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Solms-Delta - empowerment reality

Wine ed. Cathy visits Solms-Delta and sees a wealth of change.

by: Cathy Marston | 26 May 2010
Mark Solms and key team members at Solms-Delta

Solms-Delta has had quite a lot of press coverage recently, and frankly deservedly so. Professor Mark Solms has approached that beloved buzz word ‘empowerment’ from a very different angle than most businesses – one of his first actions was to record some full and extremely frank views of ‘whiteys’ from his staff in a series of video diaries! Rather than trying to cover up these reports, he has chosen to put them on display in the onsite museum which traces the history of the workers on the estate back through apartheid to slavery and beyond. These verbal and pictorial histories tell moving stories – one follows the tale of Ansela van der Caab, a name which I thought I recognised from another estate’s history, until I was told that it literally translates as ‘Slave of the Cape’ - not even worthy of a name.

Connecting the past with the present and joining it up to the future is a long-term project for all at Solms-Delta. In people terms, this translates into a training and skills programme for all staff, in land terms it means the creation of a trust which now owns one third of the entire farm on behalf of the previously-disadvantaged workers and in wine terms it is responsible for the names of the wines which reflect the culture and history of the people who have made them, for example ‘Hiervandaan’ means ‘from this place’ and their flagship wine, ‘Africana’ refers to the cultural produce of Africa, both indigenous and colonial.

Winemaker Hilko Hegewisch is connecting past and present in a very different way – utilising a winemaking technique first practiced by the ancient Greeks – desiccation. Although rather secretive about exactly how they achieve this, it involves pinching the stems to restrict the flow of water to the grapes in their final weeks on the vine. This causes the flavours to intensify as the grapes ripen and leads to much more characterful and flavoursome wines – see my favourites below.

As the World Cup looms ever closer, I can’t think of many other wineries I would rather show to an overseas visitor than Solms-Delta. It’s a great day out with onsite attractions apart from the museum including their restaurant, Fyndraai, which offers a fascinating range of traditional Cape dishes (including ingredients from their own indigenous herb garden), a myriad of different cultural and culinary tours around the estate, the kitchens and the gardens, one-off commissioned pieces of art and even its own musicians and CD’s! But apart from all that, the team at Solms-Delta is showing everyone that real change is possible, sustainable and overall, right. Something worth a cheer or two perhaps.

My pick of the Solms-Delta wines (all prices ex-cellar):

2009 Solms-Delta Lekkerwijn Rose (R64)
Billed as SA’s only serious rose, this is made from Mourvedre, Viognier and Grenache Noir. Fragrant and aromatic with pungent strawberry fruit, good acidity and a soft, juicy finish.

2009 Solms-Delta Amalie (R84)
Almost 50/50 Viognier and Grenache Blanc, this has long been my favourite SD wine. Spiced yellow pears with cinnamon and cloves. All the Grenache is desiccated for 2 weeks before harvesting and this gives a subtle richness to the baked fruit flavours.

Solms Astor Cape Jazz Shiraz NV (R52)
A sweet and sparkling shiraz which I never thought I would like in a million years! Fun, frothy, strawberry fruit with good acidity and a soft finish. Probably go well with bacon and eggs….

2007 Solms Astor Langarm (R52)
Named for the ‘trance dance with Dutch folk music’ (their description, not mine!) which is enthusiastically practiced at the annual Oesfees. A Cape blend of earthy ripe black fruits with hints of leather and spice.


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