Discover the remarkable journey of how farmworkers evolved into wine brand owners at Thokozani Wines. Denise Stubbs’s dedication and her workers’ commitment to ownership define a narrative of empowerment, crafting exceptional wines with purpose and pride.
Indulging in a glass of Thokazani unveils a story that extends beyond the conventional tale of the vine to the barrel. It is an incredible story of how farmworkers became wine brand owners.
Situated in the heart of Wellington in the Western Cape, lies a 183-hectare wine farm called Diemersfontein, the home of Thokozani Wines. It is here where Denise Stubbs and her team passionately produce wine with a purpose.
Thokozani Wines was founded in 2002 as an initiative of David Sonnenberg, the third-generation proprietor of Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate.
Celebrating beautiful wine, stories and people
“Thokozani means celebration in Zulu, and we wanted to celebrate a beautiful wine, a beautiful story, and people. The uniqueness of Thokozani is the ownership. I believe if you have ownership over something, you respect it,” she explains.
Thokozani is committed to achieving long-term economic empowerment and making a significant positive impact on the lives of its employees. In a ground-breaking move in November 2020, Thokozani acquired a 55% stake in Diemersfontein Wines, resulting in the majority ownership of Diemersfontein Wines by Diemersfontein and Thokozani employees.
Stubbs explains that for many generations, black people were only deemed suitable for working the land, and negative stereotypes were associated with both the production and consumption of wine.
“Especially the old idea of wine is not good. Wine is art, and this is an industry that was made for our people who worked the land and today own the brand,” she says.
Taking ownership of the brand
What makes this story extra special is that the workers serving guests at the Diemersfontein accommodation and restaurant facilities are also stakeholders in the business.
Stubbs, who has been instrumental in the creation of Thokozani Group, says it has been a deeply rewarding journey to see the workers take ownership of the brand.
“We are very proud to say that the process is not just any process, it is their process. They can talk about the [wine], and the winemaking process. Maybe they don’t have the qualification, but they understand the brand,” she explains proudly.
Stubbs is the daughter of farm labourers, so understands the significance of their work.
“Both my parents were labourers in multiple agriculture sectors including the vineyards and all that I knew about wine was picking the grapes. Today I am so grateful because everything I knew about wine was so negative. If I look at where I am and what I have achieved with the farmworkers, it is amazing,” she explains.
Thokozani SMV 2021, a flavourful harmony
The story behind each selection makes your wine heart melt. Stubbs’s summer wine selection consists of the Thokozani SMV 2021.
“The grapes were harvested in three separate batches and fermented individually. Pre-fermentation cold soaking was given for one day before inoculation with yeast. Mourvedré was pumped over every 3-5 hours in a closed fermenter. The shiraz was fermented in a closed fermenter and given combined pumping over 3-5 hours with alternative aerated pump overs.”
The wine was racked after alcoholic fermentation, and malolactic fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks. The Mourvedré was racked to barrel after malolactic fermentation in new French oak barrels and the shiraz was into tanks fitted with 100% new American oak staves.
The viognier component is from a small batch of natural sweet viognier, adding a fuller mouthfeel and fruit to the wine.
A dash of sparkles
Her next choice is the limited edition Ovation Spumanté, a tropical fruit wine with a semi-sweet taste and light sparkles on the palate.
The sauvignon blanc grapes were harvested early in the morning. Grapes were destemmed, and crushed, and the juice was cold-fermented in tanks to preserve the fruit flavours. The sugar level of the wine was adjusted to 30g/L and bottled with a slight burst of CO2 to give the wine a sparkle. To obtain a sparkling wine, a second fermentation process is required to capture the carbon dioxide inside the bottle, thus creating the bubbles
“We have a few bubbles in it, and the younger generation loves their bubbles. It’s an easy-drinking wine and brings so much exclusivity with it.”
The wine will get a whole new look in the new year and possibly more bubbles, Stubbs hints.
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