As Sussex leads the charge of the blossoming UK wine industry, wine producers across the county are developing unique Sussex vineyard experiences that in turn are creating a new Sussex heritage and culture. Test driving these experiences has got to be one of life’s great pleasures and never more so than a recent visit to Rathfinny Wine Estate in East Sussex.
Rathfinny has the wow factor from the moment you turn off the winding road that goes from Alfriston along the course of the Cuckmere River and on to the sea. The long driveway to the winery, tasting rooms and restaurant takes you across the undulating South Downs with neat rows of vines left and right and staggering views. And on a hot sunny day, you get out of the car to a warm breeze reminiscent of the south of France and the distinct scent of the sea.
This doesn’t feel like England and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived in an elegant French vineyard. They have a sense of style here, and it’s the sort of place you can get stuck into a bottle of wine and never want to leave.
The Summer Kitchen
Few alfresco venues are more spectacular than Rathfinny’s Summer Kitchen. You’ll find the large, open-sided marquee to the side of The Flint Barns, with commanding views over the vines and the South Downs, and tables set out on grassy banks.
There’s a soft breeze, the quiet hum of music and a laid-back feel that instantly puts you at ease. There’s no traffic here, no hustle and bustle. Just the gentle rhythm of the Downs. You have arrived somewhere special.
What’s on the menu?
The Summer Kitchen offers seasonal lunches served to your table from a deli counter of fresh salads and platters. Always on the lookout for local produce, I was delighted to see the Rathfinny Summer Kitchen menu includes High Weald cheese, salami from Brighton and Sussex strawberries, along with Long Man beer, Sussex Hairy Pig cider and South Downs sparkling water. I’m happy. And of course, you have a choice of their Classic Cuvée, Rosé Brut, Blanc de Blanc, and Blanc de Noirs. Or if it’s still wine you prefer, they also have their own Pinot Gris and Rosé. And relax. Life is good.
The menu for our visit included Labneh with herb oil and pumpkin seed, Panzanella and cauliflower, chickpeas, pickled peppers, raisins and Za’atar to start. Washed down with the Classic Cuvée which just got better and better as the afternoon wore on.
The starter was followed by a choice of tart of summer squash with High Weald ricotta and sage pesto, baked salmon with creme fraiche, cucumber, and puffed sushi rice, or chicken breast over vines with a curry emulsion and poached apricot. And who would say no to baked cheesecake with Sussex strawberries and elderflower to finish?
There’s something immensely restorative about lazy summer lunching in such a beautiful setting and we were in no rush to leave. It felt like a little pocket-sized holiday and I promised myself to return soon and spend more time exploring this area. It was also only polite to stop in their tasting rooms and shop before we left where they also sell their own Seven Sisters gin and vermouth.
They offer a number of other vineyard experiences here which include their Dine in the Vines (a gastronomic offering situated in the vines celebrating seasonal produce from the land, sea, and gardens of the British Isles). Think Lobster Feast (July) or Barbeque Feast (August). And they run vineyard tours and tastings.
Lunch at the Summer Kitchen (wine not included) costs £29.50 pp for adults, £13.50 pp for children and it is open from 31st May to 28th August. You can book here: Summer Kitchen
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