Vivid Producer of the Month: Stellenrust
'Where excellence meets winemaking' is the motto of Stellenrust, one of South Africa's largest family-owned wine estates - and for this star of the Western Cape, excellence translates to far more than viticultural prowess.
As well as producing some of the finest wines in the region, Stellenrust proudly boasts a forward-thinking mindfulness around its land, workers, and the wider communities of Stellenbosch.
Sustainability in motion
Sustainability certainly starts at home for Stellenrust. The winery is IPW certified, and is making conscious steps to improve its mindful credentials, with hopes for a complete transformation to biodynamics and organics in the next decade. Solar panels power the entire winery throughout daylight hours, and, with one eye on the future, the Stellenrust team are aiming to move all their power 'off the grid' and into solar energy by 2025.
Water, too, is a consideration; a controlled borehole purification system reduces the winery's use of water, and a 4 bar pressure system has allowed the Stellenrust team to cut their water usage by almost half, compared to other wineries of a similar size. And, inside the winery, all general waste and packaging products are recycling in a dedicated commitment to 'reuse'. Cellar waste, grape skins and pips are combined with cattle herd manure to create compost, which is then worked back into the vineyards.
Nature goes hand in hand with winemaking across Stellenbosch - but the Stellenrust estate is home to species rare even in the cape's cornucopia of wildlife. Antelopes, caracals, leopards, and cape foxes have all been spotted moving throughout the vineyards, and giant cape eagle owls are frequent nesters on the estate. Through conscious-minded farming, the Stellenrust team aim to maintain habitats for these animals, encouraging their presence. And, in areas where vineyards aren't performing to their full potential, natural cape fynbos is re-introduced to allow nature to take over.
The teams also undertake tree planting cycles that reduce the farm's carbon load. In 2019 alone, 80 spekboom were planted - these sprawling 'miracle plants' have a hugely high carbon reduction compared to other trees, acting almost as a 'carbon sponge' that works to improve air quality, as well as being highly beneficial in restoring semi-arid and thicket habitats.
Outside the winery
Holding a WIETA certification, Stellenrust is deeply committed to improving the lives and opportunities of its workers. Creches are in place for working parents, while computer rooms have been set up to allow people to undertake secondary and tertiary education (the winery also subsidises student fees). Workers are able to access free medical treatment through professionals who visit the farm weekly, and old age care is funded. On top of that, Stellenrust support an alcohol abuse reduction programme, where those seeking help can access a rehabilitation programme.
In 2005, though, was when Stellenrust took its biggest step in demonstrating its commitment to workers. 70 permanent farm workers - many of whom, as owner Tertius Boshoff recounts, were "the men and women we grew up with" - were offered the opportunity to become majority shareholders; 100ha of the estate was parcelled out to them as a sign of gratitude from the winery, for all their work in making Stellenrust what it is today.
The winery gained Fairtrade status in 2008, and has maintained it ever since. In Tertius' words: "It has never been a sales gimmick for our families - our wines carry enough awards of their own! The Fairtrade logo is a sign of our commitment to our employees, ensuring socio-economic stability and environmental consciousness in our approach to viti and viniculture." In future years, the winery aim to increase their Fairtrade footprint in the market, ensuring socioeconomic stability not only for themselves, but for other Fairtrade producers struggling in South Africa."