“Once I do one thing, I just can’t wait to get on to the next challenge” – Sir Adrian White
Once a pig farm, the family-owned, award-winning Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking is not only one of England’s largest single estate vineyards, but a classic example of eco-tourism. Apart from producing some 1 million bottles of award-winning wines a year from its 265 acre vineyard, it is the holder of a prestigious Green Tourism Gold Award (https://www.green-tourism.com/). It attracts 300,000 visitors a year to its visitor centre, and the estate offers tours, tastings, hotel accommodation, private and corporate dining, and a calendar of special events as well as a farm shop, art gallery and a wellness centre. Its 2022 Sustainability statement not only demonstrates how it works to reduce pollution, emissions and waste, as well as energy, water and other resources but it partners with like-minded companies, environmental and charitable groups to help both the environment and the local community. Also, but importantly, the winery engages in its own conservation projects: 1600 oak and hazel trees have been planted, bee-keeping and wild flower meadows have been re-introduced, and bat boxes have been installed near the woodland area of the estate to protect the bats and encourage natural pest management.
Founded in 1984 by Adrian White, CBE, who was knighted in 2016 for services to international trade and development, Denbies is a classic example of how harmonious entrepreneurs can change the world–for the better. Born in 1942, Sir Adrian is a serial entrepreneur. His father was a City of London stockbroker who encouraged Adrian and his 5 siblings to go into banking and insurance. So, on leaving school, he joined Barclays Bank. However, as he says, he “always wanted to make things and sell them” so when he met a fellow Christian, a water engineer, at his local Presbyterian church, he left and joined a water treatment company based in the Putney area of London. In 1968, at the age of 25, he sold his flat, cashed in an insurance policy, moved back home and started the Biwater Treatment Company with £1000, and the help of his mother and a businessman neighbour. Today, Biwater is a world leader in treated water, having carried out over 25,000 water and wastewater treatment projects in more than 90 countries around the world. Through growth and the acquisition of over 30 water treatment companies and equipment manufacturers, it employs between 500 and 1000 people and 159 directors.
Not content with growing the business, in the early 1980s he decided he wanted to own a farm and bought the 630 acre Denbies estate, which he found was not suited to cattle and pig farming because of the hilly terrain. Then, when talking one day with a neighbour, a Professor of Geology at Imperial College, London, he discovered that the geology of the area is the same as in the Champagne region of France. So in 1986, having determined that the south facing slopes would support the growth of vines, he piloted the project on just 30 acres of land. Since then it has grown into the highly successful enterprise it is today, employing some 135 people. However, growth has not been without its challenges. Frost is a problem and initially they installed windmills to keep the air circulating in order to prevent it. Due to local objections they now use heaters.
Clearly Denbies is addressing SDGs 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action ) and 15 (Life on Land), while Biwater is very much addressing 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) as well as 3 (Good Health and Well-being).
AS A POSTSCRIPT, Denbies was the venue for the Conference dinner at the 2005 Annual IntEnt ( Internationalising Entrepreneurship and Training) conference, hosted by the University of Surrey. The delegates were from all over the world, many from famous wine-producing countries. Before the event there was much scepticism and amusement at the choice of venue, England not being noted for the quality of its wine-production. The mood was very different by the end of the evening. A winery whose white cuvee beat labels like Dom Perignon in an international competition in 2008 cannot be bad!
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