How much do you know about the wine you buy at your local supermarket or wine store? For most, it boils down to price, variety, and availability – we buy it, we enjoy it, and that’s where it ends. For Ovation wines, there is much more than meets the eye and so I met up with Denise Stubbs, Business Development Director of Ovation Wines, and David Sonnenberg, a Shareholder and Owner of Diemersfontein Wines, to learn more about how this wine brand ended up on the shelves of one of the most prestigious retailers in South Africa.
Denise Stubbs tasted her first glass of wine at the ripe age of 37 and today, 10 years later, she is the Business Development Director of Ovation Wines all thanks to a company called Thokozani. Thokozani was founded by Diemersfontein Wines owner David Sonnenberg in 2007 who wanted to give more to the people who worked on the estate.
“Growing up on Diemersfontein Estate, I formed very close relationships with the workers on the farm and it was only when I was older, realised the harsh reality of their lives and the privileged life which I lead,” explains Sonnenberg.
“I befriended a milkman who could only return to his wife in Uganda for a few weeks a year, learning later in life that he had committed suicide on the estate because his wife had left him. This member of our staff was miserable, and this is not something I wanted repeating.” Says Sonnenberg.
Thokozani, a BBBEE company starting with 35 staff shareholders, including its white managers so as not to artificially split the workforce has two components, wine and property, which is 80% staff-owned, mentored by Sonnenberg who has a 20% shareholdership.
Denise Stubbs says that the creation of Thokozani has changed attitudes on the farm. The number of staff shareholders has grown to 85 out of around 115 employees. Workers are more willing to buy shares than at first and some even want to contribute more than 2% of their salaries each month, she says.
The wine component, then called Thokozani Wines, has won numerous awards including a platinum trophy at the Michaelangelo Awards in the past for the quality of their wine. They wanted to give the brand a fresh new outlook and name and have therefore just rebranded to Ovation wines.
“We don’t want to be known as a Black-owned wine brand,” Says Stubbs. “Thokozani was just another African name and we wanted to rather be known for our incredible stories of growth which deserves a standing ovation. We want to be known as the people’s brand and there are some incredible stories of growth which I want to share.”
Stubbs went on to show just how many workers have committed to the estate by becoming shareholders and have experienced tremendous growth. From Receptionist to Hospitality Manager, from Cleaner to Supervisor, from Tasting Room Manager to Brand Ambassador and Sales Manager, from General Worker to Guest House Liaison Manager – the list goes on and on. Most of these staff members have been working on the estate for more than 10 years and are extremely proud to be part of the company.
The team spirit didn’t stop there either, Denise Stubbs recognised that some of their staff members had incredible singing talent. They formed a choir and attended vocal training so that they could perform at Diemersfontein Functions. It is stories like this which builds the incredible culture on the estate.
Ovation wines was listed at Woolworths because of this incredible good business journey and as a proud South African, I absolutely love to support the Thokozani business by buying Ovation wines.
So next time you are browsing through the wine isle at Woolworths, look out for Ovation wines and support the amazing shareholders at Thokozani.
There are five varieties in the Ovation Wines stable:
- Ovation Spumanté Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc (R66)
- Ovation Sauvignon Blanc (R60)
- Ovation Merlot (R70)
- Ovation Pinotage (R70)
- Ovation Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (R70)
You can also buy these wines online at: https://www.thokozani.co.za/shop/