So tell us about Rathfinny
It's one of the vineyards and wineries that are part of the revolution in English wine over the last decade or so. The vineyard was set up by husband and wife, Mark and Sarah Driver, in 2010 on an arable farm. The first vines were planted in 2012 with their wines coming on sale in 2018. They're blessed with a pretty spectacular south-facing piece of land in the South Downs which is on the same band of chalk that many of the northern French vineyards sit on and protected from squalls in the nearby English Channel with one final rolling hill before you reach the sea.
What's Rathfinny's big selling point?
This extensive estate in Sussex is one of just a handful of vineyards to have its own high-end restaurant - The Tasting Room does a cracking business in weekday lunches and weekend dinners. But that's not all - there's also another more casual restaurant in the grounds, the Dining Room at The Flint Barns, along with a picnic offering and a new takeaway option, The Hut. All of this makes it a pretty enticing place to visit.
How do you get there?
It is perfectly possible to get there by train if you either don't have access to a car or simply prefer the most eco-friendly travel solution. There are regular trains from London Bridge to nearby Berwick Station (change at Brighton). The journey takes under two hours and you'll need to pre-book a taxi to take you the 10-minute journey to Rathfinny.
If you're wanting to explore more of the area, a car could prove handy. It took us about two hours from North London in off-peak traffic, but if you're based in South London it should be a much quicker journey.
Where do you stay?
The Flint Barns is described as 'bed and breakfast accommodation' but it's a tad more luxurious than that. The barn itself has a huge courtyard, perfect for enjoying the glass of fizz that comes with your package stay. There's a very comfortable lounge area for post-dinner drinks and the restaurant itself is open for breakfast and dinner.
What's the room like?
There are 10 ensuite rooms in the barn ranging from a single to the super deluxe double (which could comfortably sleep three or four on two beds (one a pullout) and which also has two separate shower rooms. There are some things we'd like to see added (charging points for phones beside the bed would be a plus, as would a fridge to put anything you've bought at the cellar door), but rooms are very beautifully arranged with lovely toiletries and a Nespresso machine for your early morning caffeine requirements. They're also baby and dog friendly with cots available on request.
So, you're at a vineyard, presumably you get to try some of the wines?
Of course - and if you're on the Escape to Sussex package the tour and tasting is included in your stay. We had a small group guided tour through the vines (the tour is confined to the winery in the colder months and during harvest time) - which was friendly and informative.
That tour concludes in the tasting room with a chance to try four of their wines, including both still and sparkling. Our favourite was the Blancs de Noir but wine writer Jancis Robinson loves their Rosé and describes Rathfinny Estate as "one of English wine’s most ambitious, and the quality of its produce seems to be rising as the vines age".
All that fresh Sussex air has given us an appetite - what's for dinner?
The Tasting Room is popular with tourists and locals alike and can be booked out well in advance, so bear that in mind.
Indeed, the Tasting Room was booked up on our visit, so we were in the Flint Barns for dinner. The estate describes this as their more relaxed dining experience, but we were happily surprised by the quality of the food on offer. Here's some of what we tried to give you an idea - two courses are £30 and three £35.
There's also plenty to entice vegetarians on the menu including a very nice sounding tomato and burrata tart with a black olive crumble and nasturtium leaves.
How was the breakfast?
It was very, very good - one of the best breakfasts we'd had in a while. Our plates of streaky bacon, sourdough, egg and field mushrooms were cooked to order and pretty much perfect (the amazing bacon, particularly).
Other things to do
This summer, the estate is opening The Hut - a place to grab and go takeaway food and drink. But you can also book for one of the vineyard picnics. For £29.50 per head (£13.50 for children), the menu includes a baked baguette, salad and dips, a choice of a main dish such as curried Fosse Meadow chicken rillette with poached apricot and curry leaves or smoked mackerel parfait with dill and bagel crumb, followed by dessert. There's a marquee set up at the back of the Flint Barns if the weather is inclement, but there's also an extensive outdoor area with picnic tables and glorious views over the vines.
And can we bring some of the wine home with us?
Of course - there's a cellar door shop here that features all the wines produced by the estate, along with their Seven Sisters range - brandy, vermouth and gin all made with grape spirit from each Rathfinny harvest by the Silent Pool team in nearby Surrey. There's some in the fridge too, so if you're heading back on the train, that could be very handy.
More about Rathfinny Wine Estate
Where is it? Alfriston, Polegate BN26 5TU
How much is a stay there?: The Escape to Sussex Package starts at £241 for two and includes a glass of Rathfinny Classic Cuvée on arrival, overnight stay, Tour & Tasting, three-course evening meal at the Flint Barns Dining Room and a seasonal breakfast. The tour and tasting on its own is £27.50.
Hot Dinners stayed as guests of Rathfinny. Prices correct at time of publication.
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