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English sparkling wine producer Rathfinny achieves B Corp status

English sparkling wine producer Rathfinny Estate has been certified as ‘a force for good’ after achieving B Corp status.

The certification verifies that the business has demonstrated high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

More than 1,200 UK companies have secured B Corp certification, but very few wine producers have completed the rigorous accreditation process. Rathfinny is the world’s first sparkling wine producer that grows all of its own grapes to gain B Corp status.

Co-founder Sarah Driver told decanter.com that the certification is testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire team at Rathfinny. ‘It has been a real journey for us, and it took a lot of hard work, but the key has been bringing people with us,’ she added. ‘Staff from every area of the business have contributed, and they have been key to our success.’

Driver decided to strive for B Corp certification after a chance encounter with the marketing director for smoothie maker Innocent Drinks while on holiday a few years ago. Innocent had just secured the certification, and Driver realised that B Lab Global’s ethos meshed perfectly with Rathfinny’s approach to sustainability and governance.

‘We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do, and it chimed with what we were already doing,’ she said. ‘We felt well aligned with what B Corp is trying to achieve. We were already doing all the right things, but we were not necessarily recording or even acknowledging them.’

Nevertheless, Driver said the process has taken the business to ‘new levels’, as it has created staff committees, overhauled its job descriptions for senior management and ultimately focused on putting people and the planet on a par with generating profits. ‘It has made us question and think about every area of our business – governance, workers, the environment, customers and our community,’ she said.

Rathfinny’s journey so far

Driver founded Rathfinny with her husband, Mark – a former hedge fund manager – in 2010 after they purchased a working arable farm in Sussex.

She did not initially intend to play a major role in running the business, but she is a lawyer by training, and she found herself taking on policy and legal work, while her husband managed the vineyard and production.

As the business evolved, she focused increasingly on running Rathfinny’s thriving tourism business, while also overseeing various commercial areas, and she is now the company chair.

The first vines were planted in 2012, and the plan is to eventually have 142 hectares under vine. Rathfinny now produces 300,000 bottles of sparkling wine per year, making it one of England’s largest winemakers, and it exports to a range of international markets.

More than 60,000 tourists visit the winery each year, and they are shown around the south-facing slope in the South Downs of Sussex, which offers ideal conditions for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

There are 45 full-time members of staff, along with 45 ‘core casuals’, who work six to eight months of the year in the vineyard. Rathfinny also hires around 200 seasonal workers for each harvest, all of whom live within 10 miles of the estate.

‘Everybody told us we couldn’t do it, but we have worked really hard to build up our local workforce,’ said Driver. She added that staff from every area have contributed to discussions and panels en route to gaining B Corp status, and ‘everyone is conscious of being mindful about waste’.

There have also been commercial benefits to achieving the certification. ‘When you sell to the monopolies in Scandinavia, you have to have these environmental credentials,’ said Driver. ‘We have just started shipping to China, and a lot of the businesses in China need it too, which is great to see.’

Aiming for net zero by 2030

The company is currently celebrating the certification, but the next goal is to achieve carbon net zero by 2030.

Rathfinny has opted to measure its carbon emissions by the strictest international standards – laid down by Washington DC-based GHG Protocol – which means it cannot gain credit for the 380,000 vines it has planted or the trees on the estate, which act as a natural carbon sink.

As such, reaching net zero will be a challenge, but the team is undeterred. It has already added 1,500 solar panels to the winery roof, which generates green energy for production and for the wider community, while Rathfinny has also applied to construct a wind turbine.

It has worked with Natural England, the National Trust and the South Downs National Park to implement a programme of improvements to enhance wildlife habitats, while reviving and reclaiming areas of natural chalk grassland and creating wildlife corridors to improve biodiversity.

The company has reduced cardboard use by 26%, and Driver hopes to see the industry move away from using gift boxes to present sparkling wines in retail outlets in the future.

It may ultimately need to explore some form of offsetting to achieve net zero, but it would only consider offsetting via a local project that it has control over.

From a commercial perspective, Rathfinny increased sales by 94% year-on-year in 2022, and it is now poured at many of the UK’s top hotels and restaurants, with listings in a variety of independent retailers too. ‘Serious restaurants now have to have an English sparkling wine, and there is a huge opportunity in restaurants around the world too,’ said Driver.

Exports are growing, from Canada to Japan, and the Drivers were delighted to see Sussex gain PDO status last year. ‘It’s a real mark of quality,’ Sarah Driver said. ‘Our ambition is that in 20 years’ time you will walk into a bar or restaurant in New York or Beijing and you’ll be asked, “would you like a glass of Champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex? I can recommend Rathfinny.”’

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