English sparkling wines are quickly rising to become a contender to Champagne with growing reputation. One of its ambitious sparkling producers Rathfinny Wine Estate, which has taken over the world’s greatest restaurants, is now partnering with Hong Kong-based importer Fine Vintage to conquer the Asia wine hub.
Rathfinny Wine Estate was established in 2010 by husband and wife Mark and Sarah Driver, with a clear goal to produce some of the finest sparkling wines in the world. The winery is now best-known for its Pinot-Noir based sparkling wines in the UK.
The estate sits on a south-facing slope in South Downs of Sussex characterized by the same band of chalk that forms the Paris Basin, which spans Northern France’s Champagne motherland and Southern England.
Aiming to have 350 acres of vine eventually, it now has 230 acres under vine planted with three principal grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, beside a small amount of Pinot Gris. The winery has produced four vintages so far, and its wine range include Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs, Rosé and Classic Cuvée.
Rathfinny released their first sparkling wines only in 2018, but it has rapidly swept the UK market with appearances in some finest dining venues including The Fat Duck, Claridge’s, The Savoy, Le Gavroche, The Ritz, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and more.
In 2019, its Rosé 2016 and Blanc de Noirs 2015 were crowned as ‘Sparkling Wine of the Month’ at The Ritz London, only the second time a non-Champagne was chosen in The Ritz’s 113-year history.
Now the winery is partnering with Fine Vintage, which specialize in servicing Hong Kong’s premium on-trade channel, to gain a foothold in Asia’s wine hub.
Founded in 1986, Fine Vintage is one of the oldest and largest family-owned wine and spirit distributors supplying Hong Kong and Macau.
Fine Vintage imports and distributes an extensive range of world-class wine and spirit brands for on-premise clients including leading hotels, restaurants, bars, and private clubs, as well as premium off-premise specialized retailers.
The starting portfolio of Rathfinny wines will comprise Rathfinny Estate Classic Cuvée 2018, Rathfinny Estate Rosé 2018 and Rathfinny Estate Blanc de Blancs 2017.
Sarah Driver, co-founder of Rathfinny Estate who was brought up in Hong Kong is thrilled to mark a new chapter with Fine Vintage, “We are delighted to be embarking on this exciting journey with the well established and well respected Fine Vintage. We very much admire the other producers in their portfolio, most of whom have been with them for many years. Our partnership feels like such a natural fit.” she said.
“Over the past few years, we have been looking to find a good English Sparkling wine that would fit with our premium wine selection from predominantly family-owned wineries. Our patient search has been rewarded with what we believe to be the leading producer in England,” Kevin Stephen, General Manager of Fine Vintage, commented.
“Mark and Sarah Driver (co-owners of Rathfinny) have a close historic connection with Hong Kong and we are extremely proud that they have entrusted Fine Vintage to look after their creation,” he said.
In addition to the semi-continental climate and free-draining chalk soils, the Rathfinny Estate uses low-intervention and traditional methods in hope to present the true expression of their Sussex terroir.
Produced from hand-harvested grapes that are whole-bunch pressed and aged on lees and in bottle, its wines are characterized by rich flavors and multi-layered texture.
Apart from Rathfinny Estate, other producers such as Ridgeview, Balfour, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Bolney or Hattingley Valley are also growing in popularity and reputation.
The UK is now home to more than 450 wineries with an annual production capacity of 3.15 million bottles of wines. The popular wine growing areas are mostly situated in the South and South East, such as Hampshire, Sussex and Kent.
The UK’s sparkling wine has been particularly praised for its quality, which attracted Champagne Taittinger, one of Champagne’s most famous producers, to purchase a vineyard in Kent with plans to produce its first English sparkling wine by 2023.
Although the production volume of sparkling wines from the UK took up only about 0.2% of global sparkling wine volume, its sales volume rose by almost 11% from 2015 to 2020, according to the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reports.
In International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) 2021, English wines overall won more medals than ever, with the renowned English winery Nyetimber scooping an IWSC Trophy with its Blanc de Blancs Brut 2013 for a high mark of 97.