There’s nothing like sitting around with a glass of sparkling wine overlooking the rolling green hills, haystacks and windswept cliffs of South Downs in Sussex, England. While enjoying the beauty of the Sussex landscape I recently enjoyed that view at the Rathfine Wine Estate, one of the newest and largest wineries in England. Just a short trip from London, this durable winery is fast becoming a major hub for English wine tourism.
In addition to learning about sustainable winery practices to improve land and wine, I talked with its founder, Mark and Sarah Driver, and Cameron Roucher, the company’s vineyard manager, about their plans for the company and how they encourage community participation. As a company, Rathfinny values cooperation, creativity and diversity and is committed to building a local skilled workforce while supporting the English wine industry.
Founded in 2010 and spread over 600 acres of land, Rothfini grows its shrubbery in lush soils that are geologically connected to the Champagne region of France, the world-famous sparkling wine-producing region. This, and a moderate climate and unique location, has greatly influenced the rich flavors of their vintage sparkling wines. In the 10 years since the purchase of this agricultural land, the drivers have been recognized for the quality of their products and have made their estate more than just a farm. It has become a restaurant, a manufacturing company and a popular tourist destination As they continue to expand, drivers insist that they will always be aware of how they build their business – how they cultivate their vines or how they treat their employees.
“We have always been very conscious as an employer,” says Sarah. “We wanted to bring people with us and work with our staff. Our mantra is that our employees are the most important asset to us. We really want to take people with us on this journey. “
Rathfini evaluates himself as a people-centered business that puts his community first. By investing in local workforce and engaging with the community through various programs and tourist-driven initiatives, Rathfini’s goal is to create a solid-knit group of people working towards the same goal: to help expand the local economy and create career opportunities. Way
Build a local workforce
At the heart of the Rathfini Wine Estate lies the importance of sustainable practices and their impact on communities around the world. One of the main ways drivers stay connected to their community is to hire local residents whenever possible. As a company expects to receive its B Corp certification next month, they need to consider their impact on legal employees, but drivers have always been motivated to be different in their hiring practices. Rathfinny currently employs about 40 “core” people, and employs 200 or more additional seasonal employees.
Rathfini works with a local recruitment agency to find people who are looking for flexible work schedules. For three to four weeks of the year, vineyards need pruning or pruning. People who take advantage of this opportunity come to different areas of life – from the need for extra money in and around their college courses to finding a hobby outside of their leisure time. “They are our employees, and they are considered part of the family,” says Sarah. “It simply came to our notice then. I am very proud of it, even though it has cost us dearly. “
While drivers are enthusiastic about their hiring practices, it would be confusing not to mention that hiring in this way slows down productivity. On average, pruning 500 vines per day is the measure of a successful vineyard. Using local staff, Rathfini now grows an average of about 150 to 200 herbs per day. “There are experienced crews you can bring in, and we’ve used them occasionally whenever we had time to do something fast,” says Sarah. “The local workforce may be slow, but as the pool of experience grows they will accelerate. Also some still need to be trained, and we need to use our best people to train them.”
Despite the challenges, drivers are proud of what they are doing, and are already seeing the results of their time investment. They have created a group of local, loyal staff that they call “core casual.” Whenever there is an opportunity for work, they come back early. This loyalty is an important part of the workplace that drivers have always hoped to create.
“There’s a lot of friendship here,” Sarah says. “People enjoy coming here because they really like what they are doing, even if it stands in the beauty of the vineyard. I truly believe that everyone has invested in what they are doing. They really care and go the extra mile.”
The goal of the Community Initiative is to support local tourism
Another way Rathfini has chosen to give back to his community is to invest in the future of English wine. Driver sponsored a new research lab in 2014 at Plumpton College in Plumpton, Sussex. Rathfini Research Winery was the first dedicated viticulture and onology research center in England.
Critics have occasionally questioned England’s place in the wine industry, but the truth is that Sussex’s sparkling wines are losing champagne to regular international awards. The goal of building a strong research institution is to support England as a credible and innovative wine producing region and to train the next generation of English viticulturists and wine makers.
While making its mark in an emerging industry, drivers also strive to make Sussex, England a major center for wine tourism. Sussex is already well known for its extensive landscape, and as such, South Downs National Park was established in 2010. The South Downs, also known as the “Gateway to England”, stretches over 600 miles and has a dramatic chalk cliff overlooking the English Channel. Known as the Seven Sisters, Cliffs attracts a host of Asian tourists because the number 7 is considered lucky in China and features a number of Chinese and Korean celebrities. Rathfini wine labels include an outline of cliffs.
Also, artists and winemakers have always been attracted to Sussex for its inspiring and creeper-friendly countryside. “We’ve worked that, in fact, what attracted the artists to the area was the landscape – the South Downs. And what attracted wine growers to the area was the unique geological features of the South Downs, “says Mark.” So we thought, ‘What a wonderful combination of banana, wine and landscape.’
Rathfiny has partnered with other Sussex vineyards and wineries, as well as industrial establishments around the area and South Downs National Park to create Sussex Modern Enterprises. This collaboration brings together 36 destinations that all define the county’s modern, independent consciousness. From other wineries in this growing wine region to well-known art exhibitions including the Bloomsbury Group’s Charleston House, Ditchling Museum and Towner Gallery, Sussex Modern helps create a variety of experiences for tourists connected to Sussex’s South England. On their website, you can plan your trip to South Downs – enjoy a wine tour, have some lunch, go to an art show and go on a trip.
Located just an hour outside London, Rathfini hopes such community efforts will help make Sussex a global destination for tourists. Rathfinny already receives 40,000 visitors a year, and many times more than the total for the entire region. There are economic costs to wine tourism: domestic tourists who visit the wine region spend an average of 40% more than the average tourist; Foreign tourists who visit the wine region spend more than 80%.
Outside of economic benefits, drivers hope to share the region’s natural beauty and opportunities with visitors.
“We want them down here,” Mark said. “We want them to share this beautiful landscape. We want to influence them. We want to show them what else they can do. ”
“People will often write and say how proud they are to have it in their community,” said Sarah. “They love to visit our vineyards. We have a lot of repeat visitors. ”