UK cabinet minister Vince Cable MP has hailed the creativity and ambition in England's wine industry at the launch of Rathfinny Estate, one of the newest and biggest producers.
Vince Cable MP (centre) surveys Rathfinny Estate alongside Mark and Sarah Driver
Cable, who is secretary of state for business and one of the most senior members of the Coalition government, spoke at Friday’s opening of the 64ha Sussex vineyard’s winery.
‘The groundwork was done in the depths of recession and it required courage and imagination to stick with such a project,’ he said.
Cable also praised owners Mark and Sarah Driver for bringing jobs to the local area. ‘This is a real creative, imaginative industry, and it’s also a successful export industry,’ he said of English wine, which enjoyed a bumper harvest in 2013.
The vines, comprising Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and a small amount of Riesling, were all planted in the last two years on south-facing chalk slopes some six miles from the sea. Driver said the microclimate created by the southern hills made it ‘the perfect spot’ for growing the classic Champagne grape varieties.
The first vintage of Rathfinny Sparkling is due in 2017. Driver, a former hedge fund manager, expects a return on his £10m investment by 2018, and said he would not make a profit before 2020.
The winery has capacity for 800,000 litres when working at capacity. By 2020, Driver will have planted a further 100ha (250acres) of vines.
The wine will be priced at around £30 a bottle, and Driver expects to export at least 50%, to the US, Japan and Hong Kong in the main.
Rathfinny’s winemaker is the Epernay-born Jonathan Médard, who has worked in Margaret River and Napa; the vineyard manager is New Zealander Cameron Boucher, who has worked with vineyards supplying such renowned names as Hawke’s Bay’s Craggy Range.
Written by Adam Lechmere