An Ambitious Dream Re-imagined: Launch of the New Solms-Delta Wine Company

Solms-Delta Wine Company

Tommy Hall is not a man who leaves things to chance. As Director of Global Operations for a Fortune 500 technology company, Hall is all about meticulous planning, managing risk and being prepared for the unexpected. And yet, fate must have played a hand in bringing Hall and his family to the beautiful Franschhoek valley.

For just as Tommy, his wife Crystal and his son Gavin were seeking to carve out a life on the continent with which they feel a deep kinship, a chance encounter led Hall to the gates of an historic Cape farm. It was a place offering both a new adventure and the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of a Cape farming community.

November 2023 marks 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, with the founding of the Solms-Delta wine estate. While Solms’s goals were laudable, between the cost of land restitution and the economic challenges of the wine industry, his dream of community upliftment and workers holding the title deed to the lands they worked, proved a bridge too far.

A vehicle for change

By 2018 Solms-Delta was in the news for all the wrong reasons, with a land reform deal falling apart and a once-thriving estate left shuttered. The cultural outreach and skills upliftment programmes that Solms had pioneered were shut down. It seemed to be a dream denied. Or perhaps, merely deferred.

“Maybe the goals were too high for the time-line they set, but the vision was sound,” says Hall. “What Mark Solms intended to do was the right thing. How it turned out was another matter. We are hoping to change that.”

The vehicle for this change is the Solms-Delta Wine Company, based in Franschhoek, 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.”

“I am just thrilled that we have found a common vision to work together on some of the issues that were central to the founding of Solms-Delta more than 20 years ago,” adds Mark Solms, who is advising Hall on the establishment of the new company and reviving the farmlands.

Rejuvenating the vineyards, reviving the community

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.

“There are some grapes that we will always bring in from elsewhere, because either they’re not planted on our farm, or they simply do better elsewhere. What’s key is crafting great wine under the brand of the Solms-Delta Wine Company,” says Hall. “We’re about creating quality wines that are in line with our social and economic goals.”

The Solms-Delta Wine Company launches with two Rhône-style blends, crafted by consultant winemaker Francois Haasbroek. A highly respected specialist in Rhône varietals, Haasbroek’s deft touch in the cellar is showcased in this pair of wines that 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.”

Hiervandaan 2023 is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsaut, with Haasbroek tapping into the schist and granite soils of the Tulbagh Valley and Darling winelands to ensure lively aromatics in the glass.

For Amalie 2023 – a white blend of Grenache blanc, Marsanne and Viognier – Haasbroek chose to focus on the granitic soils of the Swartland, to deliver freshness and tension in the glass.

“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.”

Crafting fine wines to drive change

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.”

Hall is adamant that the brand value and goodwill associated with Solms-Delta outweigh the challenges that saw the original wine business come to an end.

“There is still a tremendous amount of equity associated with Solms-Delta as a brand, and its parcels of vineyard in the Cape Winelands. There’s the historical connection of a farm dating back centuries, as well as the memory of the fantastic community work that was achieved there,” says Hall.

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 is situated on Delta Road, just off the R45, and will be open to public from February 2024. Visit www.solmsdelta.co for more information or email Tommy@solmsdelta.co.