Rathfinny Wine Estate – Interview With Mark Driver

19th June 2024

Rathfinny Estate Interview With Mark Driver

English Sparkling Wine is on the rise, becoming an undeniable contender to Traditional Method Sparkling around the world. To the English, it’s becoming a fan favourite and a go-to Glass of Bubbly, its quality is improving year on year and thanks to innovators and those willing to follow their dreams, the choice of English Sparkling Wine is expanding.

In this exclusive feature we speak with Mark Driver, who founded Rathfinny Wine Estate in 2010 with his wife Sarah Driver, in East Sussex, England, let’s find out a little about his life in the English wine industry.

It’s Great To Speak With You, Mark, Can You Tell Us A Little About Yourself & Your Incredible Journey Into The Wine Industry?

“I was always fascinated about wine and attended a wine tasting course with Michael Schuster in 1986. I fell in love with the idea of owning a vineyard and making wine after first visiting New Zealand in 1990. But four children and a job in investment management took me down a different path for the next twenty years, until I stopped working in finance at the end of 2009 and decided to explore buying land and making sparkling wine in southern England.”

Do You Remember Your First Experience With Sparkling Wine? When It Was And What Kind Of Label It Was?

“When I first started working for Fidelity in 1986, we used to get given bottles of Moët if we’d had a very good month. I suppose that was when I started exploring sparkling wine. I used to love Laurent Perrier’s Rosé, Bollinger and Pol Roger Brut. I only seriously explored English Sparkling in 2009, when I started thinking about planting a vineyard and we held a blind tasting with a group of friends, the English Sparkling wines held up very well and the top wine chosen was an English sparkler and the bottom wine was a French Champagne.”

How Rewarding And Challenging Is Managing Your Own English Sparkling Winery?

“Sarah and I are very proud of what we’ve managed to establish in a relatively short space of time. Our wines are now served at some of the top hotels, bars and restaurants across the UK, and increasingly around the world. You can now walk into a bar in Washington, Tokyo, Shanghai or Oslo and you’ll be offered a delicious glass of Sussex sparkling wine.

However, it has been challenging, the weather is always unpredictable in the UK, it’s either too hot and dry or cold and wet at the wrong times of the year, we are really growing wine at the margins, which is where they say the best wines are produced.

The main challenge initially was planning permission, but once the South Downs National Park was established (2011) we received considerable support for what we were doing. Then it was trying to find the engineers, architects and designers who could create the buildings we needed to make our wines. Luckily, we found a great engineer from South Africa who helped us and good local builders. The next challenge is creating the brand name and reputation and that takes time, you can’t manufacture a premium brand, it grows organically, through word of mouth, trust and delighting customers who have tasted our wines.”

When It Comes To Pairing Sparkling Wine With Food, Do You Have Any Favourite Combinations That You Would Personally Recommend?

“Whilst in Japan last year, we discovered how well our sparkling wines pair with Japanese food – try our Rosé with Salmon Sashimi or our Classic Cuvée with Uni (Sea Urchin), it’s just amazing. That little lick of salinity in our wines just makes them pair so well with any sea food, like our Blanc de Blancs with Oysters and Blanc de Noirs with Sea Bass, but the Rosé is a really versatile sparkling wine that will pair with everything from an Oyster bisque to a strawberry cheesecake.

My favourite is our Blanc de Noirs which will pair well with pork or venison or lamb, anything that you might serve with a fruit compote.”

Can You Share With Us Some Of The Countries And Amazing Locations Around The World That You Can Enjoy A Glass Of Rathfinny?

“Our wines are served on the Hurtigruten cruise ships which take you up and down the coast of Norway and the amazing Opus XVI in Bergen. They are about to poured at the Four Seasons in the Maldives as well as some of the top Sushi restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka, but as we lived in Hong Kong for a few years in the late 80’s I’m always proud to see our wines served at the amazing Upper House hotels in Hong Kong and Shanghai.”

What Future Plans Can Enthusiasts Of Rathfinny Estate Look Forward To In The Coming Years?

“Now that it’s legal we’re increasing our production of the 50cl bottle, the ‘Rathfinny Mini’, which we see as a perfect bottle for two people to share. We think that this format will prove very popular with customers at home, before dinner, or in the on-trade in hotel rooms or in restaurants when you want a bottle to share over lunch or before moving onto a bottle of white or red. Every fridge needs a 50cl bottle of Rathfinny in it ready to celebrate at the end of the day.”

Can You Share With Us One Of The Most Memorable Experiences You’ve Enjoyed With A Glass of Bubbly?

“We launched our wines in Hong Kong on the roof top bar of the Murray Hotel, looking out over the skyline was very memorable, but we’ve had many highlights over the years including being chosen as the sparkling wine of the month at the Ritz hotel in London and having a popup bar serving Rathfinny on the roof top of the amazing Ham Yard hotel in 2019.”

Thank you Mark, for sharing your story and experiences with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!

Images belong to Mark Driver. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.

Oliver Walkey

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.