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.
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
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.