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Rathfinny first to gain ‘Sussex’ wine approval as it seals distribution deal with Gonzalez Byass

Published:  11 September, 2017

A still white wine has become the first ‘Sussex’ wine to win approval under the new Sussex Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) scheme.

Rathfinny Estate in Alfriston, East Sussex, said its Cradle Valley wine, a blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from the 2016 vintage, had passed an independent analytical test and had won approval from a tasting panel, making it the first official ‘Sussex’ wine.

“I very pleased to get Sussex off the ground and expect to see others applying for Sussex PDO status with this years’ harvest,” Mark Driver, owner of the Rathfinny Estate, told Harpers.

“All the grapes come from the Rathfinny Estate and were handpicked and whole-bunch pressed giving it a concentration of flavours,” he said.

Approval of the first ‘Sussex’ wine under the PDO scheme, comes amid a growing on-trade presence of Sussex wines in bars and restaurants in East and West Sussex and at promotional events, such as the first Sussex Gin and Fizz festival, which takes place in Lewes on September 30th 2017 featuring Sussex sparkling wines.

The Sussex PDO status for the Cradle Valley wine comes ahead of the release, next June 2018, of Rathfinny Estate’s first Sussex sparkling wines: the 2014 Blanc de Blancs and a Rosé.

Distributor, Gonzalez Byass said today that it had reached an agreement with Rathfinny Estate to distribute these wines in the UK through its premium on and off-trade accounts.

Earlier this year, the UK government authorised temporary approval in Britain, for the Sussex PDO scheme, which is currently going through the EU authorisation process in Brussels.

The legal protection of wine and food products is a key part of the Brexit negotiations. On September 6th, The Guardian newspaper revealed that the EU wants to ensure there are no British copycats of products such as Champagne, Cava and Cognac and Parma ham after Brexit.

Last November, the UK government indicated that Britain would continue to use the existing EU systems for protected food and drink names after Brexit.

The EU protected wine and food name scheme highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed and provides legal protection against imitation throughout the EU.

Products protected under the PDO scheme must be produced, processed and prepared in a demarcated area and have distinct characteristics from this area.

In a document published on July 27th, the UK government said it had applied to the EU to PDO status for Sussex wine, which covers both sparkling and still wines.

“An application has completed national scrutiny and submitted to the EU for scrutiny,” the government document says.

The Sussex PDO covers the East and West Sussex counties of the former Kingdom of Sussex.

The Sussex PDO application document says factors including calcareous soils, an exceptional sunshine record and the moderate annual rainfall of 600- 850mm, determine the specific quality and characteristics of wine produced in Sussex.

Compared to the generic English wine PDO schemes, the Sussex PDO has a stricter set of rules regarding both viticulture and oenology, including: a limitation on the grape varieties that can be used, higher natural minimum alcohol levels, and higher analytical standards.

Sussex wines have to pass a qualitative assessment and the Sussex PDO stipulates longer bottle ageing for Sussex sparkling wine.

Rathfinny Estate has produced about 6,000 bottles of the Cradle Valley wine, which is sold for £14.95 at the estate’s Gun Room in Alfriston, East Sussex.