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English wine newcomer Rathfinny Estate bottles first wine

Rathfinny Estate in Sussex, one of the newest and biggest English wine producers, has bottled its first wines as it seeks to join in on a sales boom for the sector.

Vines at the recently opened Rathfinny Estate – an example of new investment going into the UK’s wine sector.

Sussex-based Rathfinny began bottling its first wines on 18 May, around one year after opening its winery.

Around 6,000 bottles of still wine – a blend of Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay of Italian style – will be released this June under the Cradle Valley label, Rathfinny owner Mark Driver told Decanter.com. He said a further 6,000 bottles of sparkling Blanc de Blancs will spend about three years on the lees and be released by the end of 2017 or in 2018.

The UK economy may continue to be fragile, but the country’s budding wine industry has appeared to go from strength to strength in the past 18 months, meaning many winemakers are entering this year’s English Wine Week in confident mood.

Retailer Waitrose said at the start of May that English and Welsh wine sales doubled in 2014. Trade body English Wine Producers previously told Decanter.com that it believed overall retail sales for the sector could go close to £100m in 2015, up from an estimated £80m last year.

Later this year, Rathfinny expects to harvest between 50 and 80 tonnes of grapes to make up 60,000 bottles of sparkling wine for release in 2018, a third of which will be a sparkling rosé. About 72 ha of grapevines – mainly of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier varieties – have been planted on Rathfinny Estate’s south facing slopes. It has total capacity of 243ha, making it the largest vineyard in the UK.

Driver is hoping that plans for a Sussex appellation (PDO) will be in place in time for the release of his first batch of sparkling wines.

Despite a mixed response from English producers over the Sussex PDO initiative, Driver said he expected a final draft to be submitted to the UK government by the end of the summer. ‘A PDO is not about wine style or taste, a common misconception by those who have not read its definition in full,’ he said. ‘It’s all about giving a sense of place to a wine and in our case that is Sussex.’

Written by Barnaby Eales and Chris Mercer

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