Inspired by a trip to New Zealand in 1990, it was another 20 years before Mark and Sarah swapped life in the big smoke to take the great leap into wine production on the soils of Sussex. They offered an insight into the trials and tribulations of starting their own vineyard…
Why did you make the big move into wine-making?
Inspired by a trip to New Zealand in 1990, it took a further 20 years before we found the perfect site for a vineyard and Mark had retired from the city enabling a new venture in wine production. Following a two year course in viticulture at Plumpton College the dream started to take shape. An initial planting in 2012 produced the first harvest in 2014 and an expectation of our first Sparkling wine in 2017.
Out of all of the places that you could have set up in, what was it that made you settle in Alfriston?
The South Downs share the geology of the “Paris Basin”, a triassic geological feature that also encompasses the vineyards of Champagne. Our vines should flourish on the South facing chalky soils that are so essential to the development of the great sparking wines. Rathfinny was the perfect site in terms of size and location to realise our ambitions. Sussex isalso an important location for the development of the English wine industry as a whole. We hope to be contributing up to 1 million bottles a year by 2020 to English wine production.
Has the venture turned out how you expected it would?
We always knew it was an expensive, long term investment. We are on track with our plans in terms of the development of the Vineyard and buildings on site. We have also established a strong team with key members including New Zealand viticulturalist Cameron Roucher, who has left New Zealand to join the new venture, while Epernay-born Jonathan Médard is Rathfinny’s winemaker. It’s challenging and a huge learning curve.
It sounds like you’ve been pretty busy! Do you have any new projects coming up at the site?
We are about to open our Flint Barns – seasonal workers accommodation during pruning and picking but available for special interest groups and schools to visit as well B&B visitors. Our Cellar Door in Alfriston, which sells locally sourced and wine related products, will stock a small release of our first still wine in May and is the starting point of the Estate Tours. The Rathfinny Trail is due to open in May.
We are also holding a three-day Chamber Music Festival in June which will be the inaugural weekend of many for our resident ensemble, the London Conchord Ensemble.
Seasonal workers are invited to stay at Flint Barns during pruning and picking as well as B&B visitors. More “poshtel” than hostel, find chunky doors, reclaimed oak floors, view-filled windows, bedrooms with luxurious mattresses, crisp white cotton, good lighting and shower rooms worthy of Babington House.