Solms Delta on the outskirts of Franschhoek arouses interest because it truly is so much more than a winery. Visitor attractions include an on-site museum exploring the slave heritage of the area, a restaurant called Fyndraai (Afrikaans for “the fine end of the last turn” or the brink of orgasm) serving proudly Cape cuisine, forest picnics, and an annual harvest festival. For those of us concerned about transformation issues, the farm worker upliftment programme is one of the most comprehensive and credible around. As a result you really, really want to like the wines but are they any good?
Yesterday co-owner and internationally renowned neuroscientist Mark Solms together with winemaker Hilko Hegewisch presented a reminder of what they’ve been up to with Shiraz since inception. First a vertical tasting of the 2004 through to the 2007 vintages Hiervandaan, a blend that’s always Shiraz driven but also includes Carignan, Grenache and Viognier . A hallmark of the wine is that it always incorporates s a portion of desiccated fruit (the bunches twisted and clamped on the vine to achieve concentration). Next a tasting of the 2005 through to the 2008 vintages of Africana made from 100% desiccated Shiraz (see previous post on this wine here). And lastly the maiden vintage of Gemoedsrus 2009, from desiccated Shiraz fortified with grappa.
Let me be direct: I violently dislike these wines. What defines them for me is oxidation and premature development. The fruit comes across as cooked and the wines lack poise. At a time when all other serious-minded winemakers in the country are desperately trying to get the raisins out of their wine, Solms Delta is putting them in.
I put all this to Solms and he conceded that his wines are not universally loved. “They’re not wines that you can be neutral about but we’re trying to develop something that’s not the same as everywhere else”. I suggested to him that perhaps he should have a more conventional, commercially viable wine in his portfolio. His reply: “I don’t want to be blasé about making money but it’s such a flimsy reward. What’s important are things like doing yourself justice and self respect. I have to like my wines and I do.”
The closest thing to a money-spinner that Solms does is Cape Jazz Shiraz, a pétillant, slightly sweet and rather winning little number, volumes amounting to 16 000 cases and selling for R55 from the tasting room. “I’m happy if the wines subsidise everything else we’re trying to achieve here,” says Solms. Go to the farm and try for yourself. Try them because I don’t care for them and you just might. Try them because they don’t adhere to the orthodoxy. Try them because Solms Delta is a noble endeavour and deserves to succeed.