If you’re looking for a weekend getaway with a difference, you might want to roll on down to Rathfinny within the South Downs National Park in East Sussex.
Easily accessible from London by train (arriving at Polegate and a taxi from there) this is one of the UK’s newest vineyards offering a superb sparkling wine (currently stocked in Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Berry Bros), not to mention a very sippable dry vermouth and gin!
The sweeping 600-acre estate is nestled in the heart of the country and on arriving you’re immediately transported to a world of country calm; think a roaring fire, mud spattered wellies and birdsong instead of beeping horns.
You can pop in during the day for a tasting and hearty lunch or stay overnight, with rooms starting from just £85 and dogs are welcome too.
I ventured to Rathfinny on a Saturday after breakfast and arrived around lunchtime – there were innevatibly trainworks the weekend I picked!
On arriving at the beautifully rendered Flint Barns with a friend, we were met by a friendly member of staff who swiftly checked us in and showed us to our room, Hobbs Hawth, which was located in the roof of the main house.
The space was perfectly appointed with clean, fresh furnishings and a skylight looking out to the vineyard and beyond.
There was a double bed, with a vintage style metal bed frame, and a single bed. Other pieces of furniture included a small desk and a convenient coat / hat stand.
At 6ft 2ft, I thought my friend might feel a little claustrophobic in the space but he seemed to manage fine, only once hitting his head on a light in the bathroom.
The washroom was a little tight but had everything we needed, including a nice powerful shower and the most deliciously smelling organic shower gel.
After swapping our footwear for something a little more countryfied, we ventured downstairs for a tour of the vineyard.
Our guide, like all of the Rathfinny staff members, was extremely knowledgeable about the wine-making process and recited everything in an engaging way.
Rathfinny was founded in 2010 by London based hedge fund manager Mark Driver and his lawyer wife Sarah. They’d both dreamed of owning a vineyard and enjoyed a good tipple, so Mark did a viticulture (winemaking) degree and started hunting for a plot to apply his knowledge.
When the spot came up in East Sussex, the couple pounced on it and the rest was history.
The Drivers have invested over £10 million in transforming the farm into the Rathfinny estate, with this budget including the initial purchase and development.
Our guide explained that the vineyard sits on prime soil for grape growing as it’s on the same chalk band that runs through the champagne region which sits just over theEnglish Channel.
It is also located on the UK’s ‘Sunshine Coast’, with the warmer climate being another plus for grape-growing.
When we ventured around the vineyard, it looked pretty sparse, as all of the vines had been pruned, ready for them to spring back into life in April.
There are five varieties of grape grown at Rathfinny, including Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot.
The fruit is used to make two types of sparkling wine, one golden blanc de blancs and one rose, plus a gin, dry vermouth and a brandy is set to launch later this year. A blanc de noir is also set for release.
The first bottles of wine were bottled in May 2015 and spent three years in the lees before hitting the shelf last year. Rounding out the tour we tried both the creamy blanc de blancs and the fruity rose, and I was definitely won over by the perfectly-balanced pink.
After our walk around, we ventured back to the Flint Barns for an afternoon drink in the snug (I opted for a warming cognac) and a spot of reading before getting ready for dinner at the Tasting Room.
THE TASTING ROOM
A trip to the Tasting Room restaurant at Rathfinny is a must!
If you are staying overnight, it is a beautiful spot to dine, and equally as magical during the day if you’re. just passing by for lunch.
The building was designed by a local architect, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the restaurant look out over the vineyard.
In the evening, there is a fabulous tasting menu on offer with ‘land’, ‘sea’ and ‘garden’ options to choose from. All ingredients are seasonal and locally-sourced.
These five-course dinners start from £55 and there are suggested wine pairings, but these tipples are extra.
I went for the ‘garden’ option, while my friend went for the ‘meat’ run of things.
The restaurant – which seats 30 at full capacity – was pretty much full the night we went. But the tables were well spaced and we had a great amount of privacy.
On the night we dined, menu offerings included fillet heritage of beef with ox tail gyoza and butter roasted cauliflower with cep puree. Our five course food journey both ended with a delicious slice of fresh-baked treacle tart.
While my friend opted for the wine pairing, I dipped into the cocktail menu. The Sussex Martini comes highly recommended with a smooth blend of Seven Sisters Gin, Seven Sisters Vermouth and a chilled grape on a skewer instead of an olive.
After our convivial feast, we were shuttled back to the Flint Barn where I slept like a log, with the window open slightly to allow an influx of country air.
Before catching an 11am train back to London, we had a flavoursome English breakfast – which included a very tasty wedge of black pudding – and ventured off on the Rathfinny Trail.
This walk is well-worth doing, as you get a different view of the vineyard and it’s a top way of soaking up some country air.
If it has been raining, wellies are recommended.
It had been a quick trip to Rathfinny, but I ventured back to London with an added spring in my step.
From the very sippable sparkling wine to the friendly staff and exquisite scenery, this place is a real gem, with a sparkle that certainly rubs off.
Rathfinny is located at Alfriston, East Sussex BN26 5TU
For more information and book a visit please visit rathfinnyestate.com/about-us