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New English vineyard to target independents

Published:  28 March, 2012

England's largest vineyard is planning to target independents when it releases its first sparkling wines in 2017.

Mark Driver, ex-hedge funder and now owner of Rathfinny Estate, a 600-acre property near Alfriston, said: "We're keen to work with independents - a lot are very good and the add something really different to the wine buying experience."

Driver told Harpers that plans are still in the early stages, but that he will be "having conversations" over the next year to decide on his best route to market, both in the UK and overseas. But he mentioned that he would be quite keen to work with larger independent groups with around 25 to 30 stores, as well as the on-trade and other sectors.

He is planting 150 acres over the next three years, with Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Driver hopes to have a still Riesling wine as early as next year, while the sparkling wine will not be ready until 2016 or 2017.

He intends to plant Pinot Gris next year, which will also be used for still wines. By 2020 Driver intends to have 400 acres of land under vine, with a total production of around 1 million bottles.

He plans to produce three key sparkling products - a non-vintage, a rosé and a vintage, with the possibility of adding a blanc de blancs and a blanc de noirs at a later stage.

Driver, who is in his second year of a viticulture degree at Plumpton College, said he plans to be very hands-on, but that he is mostly interested in viticulture rather than winemaking. "The job of a winemaker seems to me to be 90% cleaning and 10% chemistry. I'd much rather be outside."

He has hired Epernay-born Jonathan Médard as winemaker, who has spent the last 10 years working in California. Médard said the English location was great, adding, "who could pass up the opportunity to have your own tailor-made winery, and the chance to create your own style?".