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Rathfinny spared from devastating late spring frosts

East Sussex estate Rathfinny has been spared from the devastating spring frosts that have wiped out a third of France’s 2021 crop, due to its coastal location.

Speaking to db during the launch of its 2017 Classic Cuvée and 2017 Blanc de Blancs, co-owner Mark Driver revealed that Rathfinny had escaped the wrath of the frosts.

“We were lucky as most English vineyards are still at a woolly bud stage of vine development, so we got away with it, but some of our neighbours haven’t been so lucky.

“In terms of ripening, we’re two to three weeks behind most of Europe, so we weren’t affected by the late spring frosts. Being close to the sea, we don’t usually have problems with spring frosts.”

Estate co-founder Sarah Driver said the 2021 vintage reminded her of the 2017 vintage in England, which was also plagued by frosts.

“2017 saw some of the worst frosts in the UK in over 20 years, which was a worry as we didn’t even have bougis, but we should have trusted our position more, as we’re only three miles from the sea,” she said.

The estate lost “less than 1%” of its 2017 crop to frost and has installed windbreaks to lessen the potential damage of coastal winds to the vines.

“Wind is your friend and enemy in a vineyard. There is a similar sea influence to Margaret River in Alfreston, where we use windbreaks slow the wind down. Due to our coastal location the threat of powdery mildew is virtually nil and we harvest around three weeks later than our neighbours, well into November.

“We don’t get botrytis, so we can leave fruit on the vines as late as late October, as long as we can keep the canopy going,” Mark Driver said.

Rathfinny was founded by husband and wife team Mark and Sarah Driver three miles from the Seven Sisters cliffs in East Sussex, in 2010.

The estate is located in the South Downs National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and occupies the main part of Cradle Valley, on a south-facing slope close to the Cuckmere Valley.

The free draining clay loam soils over chalk, similar to those in Champagne, provide a ready source of water for the vines during the drier summer months.

The first vines were planted in 2012 and today Rathfinny comprises over 91ha of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, along with a little Pinot Gris.

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