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England's "newest and largest" vineyard Rathfinny Estate, begins planting

Published:  26 March, 2012

Planting is to start at England's "largest" vineyard, Rathfinny Estate, this week which long term aims to compete in quality with top French Champagne houses.

The East Sussex site will see the first 50 acres of vines planted across its new 400 acre vineyard, which will contribute to the eventual production of over 1 million bottles of quality sparkling wine per year.

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Riesling - will be planted across 50 acres of grapes per year until 2020.

Rathfinny will employ around 30 full time staff and over 200 seasonal staff once planting has been completed.

The first still wine could appear as early as next year, with sparkling hitting the shelves in 2016 or 2017.

Mark Driver, founder and owner of Rathfinny, said: "We will produce small amounts of still wine, but this is going to be a predominately sparkling wine vineyard.

"This week marks the start of a journey for us to create a sparkling wine to rival the best on offer from across the channel.

"English sparkling wine is already very highly regarded and I hope Rathfinny will be compared favourably with the likes of Bollinger and Pol Roger.

"I want Rathfinny to be sold not just in the best restaurants in London, but in Paris, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong as well."

Managing the estate is Cameron Roucher, who has moved from New Zealand to be part of the project.

Rathfinny has also hired French winemaker, Jonathan Médard, who has spent the last 10 years working in California, and who will also oversee the design and construction of the winery which will be completed by the summer of 2013.

Working with Natural England and the National Trust, a programme of improvements is being made to enhance the local natural habitat while reviving and reclaiming the natural chalk grass downland and creating wildlife corridors to improve biodiversity.

Rathfinny is also funding the construction of a new Wine Research Centre at Plumpton College, part of Brighton University, to support the development of skills that the English wine industry will require as it grows.