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Volumes at Rathfinny set to double as it launches first en primeur campaign

Published:  20 November, 2019

Rathfinny has launched its first ever en primeur campaign via its Classic Cuvée, which is being positioned as a more accessible entry point to the Sussex estate’s premium range.

The Classic Cuvée 2017, made from the classic Champagne varieties, is being released as part of the Rathfinny Reserved programme for £19 excluding duty and VAT – more affordable than the £38 for its Blancs de Blancs and Blancs de Noirs, which were released in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

The estate released only a small amount of 800 cases for the campaign over the summer, which was aimed at private clients and visitors to the cellar door who might have missed out on previous allocations.

It has been made available primarily via the Alfriston winery, which welcomes some 25,000 visitors each year.

Around another 6,000 cases have been made available to the trade for the 2017 release, though again, most of this has already been allocated.

With a release date of 2021, the campaign has other significance for the estate in terms of volume.

Coupled with the launch of the Rathfinny rosé, Harpers can reveal that the estate expects the Classic Cuvée to help volumes to double between 2019 and 2020, and again from 2020 to 2021.

Speaking to Harpers this morning, co-owner Mark Driver said these things are part of an overall strategy to grow in line with the market while also making sure they keep up with increased demand for their premium sparklers.

“We took the decision to release some of our 2017 Classic Cuvée ‘en primeur’ so people can buy ahead of release. We’ve had a lot of people turning up to the cellar door, all wanting to buy a case, and the reality is we just don’t have enough.

“It’s all direct to the consumer on a first come, first served basis. The minimum order is two cases but we’ve had people buying up to 40. We’ve been struggling to match demand,” Driver said.

Thanks largely to the releases of the Classic Cuvée and the rosé, total volumes at Rathfinny are due to rise from 2,200 (12 bottle) cases this year, to 4,400 cases next year and around 12,000 cases reaching the market in 2021.

Overall, this represents a scaled back version of the original projections set out by Rathfinny, which often tops lists of leading producers of English sparkling wine.

Driver said this had been impacted partly by a slowdown in planting between 2015 and 2018.

“When we started 10 years ago, the projection was to reach one million bottles by 2020. Since then, the growth in yield has slowed, and I’m happy with that. The advice has been to ‘go slowly’. We always want to develop our production in step with the market.”

Where previously they were planting 20ha a year, the work involved “with developing and bringing on a new vineyard”, coupled with not wanting to outsource to an outside agency, led to the decision to “take a break” between 2015 and 2018.

Planting resumed in 2018, with total area under vine reaching 90ha this year.

Because of the four year lag between production and release while the wines age, Driver said the one million mark is likely to be hit in 2025 in terms of production, with one million bottles, or eighty thousand cases, to be released by 2029.

“We want to grow in a way that’s going to match demand,” Driver reiterated. “This is a growing market, but we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves."

The Classic Cuvée 2017 will be the second release, due to reach the market in 2021, following on from the 2016 cuvée which will be released in 2020.

The 2017 is the first time the Cuvée has formed part of an en primeur campaign however, which takes the Bordeaux and Burgundy tradition of selling to private clients via brokers and adapted it for the UK, and means consumers can take home a Rathfinny sparkler for under £30 once duty and VAT have been added.

Rathfinny was established in 2010 by Mark and Sarah Driver on the site of a working arable farm, with the aim of making fizz that can rival the likes of Bollinger and Pol Roger.

Like these benchmark producers, the Sussex estate majors on Pinot Noir, which accounts for around 48% of plantings and forms the backbone of the Classic Cuvée.

Its winemaker, Jonathan Médard, hails from Épernay.