Rathfinny Wine Estate is situated in the heart of the picturesque South Downs National park in Sussex. Established by Mark and Sarah Driver, once fully planted Rathfinny will be one of the largest single vineyard sites in Europe. I was lucky enough to visit with Plumpton College before the first vines had been planted. It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come already – the anticipation is high for their first sparkling wine which is due to be released in 2018.
Whilst waiting for their first vintage to gently age in bottle, the team at Rathfinny have been busy. A state-of-the-art environmentally-friendly winery and visitor centre have been built and they’ve released a gin: Seven Sisters.
The name Seven Sisters is a tribute to the Seven Sisters range of hills which run along the Sussex and Kent coastline. The label design was hand-drawn and depicts the layers of chalk and sediment which are iconic within Sussex and the English wine industry, (being the same geological make-up as found in Champagne). The tactile label includes subtle embossing and foiled elements which help to emphasise this.
Each bottle also states the vintage of the grapes which created the base spirit.
Why would a winery release a gin? Under any other circumstances, it may seem disingenuous, but when you consider that the base spirit is made from the waste grape skins, it all begins to make sense. The free-run juice, first and second pressings of the grapes are all used for wine production, but the juice from the third pressing isn’t considered of a high enough quality and the grapes are usually discarded without being pressed again. Most wineries compost the grape skins and use this in the vineyard. However, the juice left in the skins is perfect for distilling.
Collaborating with Silent Pool distillery in Guildford, Rathfinny produce a grape-based spirit. The two teams experimented with a range of botanicals before settling on the final nine.
Juniper from Macedonia
Coriander from England
Angelica Root from Belgium
Angelica Seed from Belgium
Orris Root from Morocco
Liquorice Root from Spain
Dried Bitter Orange from Spain
Fresh Lemon Peel from Sicily
Hyssop from Poland
The grape spirit is lengthened with neutral grain spirit (NGS) in a ratio of 30:70. The botanicals are macerated in the spirit for 24 hours prior to distillation. Silent Pool use their 200 litre copper pot still and rectifying column to produce 7000 bottles of Seven Sisters.
Bottled at 42%, natural spring water from Silent Pool is used to cut the spirit down.
To increase production, you would need more grape spirit. Cleverly, Rathfinny have a precise planting scheme which means new vines are coming into productivity each year, which affords them to slowly grow the spirit production too.
By utilising the waste grape juice, they are creating another product and balancing their environmental practices. The grape skins can still be used on the vineyard.
The interest and beauty of using grapes as a base spirit is that there will be yearly variation. It will be fascinating to taste future vintages of the gin alongside each other to see how much impact the grape base has.
Aromas: Bright, yet quite delicate aromas of sweet floral hedgerow notes. Liquorice and floral juniper are supported by good zesty citrus underneath.
Palate: A soft, smooth palate with a tiny bit of heat. Great juniper and coriander at the core with a Muscat-like perfumed grape tone evident. Sweet soft floral and citrus. A tangy citrus and liquorice finish.
With Tonic: Bold bright purple liquorice and parma violets with zesty tangy citrus underneath. Good weight and juniper forward.
Garnish: Blood Orange works well when in season.
I'm really impressed with this first release. The botanicals balance the grape spirit beautifully, but you do still get it coming through. It would be a shame to use a grape base if it wasn't allowed to shine. I love tangy citrus and juniper forward style.