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England’s Rathfinny ‘will export 50%’

Mark Driver, owner of England’s largest single-vineyard wine estate, intends to export at least 50% of his production when the estate is at its capacity of 1m bottles.

‘Sustainable’: Rathfinny winery, architect’s plan

Driver is preparing the ground for the next 20ha of vines to be planted at Rathfinny estate on the South Downs in East Sussex.

Work has started on the £4m winery which by 2020 will process 800,000 litres of sparkling and still wines.

‘It makes sense to export,’ Driver, a former hedge-fund manager, told Decanter.com, pointing out that his neighbouring winery, the multi-award-winning Ridgeview, exports 20% of its production.

The three wines, made by Champenois Jonathan Médard, will be a house sparkling, a rosé which will be 30% of the production, and a blanc de blancs or blanc de noirs, depending on relevant quality. There will also be small amounts of still wine.

Driver says the winery – the biggest in the country – has been designed ‘with environmental sustainability at its core’.

It is being constructed of local English oak and English sweet chestnut and ‘includes 50kW of photovoltaic generation capacity’ which ‘will save 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year’.

The winery is equipped with stainless steel tanks with an initial capacity of 200,000 litres. Grapes will be entirely hand-picked and hand-sorted.

So far 20ha have been planted in the vineyard, which lies 3 miles (5km) from the English Channel and is mainly silty clay loam over chalk.

The current varietal breakdown is eight hectares of Pinot Noir, 6ha of Chardonnay, 2ha of Pinot Meunier, and a further 2ha of Riesling – ‘in the warmest spot in the vineyard’, Driver says – for still wine, one of the only English Rieslings.

The next 20ha planting, which starts on 1 April, will consist of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Pinot Gris.

Driver told Decanter.com the 2012 harvest was smaller than expected but they should have a crop this year. The winery will be ‘up and running’ by 31 August, he said.

Rathfinny is an arable estate which still has 64ha of traditional crops, which will gradually diminish ‘to nothing’, Driver said, as he turns the land over to vines.

He said he was dismayed but not put off by the failure of Hampshire’s award-winning and long-established Wickham estate this year. It went bankrupt through a combination of bad harvests and over-reaching investments.

The appalling weather of last summer, he said, ‘was a one-in-thirty-year type event’.

Watch Rathfinny’s video showing how the wine estate will look once it’s completed.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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