, and if you’d like to try your hand at smoking your own, or know someone who would, we have Home Smoking Kits from Ross & Ross. The Big Cheese Making Kit similarly tells it like it is.

We like to source goods as locally as possible and it can’t get much closer than Alfriston, where the proprietor of Mini Mouthfuls fudge was born. They exhibited their delicacies at Alfest in the summer and Georgia M was so impressed, she invited them to become a supplier.

You can look at, sample and buy all of the above at our Christmas Shopping Day on Saturday 26 November from 10 am to 4pm at the Gun Room. Please join us – we’ll put some music on, open the Sussex Sparkling and you can shop stress-free. We’re offering 10% off all goods purchased on the day (except alcohol). With free hampers and bespoke beauty advice from our Caudalie (the amazing vine sourced skin care range) rep too, what’s not to like?

Rathfinny Wine Estate

listen to the trail

Richard James - Operations and Environment Manager

This season, the Rathfinny Trail has undergone some minor alterations to enhance our visitors’ experience.

The Trail is a permissive footpath, which is predominately open throughout the year and will only close with prior notice given for vineyard management work.  The Trail allows the walker to view our vines, pass the Flint Barns and go alongside our chalk grassland bank which we are currently managing back towards its full potential.

The whole ethos behind the Trail is that visitors to the area can travel along the already well-established Rights of Way network, which includes many bridleways and footpaths that criss-cross the Estate and then join the Rathfinny Trail.  The Trail connects to three bridleways, two pieces of Open Access land and one footpath.  The local bridleway network is the best way to access the Trail from the village of Alfriston and our Cellar Door.  It will take approximately 40 minutes to walk from the village - depending either on the weather or the amount of coffee and cake consumed prior to leaving!

We have installed some permanent information boards along the Trail to offer different information at each location.  On each board, there is a small section for regular updates regarding the vineyard and what wildlife one may see around that time.

We also have some ‘talking posts’ situated on the Trail.  By pressing the buttons one can listen to the dulcet tones of the Rathfinny staff providing information on key elements of our work.  Facts cover vineyard management, wildlife, wine making and an overview of the Estate.  These will also be updated regularly. 

The Trail provides a great way to follow the Estate throughout the year, to see the vines being managed, listen to the wildlife or just to enjoy the view.

Rathfinny Wine Estate

fabulous flint barn festivities

Ade Lamb - Flint Barns Manager

This has been a good year for us at the Flint Barns and really busy. With wedding receptions booked, corporate away-days, school visits and various private family functions, we have all worked very hard to keep our guests happy. 

This is an exclusive B&B located in stunning countryside with an unusual vineyard setting and great ambiance.  Adding delicious food served by friendly staff help us to regard the Flint Barns as your home-away-from home. We have had lots of positive feedback too, in person and on-line, which we greatly value.  It’s good to hear from you!

“Superb lunch, lovely relaxed atmosphere and friendly helpful staff”

Guests really love our fabulous Sunday lunches, which have proved a huge success. It appears that everyone has a great time: being served a delicious meal in a glorious building over-looking a spectacular vineyard, it’s hard not to be impressed. You can come early for a coffee or a bloody Mary (depending on what you think you need!), go for a walk and laze later in front of the fire with papers or a good book or settle down to a family game

We are now planning Sunday Lunches for January and February 2017 and we’ll soon release our new schedule.   If you’d like to be informed of these dates then just subscribe to our mail-shots which go out once a month – link at the bottom of my article.

Due to occasional corporate bookings and private functions, Sunday lunches will not be served every week. The dining room seats 45 comfortably but spaces go fast (the last one filled up in 5 hours) and our diary is filling-up. 

In the next couple of months we’ll be opening the dining room on Friday and Saturday evenings too.  We are currently working on seasonal menus using locally sourced foods as much as possible.  More details of this can also be found on the Flint Barn’s website.

Harvest ‘16 was truly fantastic, we really enjoyed it.  The Flint Barns opened our doors to any pickers who wanted to stay and we welcomed some great characters. Everyone seemed to enjoy their time here eating a hearty English breakfast, heading off to the vines with a lovely packed lunch and returning to one of chef’s delicious diners after which they all relaxed in our superb accommodation. We look forward to seeing some of them again when the pruning commences this winter.

Well that’s about it from me, I have to prepare for an early-morning start with breakfast for customers staying from the Driver Youth Trust. Take a look at the fabulous work these guys are involved with. Meantime, we at the Flint Barns are all looking forward to some busy months ahead.  We have lots of plans for the future - so do stay in touch!

Rathfinny Wine Estate

first impressions

Rob Buckhaven - Brand Ambassador

I’ve been working with the Rathfinny Estate since September and almost immediately felt like one of the family. There’s a strong emphasis on inclusion here, which I noticed the moment I arrived to present my credentials as a possible Brand Ambassador to seven executives and the vineyard dog, Brix.  

They listened to my proposed strategy for the Rathfinny brand and my role here at this point consists largely of creating a buzz around the brand amongst top London Wine Buyers and Sommeliers.  By the time our first Sussex Sparkling wines are released, they will be itching to include us on their wine lists.  

Before taking up this appointment, I was Wine Buyer for Boisdale Restaurants in London and previously Senior Brand Manager for Torres Wines. I also write about wine for the Metro newspaper and present wine tastings at consumer shows (I’m at the Ideal Home show this month) so I’m fortunate to have experience of the wine industry from a wide spectrum:  distribution, media and press, as a commercial customer and now as a producer. 

I was drawn to the role of Brand Ambassador by what I saw as Rathfinny’s pioneering spirit, its ambition to produce the highest quality English Sparkling wine, and the story of how it began and the background of the owners. 

Since arriving, I’ve learnt that not only has Rathfinny selected the highest quality vines, but also they have the largest purpose-built winery in Great Britain. Mark and Sarah have engaged the leading names to design their logo and identify their brand ethos and they have garnered an impressive amount of ‘column inches’ for a winery that hasn’t yet released a wine. 

Two months in and I’ve already taken part in the 2016 vintage; initially working in the vineyards with the picking team, harvesting Pinot Noir grapes. The majority of the time I spent in the Winery, assisting Winemaker Jonathan and his assistant Will as best I could with the winemaking process. 

As a newcomer, I’m amazed by the cohesion with which the entire Rathfinny team works, their mutual respect and affection for one another and their shared vision for the future of the Estate and wines. Each team member is the best in their field but there is a noticeable desire to listen and share ideas. 

As you’ll probably have gathered, I love my new job and I’m looking forward to a long, happy and successful time working as part of the Rathfinny team!