The cost of living crisis has Britain in its grip, and when teamed with soaring petrol prices, the P&O Ferry scandal and airport staff shortages, overseas travel has become a less attractive option this summer.
More people are looking to enjoy what’s on offer closer to home for their getaway, with the added benefit of claiming some Brownie points for reducing their carbon footprint, and help businesses recover from the covid pandemic.
Rathfinny Wine Estate, set in the rolling hills of the South Downs, and equipt with vineyards, wine tasting, a hotel and restaurants is an ideal candidate.
Just a short drive up through the entrance and you get your first Champagne moment, or should that be English Sparkling wine moment (the estate’s famous tipple).
Breathtaking views stretch down the Cuckmere Valley to the shimmering blue of the Channel. Along the ridge, an illuminated text sculpture by Turner Prize-shortlisted British artist Nathan Coley inscribed with the words “A Place Beyond Belief’ sums up the feeling (an Instagram-able opportunity if there ever was one).
A few yards further and you see the sheer scale of this wine estate – a 600 acre south facing bowl of farmland blanketed with arrow straight rows of vines. At its centre a wavy grass roofed modern winery and restaurant — and just beyond the more traditional converted farm buildings of the Flint Barns accommodation. Barely 10 years after inception, Rathfinny is already one of the biggest independent vineyards in Europe.
The sweeping expanse of Rathfinny Wine Estate with its 600 acres of vines
After plugging in our electric Astra from car sharing app ZipCar, we found what awaited inside no less impressive – a minimalist yet warm-style restaurant and accommodation channelling pared back chic and served by quietly efficient and friendly staff.
The food at the fine dining Tasting Room conjured up by Head Chef Chris Bailey, well on his way to his second Michelin star, is as delightful as the views from the huge panoramic windows.
Based on the themes of Land, Sea and Garden, it’s British ingredient focussed menu offers beautifully presented take on modern European fare with an Asian twist.
Tuck into locally and sustainably sourced dishes such as wild garlic bouillbaise with smoked Sea Trout, bream and cuttlefish or Beef cheeks with pig trotter, morels and wilted butter leaf.
All washed down, of course, by the star of the show, Rathfinny’s award winning wines, whether it’s the signature sparkling Blanc De Noirs, its Classic Cuvee or Rose Brut.
If you prefer a still wine there is the Cradle Valley white.
The Tasting Room restaurant is the perfect setting to enjoy a glass of signature sparkling Blanc De Noirs grown just yards away, while sampling the culinary delights from chef Chris Bailey
Stumbling into the afternoon Spring sun, grabbing our bags and checking the car was quietly charging, we strolled down to our accommodation for the night – Flint Barns, a flint and brick hotel of 10-rooms with an enclosed courtyard, stylishly brought back from dereliction by the co-founders Sarah and Mark Driver.
The bedrooms are of a stripped back rustic style with wooden floors, metal framed beds and mid-century modern furniture. Colourful bed linen and pillows add a splash of colour.
Downstairs is a fabulous lounge, dotted with plush leather chairs and sofas and warmed by a log burner.
Guests are encouraged to order a glass of wine from reception cum bar and curl up with a book or newspaper, or on warmer days venture through the double doors into the adjacent walled courtyard and enjoy a cold local beer.
Flint Barns offers food too with gastro-pub style hearty breakfasts, evening meals and Sunday lunches.
Flint Barn’s menu is packed with rustic yet delicious farm house fare
The country chic rooms are cosy fresh and clean, just the ticket for unwinding after a long day of wine tasting
There is much to enjoy in the surrounding countryside. Alfriston, a picture-perfect village on the estate’s doorstep, boasts more than its fair share of pubs, tea and coffee houses, and independent shops and galleries along its medieval streets. There is the Star, a former 15th century coaching house converted into a chic boutique hotel by Alex Polizzi.
The medieval George Inn, and the Ye Old Smugglers Inne, are more traditional cosy affairs , the latter said to be aptly named as it was on the route used to ‘transport’ French wines to the London.
Much Ado About Books is a bibliophile’s dream and the Dressing Room, a vintage clothes shop offers everything from haute couture to boho chic. The arts are also catered for at Alfriston Arts, a contemporary art and craft gallery and shop featuring works by local artists and craftspeople.
Less than a couple of miles away at Litlington, you can hire an e-Bike for a gentle -power assisted – ride around the country lanes and bike tracks sprawling the rolling hills.
Hopping on an e-bike is the perfect way to get a little exercise and explore the surronds of the South Downs
But there is plenty to do at Rathfinny if you don’t want to venture off the estate. There are daily tours and tastings of the vineyard and winery where you will discover the grand ambition of this family owned estate and get to taste the wine.
The founders and owners, Mark Driver and his wife Sarah, both former City workers, have a 100 year plan to make it one of the most prestigious vineyards in the Europe and elevate the brand Sussex to be as synonymous with quality sparkling wines as Champagne.
All this they propose to do while maintaining the very highest sustainable and ethical standards in the world. The estate is due to be certified a B Corp business next month – a gold standard described as to business what Fairtrade is to coffee.
There are pre-packed picnics to be had on the grounds and the Rathfinny Trail, a three mile walk that loops around the vineyard and nearby National Trust land is a haven of wildlife including Buzzards, Hares and butterflies.
Relax and take in the views – and the tipples – with a picnic amid the vines
For the more active they could build up an appetite by joining the South Downs Way and walk to the Seven Sisters cliffs, six miles down the Cuckmere valley to the sea.
Or if you prefer, you can enjoy a coffee or snack from The Hut, a shepherds hut next to the winery which has just been installed and opening this summer to cater for ‘drop in’ visitors and walkers.
The choice includes Rebel charcuterie, Sussex Bakehouse sweet treats and Neil’s Yard cheeses.
All this can be enjoyed with the backdrop of the rolling South Downs. As we headed back to the fully charged Astra to head back to London, we both agreed we will be back for another visit.
Electric car charging ports mean you can have a fully green staycation
Rathfinny Wine Estate, Alfriston, East Sussex. BN26 5TU
Standard room rates at Rathfinny start from £100 for a cosy double, to £295 for the Super Deluxe King.
The Escape to Sussex Package is available all year round from £241 for two people (excluding October when we offer a special harvest package) and includes tour and tasting, a glass of Classic Cuvee on arrival, three course meal at Flint Barns and overnight stay.
All bookable at www.rathfinnyestate.com as are reservations at the Tasting Room restaurant
ZipCar, the car sharing service which is part of the Avis Budget Group, costs £14/ hour
E-Bike tours from Cadence Cycle Club