A few years ago I noticed a funky new wine brand at the bottle store; a red wine with a very interesting label called Live a Little. Quirky on the outside, this wine was produced by Stellar Winery, South Africa’s largest producer of fine organic and fair trade wines. At the time, Stellar was one of the only of its kind for its innovation in winemaking (holding the organic certification and being vegan friendly) as well as its focus on people and their social empowerment.
The Live a Little label was on my mind during our drive to the cellar, situated at Kyshalte, just outside Vredendal in the Western Cape. I was about to put a whole lot of new faces to the name Stellar and it was exciting. I had been in contact with Irene Dell, a longstanding and empowering employee of Stellar Foundation, a non-profit organisation, and we had been invited to the launch of the renewable energy project.
On our arrival, Irene and I sat at her desk and she quickly briefed me on some of the social projects the Stellar Foundation runs; the projects are intended for the workers, their families and the communities within the area ranging from a free primary health care scheme, a judo club to vegetable gardens, a crèche in Trawal as well as the latest off-the-grid project. Irene’s passionate words made me realize how close she was to the issues we were touching on. One of the only women in a mainly man-workforce, I asked her what her secret is.
“I listen to what people’s needs are and I am familiar with their conditions and situations. Because of cultural differences, one should be careful not to impose ideas from one’s own cultural situation on others but see how a dialogue can bring issues and options up. Our biggest thing is to satisfy needs while communicating the responsibility on the other side. Giving responsibly paves the way for sustainability.”
Stellar Multi-estate sources organic grapes from independent farms, which, together with the cellar, bottling and packaging plant make up a Fair Trade structure, Stellar Winery Multi-Estate. Workers on the farms and in the winery, including seasonal workers, together own 26% of the enterprise through shares in the Stellar Empowerment Trust. Irene, David and I spent the afternoon together, driving from one estate to another, officially launching Phase I of the off-the-grid project, which involved distributing the Consol solar-powered lights. I loved seeing Irene interacting with the workers. She totally gets them and cares so deeply about their upliftment and personal growth.
“We are not out to change the world. We are only hoping to better lives with what we do. It’s the small, the little things we do”.
That night we were hosted by Willem Rossouw, Managing Director of Stellar, and his family. While sitting at the dinner table eating a typical Weskus snoek dish with fresh, homemade beer bread, I expressed my deep admiration for the range and quality of the social upliftment projects that are ongoing. William replied saying that “The most important project is the one you cannot see”, referring to the portion of the business the workers own through the Fair Trade shares. Agreed.
Everything about this short visit made a sound impression; the affectionate relationships at the cellar, the motivation to improve lives in the area and the softness interwoven in it. Before Irene and I parted, she added something, which exemplifies her loving and passionate nature.
“There are always solutions to problems, you just have to ask nicely and they will turn up”.
I personally came a long way from the first Live a Little bottle label, and I spent the drive back thinking of the kind of impact we make, even when shopping for wine.
Get in touch Stellar Organic Winery via their Eco Atlas page and vote with your wallet when next you’re scanning the shelves for a good wine….