Fledgling Sussex vineyard Rathfinny near Alfriston, East Sussex has attracted a French wine maker with experience in some of the world’s most well-known Champagne houses, eager to produce world-class wine that can challenge his former employers.
Wine maker Jonathan Médard (pictured above with his wife) has joined the estate, arriving with his wife Lisa (et chien noir Brix) and settling in Lewes. Médard hails from Epernay in the heart of Champagne. Following a biochemistry degree and master’s in Oenology from the Université de Reims, Médard is excited about bringing his talent to this side of La Manche.
He says: “This is a great challenge for me. It is obvious that there is great sparkling wine in England and the potential for more great wine in England.
“This is a great position as we are now building up the estate from the ground up by planting the vines. This is a wine maker’s dream.”
He added that French wine drinkers are now beginning to take the idea of wine produced in England seriously: “There is interest in the media. They are on top of what is happening and there is, of course, the great need for sparkling wine,” he says.
Médard trained in wineries of the likes of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Champagne Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon, and Champagne Boizel prior to honing his expertise in California and Virginia at Newton Vineyard and Kluge Estate respectively.
A graduate of the University of California at Davis’ wine executive programme and fluent in three languages, he was most recently vice president of wine making for the Central Coast California winery, Conway Family Wines. He will oversee the building of the winery and be choosing the equipment needed to make the estate’s sparkling wine.
It is not the first time he has visited the UK, as he has family near London, but it is the first time he has resided over here.
The Rathfinny has been established by former City executive Mark Driver and his wife Sarah, to fulfil an ambition to produce fine wines developed when visiting New Zealand in 1990. The estate has a predominantly south-facing aspect and lies within three miles of the sea , giving a cool, maritime climate with a long and steady growing season in which the grapes can ripen and develop flavours as well as a natural balance of acids and sugars. Remarkably, the vineyard is also protected from any excessive sea breezes by a natural land bank that runs along the southern edge of the estate.
Fifty acres (20 ha) are due to be planted this year, with a further 50 acres earmarked for next year. The ambition is to have 300 acres under vine within five years. This will result in a predicted production of around 800,000 bottles, mainly sparkling wine. Cameron Roucher, one of New Zealand’s leading viticulturists, is the estate’s viticulturist.
The varietals for the first planting have been chosen to complement the soil and the climate of the estate, and also our desire to produce great English sparkling wines, worthy heirs to the great legacy of Champagne. Therefore, the first 50 acres of vines comprise:
- - 18 acres of Pinot Noir
- - 4 acres of Pinot Meunier
- - 16 acres of Chardonnay
- - 7 acres of Riesling
- - 5 acres of Pinot Gris