HRH The Duchess of Cornwall officially opened the UK’s first dedicated viticulture and oenology research centre yesterday.
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The £2 million Rathfinny Research Winery at Plumpton College in East Sussex forms part of a mission to help the English wine industry rival its more established French counterparts and to strengthen its international profile.
As part of the expertise required to achieve these goals, Plumpton College will introduce the UK’s first MSc course in viticulture and oenology in September this year.
Opening the new facility, Des Lambert, principal of Plumpton College, said: “England is now firmly placed as a credible, innovative and exciting wine producing region that is creating some of the best sparkling wine in the world. Wines from Sussex are regularly beating off Champagnes in international awards.”
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The research centre has been sponsored by Mark and Sarah Driver, owners of the 600 acre Rathfinny Estate in East Sussex, England’s largest single-site vineyard to-date, which is due to open its own winery in May.
Having started planting vineyards in 2012, Rathfinny is working toward adding a further 50 acres a year until it reaches 400 acres, with the aim of producing around one million bottles of sparkling wine a year by 2020. Export is set to form a major focus for the brand, which aims to sell up to half its production to markets across Europe, Asia and North America.
This year is due to see the estate’s first harvest, although the sparkling wine will not be released before 2017. However, the team does expect to release a still Riesling produced under the Cradle Valley brand this year.
Explaining their decision to sponsor the new research centre, Mark and Sarah Driver said: “Every new and exciting industry needs a strong research institution behind it, for example UC Davis is a centre of excellence for the wine industry in California, and Brighton University’s Plumpton College is that centre of excellence in the cool climate wine region of England.
“English sparkling wine is now considered by many to be some of the finest sparkling wine in the world, and this new wine research centre will ensure that we are training the next generation of English viticulturists and wine makers.”
The Duchess of Cornwall has proved a particularly supportive advocate for the burgeoning English and Welsh wine industry and in 2012 became president of the UK Vineyards Association.