There are some people in the South Africa wine industry who are larger than life. Michael ‘Spatz’ Sperling from Delheim has crammed more into his life than most people would do in several – perhaps an indication of how much he has achieved is that his PR folk had to send through not one, but three attachments in order to list all the different things he has done for Cape wine! Celebrating his 80th birthday on the 19th July, it seems a good time to reflect on his massive contribution to the wine industry in South Africa.
Born in Germany in 1930, he arrived in Cape Town aged 21 to work on his uncle’s farm growing mainly vegetables and fruit. His first grape harvest and winemaking took place a few years later and he started using the name Delheim (meaning Del’s place in reference to his aunt) in the 60’s for the wine. He was one of the first winemakers to send out a newsletter to his customers and his handtyped, rambling, entertaining style became a cult read for many.
Other firsts for Spatz include the first marketing roadtrip in SA, being a founder member of the first wine route in SA, initiating the first wine auction at Delheim thus inspiring the Nederburg Auction, convening the first Stellenbosch Wine Festival and setting up the Cape Winemakers Guild along with Kevin Arnold. He was also one of the first to receive an award from international wine magazine, Decanter, albeit for ‘Worst Label of the Year’ for his beloved Spatzendreck dessert wine!
Spatz was also the driving force behind something now taken for granted on a wine farm – serving food. His original idea of cheese boards became Vintner’s Platters of cheese, meats and bread and eventually turned into the Delheim Garden restaurant still operating today. Nowadays, virtually every farm has some kind of food offering to go with the wines, whether it be a restaurant, picnic or farm shop.
The Sperling family continue to be very involved with Delheim on a daily basis with daughter Nora looking after sales and son Victor being the viticulturist, both of them ensuring that the legacy of this towering figure of Cape wine will continue for many more years to come.