It’s not a question that Solms-Delta in Franschhoek is the Cape’s most socially progressive wine estate – people just a bit less youthfully hopeful than I am might merely question whether it isn’t the Cape’s ONLY socially progressive wine estate. But I’m not going into that at all here. Here, I just want to give a heads-up that Solms is soon to reveal itself as having become one of the more exciting wine producers of the ever-rolling Cape wine revolution.
This is not to say that there hasn’t been anything interesting coming out bearing the bizarrely aristocratically-insistent Solms labels since the first in 2004. There has: a specialism in vine-dried grapes, for example, has produced Africana from shiraz, in pretty convincing Amarone-style (though perhaps the maiden 2005 hasn’t yet been matched); also the white Kolonie. More conventionally produced, Amalie has given some lovely wines based on viognier, grenache blanc and roussanne. Gemoedsrus is a quirky, original and rather delightful fortified wine using grappa rather than brandy as the stiffener. Langarm and Vastrap at the cheaper end have often been great value and interesting wines.
But. Eccentricity (which has been a recurrent feature, often successful – as in the silly and delightful, perfectly named Cape Jazz Shiraz) is great, but perhaps of limited appeal. And consistency was often lacking in all the wines in the years when Hilko Hegewisch was in charge of the cellar.
A new wine-producing regime has been in place for a year or two now, however. In the latter part of 2012, young Hagen Viljoen arrived (ex Zewenwacht) as the new winemaker, with Joan Heatlie as his number two. Of at least equal significance, they were preceded by the arrival of Rosa Kruger as viticulturist (part-time, but vastly more involved, and passionately so, than your average “consultant”).
If anyone is fully in touch with the engine-room of the Cape winemaking revolution, it’s Rosa. She knows that it is all about vineyards. (Mark Solms, on the other hand, knows the importance of people and their minds, hearts and souls – this could be a great partnership!) So Rosa has managed the sourcing of a whole lot of grapes (grenache and chenin from Piekenierskloof, just for example), as well as helping work out what of the vigorous valley-floor vineyards of the Delta estate is going to be of most use in producing fine and interesting wines.
The photo alongside shows, for example, the Cape’s pioneering vineyard of macabeu (its name in Catalonia, from which it probably originates; maccabeu in Roussillon, where it’s big and exciting; viura in Rioja, where its produced some very great wines). It’s a variety which Rosa thinks has great potential in the Cape – I travelled a bit with her in the south of France a few years back, and got quite bored with her excitedly jumping out of the car to examine yet another maccabeu vineyard.
Rosa works closely – and argumentatively and happily, I believe – with Hagen and Joan in the cellar, where non-interventionism and winemaking modesty prevail, alongside a good deal of skill and sensitivity. The results are proving to be spectacular, as I’ve learnt on two visits over the past year, tasting from the barrels. Soon the wines of the new Solms-Delta will be available, I reckon, and they should make a splash. It’s not just me who thinks so – a well-informed British importer, who’d demurred at taking on the property before, has tasted and decided that they’re amongst the most exciting of the Cape’s new offerings.
Here’s a small bet: the “Young Guns” tasting put on annually by Wine Cellar in Cape Town is attaining substantial status, of the kind that the Swartland Revolution has. If Hagen Viljoen isn’t there next year, I’ll either admit I’m wrong about what is happening at Solms-Delta – or think that Roland Peens is out of touch.
The expansion of the revolution – it’s all good. Now, if the rest of the Cape could reciprocally learn a bit from the social stuff that Mark Solms has been doing for a decade on this property, we could drink well and drink with a better conscience too….