Rathfinny Wine Estate, Sussex, UK
07 April, 2019
Sheltering in a scoop of land three miles from the Sussex coast lies this oenophiles' haven, where a rich farming history intertwines with a future-facing vision to put the region on the map for wine production.
The passion project of former hedge-fund manager and solicitor couple Mark and Sarah Driver, Rathfinny Estate was established in 2010 with the aim of making a "glass of Sussex" as ubiquitous a request at the bar as a glass of champagne.
In addition to touring its state-of-the-art winery, volunteering to help with the harvest or demolishing the tasting menu at the restaurant, guests can now snooze off the effects of its homegrown produce at the rustic barn, folded amid the rows of vines.
Rathfinny Wine Estate
Used to house pickers during the harvest months, for the rest of the year visitors can stay at Flint Barns, a converted historic barn tucked away a few minutes' walk from the winery and restaurant. There's a range of accommodation from single beds up to family-style rooms sleeping five, some with views of the valley and all with the same functional, comfortable approach to design - there are no televisions or minibars here, but lots of cosy throws and blankets to snuggle up under.
What's for breakfast?
Fire yourself up for a day stomping through the valleys with a full-on fry-up, or else munch on yoghurt and fruit from the barn's casual dining room downstairs.
How about lunch and dinner?
While you can stick with the Flint Barns' dining room for hearty home-cooked meals or Sunday lunch, the estate's star feature is undoubtedly The Tasting Room, a slicked-on sliver of a fine-dining restaurant annexed to the winery. Head chef Chris Bailey, who formerly won a Michelin star for The Black Rat in Winchester, has taken his inspiration from the Sussex coastline and countryside to create a six-course tasting menu - choose from land, sea or garden and optional wine pairings. The menu changes depending on the season, but highlights when we visited included sea trout with smoked-eel croquette, a radicchio and green apple risotto, and widgeon and bacon terrine. From this spring the restaurant will also be running guest chef takeovers.
Is there a bar?
You're in a winery, so yes. Head to The Tasting Room to sample a glass of sparkling wine, still wine or a Seven Sisters gin and tonic, all produced on site - or else buy a bottle to take back to your room or out on a picnic in the rolling Sussex hills.
Simplicity rather than souped-up extras is the focus, but there's a snug living room with a selection of board games if the weather lets you down. In-room amenities are limited to basics like a hairdryer and standard toiletries.
Things I should know
If you're expecting a luxurious country-house weekender, this isn't the place for you - the emphasis is on experiencing the landscape and produce rather than lounging about indoors. Think no-frills rather than frou-frou.
Within a short walk I can find…
Take the Rathfinny Trail that winds through the estate's vineyards and surrounding woodland or else stroll down to the nearby village of Alfriston, a quaint-as-fudge collection of traditional country pubs and second-hand bookshops.
Jump in the car and you're a short drive from the Bloomsbury set's country outpost of Charleston Farmhouse, as well as Farley Farmhouse, the former home of war photographer Lee Miller and surrealist artist Roland Penrose.