24 November 2023 marked the launch of the Solms-Delta Wine Company, an entirely new venture established to continue the ambitious journey of land restitution and community upliftment that was begun by Mark Solms in 2001. While Solms’s goals were laudable, the business and economic challenges of the wine industry proved to much for his dream of community upliftment and workers holding the title deed to the lands they worked. With the investment and expertise of American Fortune 500 executive, Tommy Hall, this seems set to change.
The vehicle for this change is the Solms-Delta Wine Company, which has been established as a stand-alone wine venture that is 100%-black-owned by the Hall family.
“But this is not about us coming in and buying up the farms that once constituted Solms-Delta,” explains Hall. “This is a separate company that has many of the same goals as Mark Solms, in terms of community upliftment, skills development and employment opportunities. However, we want to make sure that we do it in a manner which is both socially equitable and financially viable over the long term.”
Hall and Solms plan to reopen Fyndraai, the farm’s restaurant, long famous for its menu of heritage-inspired Cape Winelands cuisine. The adjoining Museum van de Caab will also reopen to the public, with exhibits detailing the shared social and cultural histories of the old farms in the Franschhoek Valley. Hall also plans to revive the ambitious programme of human development and educational projects, which will be re-established to effect long-term upliftment in Winelands communities.
“We want to be involved in driving the change, especially in this corner of the Cape Winelands, where a large group of people have been historically disadvantaged,” says Hall. “In my job within the technology industry, every day is about problem-solving. Although I’m sure there are many complexities that I will need to come to understand, this seems to be a problem that can be tackled with some fresh perspectives.”
Once the initial phase is complete, the priority will be returning the vineyards – largely neglected over the last six years – to productivity: an opportunity to create much-needed employment and training opportunities, while establishing the Solms-Delta Wine Company brand in domestic and international markets. The first harvest is expected from a small portion of the Delta farm vineyards in 2024, with the remainder hoped to be back in full production by 2026. Until then, grapes will be sourced from selected vineyards across the Western Cape.
The Solms-Delta Wine Company launches with a pair of Rhône-style blends, crafted by consultant winemaker Francois Haasbroek. The Hiervandaan 2023 red and Amalie 2023 white blend are testimony to Haasbroek’s deft touch in the cellar and bring a more contemporary approach to the style for which the Solms-Delta brand was previously known.
Although the current releases – both from the 2023 vintage – are youthful in character, and full of freshness and vibrancy, “it is not at the expense of structure,” says Haasbroek. “These wines are dynamic and full of wonderful tension. I believe the trend is towards wines with more vibrancy that are more fruit-forward. Wines driven by clarity and liveliness, rather than just oak and tannin.”
“Rhône whites are often overly focused on texture, richness and high alcohols, and they can be clumsy,” says Haasbroek. “We chose to focus rather on crispness and tension; wines that are accessible when young, but with the ability to develop a balanced texture with age.”
While Hall plans to invest heavily in establishing the Solms-Delta Wine Company as a leading boutique wine brand, the wines are also a means to an end: the engine that will drive economic change in the lives of this close-knit farming community.
“It was always paramount that we do something to help the local community of the place we are now choosing to call home,” says Hall. “And yes, it would be easy to simply send off a cheque, but we felt the need for something more. Something that we knew would have a long-term transformative impact. And we wanted to ensure that the hard work done by Mark and Richard Astor and their team over the past two decades, and the successes they achieved, didn’t disappear from history.”
While the wheels of the new partnership are beginning to turn, Hall and Solms are also working towards a watershed moment: the revival of the annual Oesfees. This harvest celebration of traditional music and Cape country cooking has long been central to the culture of the Winelands, and the Solms-Delta Wine Company Oesfees 2024 will celebrate both the new harvest and the revival of the pioneering community projects that began in this corner of the Cape Winelands.
“Despite the challenges of the last few years, everyone loves a Phoenix story,” says Hall. “However the farms and workers came to be in the sad position they are in now, I know that together we are all going to rise from the ashes with this new partnership.”
Solms-Delta Wine Estate will be open to public from February 2024.
Text: Editorial Desk | Image: Supplied