Celebrating the Thokozani Launch of Ovation Wines at Diemersfontein

Earlier this month, we were invited to the launch of Ovation Wines on behalf of Thokozani Wines. The name “Thokozani” means “Celebration” and this is very apt as it encapsulates the very essence of the brand itself. Thokozani is its very own celebration – of its people, of its challenges and of its triumphs.

As you will read below, Thokozani has changed the name of their wine range to Ovation, and, it was a celebration of this change that we were invited to partake in. Of course, the story of the Thokozani company is a truly inspirational one, but most importantly, they are producing great wines! And it is for that reason, that I will start to tell you about the wines first…

The launch took place at Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate, who are affiliated with Thokozani. Each time I have visited Diemersfontein, the staff are very welcoming and seem genuinely happy to make your visit an enjoyable one.

We were treated to a wonderful evening in front of the Manor House (pictured below). The team had set up various stations where we could taste each of the Ovation Wines, paired alongside various canapés that had been matched to suit the different wines.

First off, we started at the Spumanté station. The Ovation Spumanté is the perfect welcoming drink – it’s an off-dry bordering on semi-sweet sparkling wine with a tropical fruit flavour. The light sparkle of bubbles makes it a perfect drink for any celebration. We paired it with Grilled Peppadews stuffed with Mozeralla and Mini Wraps with Guacamole and Pineapple.

I personally loved the grilled peppadews with this wine as the spiciness in the food really made the wine taste even more fruity. Yum! (I had a few glasses!) Cheers! (Thanks to Elvina and The Husband for the collaboration to create this image! 🙂 )

Now that I have your attention, let’s start with the journey of Thokozani…

In order to understand where Thokozani stems from, it is necessary to go back about 15 years when Denise Stubbs, Business Development Director of Thokozani Wines, first joined forces with Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate. The owners of Diemersfontein, David and Sue Sonnenberg, saw the potential that lay within Denise to drive the Thokozani brand. They encouraged her to use her passion to start up one of the first Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment wine companies in order to promote the growth and development of their own staff members whom were employed at Diemersfontein at the time. It certainly wasn’t an easy feat. Not only being a person of colour, but also a woman, in a typically white-dominated and male-dominated environment is likely to pose a challenge. However, Denise is blessed with an abundance of perverseness and courage, and together with the support from David and Sue, has brought the Thokozani brand to where it is today.

During her inspirational speech, Denise (pictured left), introduced us to a few of the very many employees of Diemersfontein who have since become shareholders in the Thokozani company. (You can see a clearer photo of some of there here.)

I loved the fact that Denise encouraged them to share their own stories, as only then, could we really grasp the magnitude that empowerment can have on a person. The brand is so much more than it’s BBBEE status – in fact, its status is not of much concern to them. It is their personal stories of their own growth and empowerment that matters the most.

In a nutshell, here is a summary of how some of the staff members have grown:

Tamerin (started 11 years ago) 
Receptionist at Diemersfontein to Hospitality Manager of Diemersfontein as well as one of the directors in Thokozani

Jolene (started 10 years ago)
Cleaner who began by picking up papers to Supervisor in the Vineyards – with a team of 35 men who work underneath her

Chantelle (started 10 years ago)
Housekeeper to Team Leader in House Keeping to the Dispatch Department

Aubern (started 9 years ago)
Managing the Tasting Room to Brand Ambassador for both Diemersfontein as well as Thokozani, with a Sales Position on the road

Cheslin (started an impressive 18 years ago)
General Worker to Guesthouse Liaison Manager

Hillary (started 5 years ago)
Logistics Manager for Diemersfontein to Logistics Manager for Thokozani as well, and, a fellow director of Thokozani

Jason (started 6 years ago)
General Worker to Senior Cellar Assistant

These stories were incredibly powerful and truly inspirational to listen to. It was an honour to hear the passion for their brand in their voices and for us to understand that, above anything else, they are a People’s brand – made by the people and for the people.

All of this of course is in some part, due to David and Sue Sonnenberg, who wished to make a sustainable contribution to their Diemersfontein community. David’s desire to help others grew from his love of one of his family’s own employees, Harrison, a cow-milker. David had formed a unique bond with him, and, when he passed away in David’s early teenage years, it left a big impact on him. It was only later that David realised that Harrison had committed suicide and it was only later that he began to notice the different way in which farm workers of colour were treated, as was common at the time. It is David’s empathy and compassion for others that has made him invested in learning to read the hearts of those around him and it is this trait in him that has motivated his employees to succeed in the way they have.

Thokozani was launched in 2007, with 35 staff shareholders, including David. The Diemersfontein staff own 80% of Thokozani and the number of staff shareholders has grown to 85 out of around 115 employees. The name, Thokozani, is in theory, a great name for a brand that is comprised of people who have much reason to celebrate.

However, the brand initially struggled to push through the prejudice around its name. Despite having worked hard to deserve a listing at Woolworths, the wine was not selling as well as it should have been under that name, and so the decision was made to rename the wines Ovation. Equally fitting, the name Ovation is synonymous with applause and celebration and so it was a very appropriate choice.

Francois Roode – pictured above – (the winemaker for both Diemersfontein and Ovation), Waldo Kellerman (the viticulturist), as well as the cellar staff, have worked hard to produce wines that are of a high standard. In fact, Thokozani’s SMV won a Platinum award at the Michaelangelo Awards. And it is for this reason, that they wish to be known – for their great wines!

And so Francois and Jason gave us a brief description of the Ovation wines we would be drinking. He started with the Sauvignon Blanc – a crisp, tropical, summer-fruit style wine, which we paired with delicious grilled zucchinis and lemon artichokes. The wine was well-balanced without the food, but I felt the lemony artichokes paired well as it brought out a lot more of the tropical flavours in the wine.

Next up was the Merlot – which was a delicious, fruity wine, with red fruit flavours and gentle hints of oak. It was paired with super tasty Calzones stuffed with Bacon and Mozzarella, which really brought out the oakiness in the wine. I was pleasantly surprised by the Merlot, as it is a varietal that has become a bit flat and perhaps a bit too easy-drinking, but this one was more complex and I thoroughly enjoyed it and can easily see why it’s Jason’s favourite.

We then went on to the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend which was essentially the Merlot above with a added dose of Cabernet Sauvignon, giving it a bit more body and earthiness. This was paired with three canapés: a Roast Chicken canapé, a Wild Mushroom Risotto and a Pulled Pork Samoosa. They were delicious! My favourite was the samoosa, but the risotto was by far the most popular with The Husband, who tucked in to a few of those (ssh, don’t tell him). I felt the strong, savoury flavours of both of these canapés paired wonderfully with the more full-bodied wine.

Then, last but not least, we tried the award-winning SMV (Shiraz, Mourvedre, Viognier) blend. This wine is really something – with savoury flavours of bacon and smoked meat, as well as sweet flavours of vanilla and black fruits, its a lovely wine. It’s smooth, but complex and has a long finish. You wouldn’t have to pair this wine with any food as it is really good as is, but if pushed, I’d say the best combination was the Phyllo Nests stuffed with Caramelised Onion and Beef. However, the other options that you can see on the board below also worked well.

We then hit the dance floor, as you do at any good party, and were treated to some great music by an amazing band. But before folks got too tired (and enjoyed the party a bit too much), we were whisked away inside where a massive dessert display awaited us!

We all greatly appreciated the amount of effort that went into all these little sweet treats!

But wait, there’s more…

We thoroughly enjoyed the event and were honoured to be included in the sharing of this remarkable journey! I hope that when you taste the wines, you will now have a better understanding of their story and will in turn, share the Thokozani and Ovation story with others.

You can buy their wines at Woolworths and also at the wine estate itself, where apart from the SMV, they are all listed at under R100 a bottle!

A special thank you to The Wellington Wine Route, Rene Reece from Digital DNA, Thokozani and Diemersfontein for inviting us to the inspirational launch of Ovation Wines.

(If you would like to read more about Diemersfontein Wines, as well as the Thokozani accommodation on the Estate and the Aan Tafel Restaurant, please read my other blog post HERE)