It has always struck me as a curious case of double standards that in agriculture when one generation of a family succeeds another, this is considered not just appropriate but admirable whereas when the same happens in the world of business, it is often interpreted as nepotism.
I suppose the thought of fathers handing down the same piece of land to sons appeals to our innate opposition to industrialization, the means of production not in the hands of despicable capitalists, but owned by honest farmers who must eke out a living by defying the vagaries of nature over first decades and then centuries.
Two family-owned wineries recently celebrated significant anniversaries, Delheim in the Simonsberg ward of Stellenbosch marking 25 years of its flagship red wine Grand Reserve and De Toren in the Polkadraai Hills of the same district observing ten years since maiden vintage.
In 1938, Hans Otto Hoheisen purchased Delheim, or De Drie Sprong as it was known then. Spatz Sperling, nephew of Hoheisen’s wife Deli, arrived at Delheim to assist with farming activities in 1951, with him subsequently becoming one of the most influential and best loved figures in South Africa’s modern wine history.
Grand Reserve dates from 1981 and has seen the winemaking involvement of Kevin Arnold (at Delheim from 1980 to 1987 and now co-owner of Waterford), Philip Constandius (from 1988 to 2000 and now making wine under his own label Solo) and Conrad Vlok (from 2001 to 2002 and now at Strandveld). Brenda van Niekerk has been incumbent since 2003.
Grand Reserve’s trademark characteristics are restraint and longevity and the 1982 served during dinner was in fine nick, dark fruit still very much intact. The current release 2006, a blend of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot, which spent 17 months in 100% new French oak, is far from its peak and should reward at least another five years of ageing. Van Niekerk lamented that this style of wine is “not very fashionable any more” but those who still favour delayed gratification would do well to invest. It sells for R195 a bottle from the farm.
De Toren Fusion V is arguably the antithesis of Delheim Grand Reserve being typically big and rich, an extremely accomplished wine in the contemporary idiom. A defining characteristic is that every vintage features the five classic varieties of Bordeaux ( these being Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) hence the Fusion V part of the name. “De Toren”, meanwhile, refers to a 4000-litre pressure tank fitted into a lift shaft ensuring that the cellar can use the gentler force of gravity rather than pumping to transfer wine between tanks.
De Toren was acquired by Johannesburg-based direct marketing whizz Emil den Dulk and his wife Sonette in 1991. Initially, Den Dulk commuted between Stellenbosch and up-country leaving his wife to handle grape farming, but this quickly put a strain on the relationship. “Every time I got on a plane, a pipe would break” relates Den Dulk. Sonette, in turn, tells of going to buy a tractor only to be stopped dead by the salesman with the question “Ma’am, where’s your husband?”
It quickly became apparent that farming demanded the full attention of the Den Dulks and with Albie Koch installed as winemaker and Charles Hopkins, then of Bellingham and now of De Grendel consulting, Fusion V was conceptualized, Den Dulk using all his marketing nous to target the very top end of the market. The current-release 2006 is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot, and spent 12 months in oak, 50% new and 50% second-fill barrels, mostly French oak except for the Malbec which went into American. Despite rating 5 Stars in the 2009 Platter’s, it is still available from the farm at R250 a bottle.
The Den Dulks have three children: Emil Junior who is marketing director of wine and spirits importation and distribution company Liquidity, agents for De Toren but also such brands as Tattinger Champagne and Patron tequila; Dale, involved in service training ccompany Let’s Sell Lobster and Talia, a dietician. You imagine that at least the sons will be even more intimately involved with the De Toren operation in time to come.