Mark Solms

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solms-delta-estate-prof-mark-solmsProfessor Mark Solms

Best known for his landmark discovery of the brain mechanisms of dreaming, and for his interest in the integration of modern neuroscience with psychoanalytic theories and methods, Mark Solms is no dry academic.

Born in Lüderitz in 1961, Professor Solms matriculated at Pretoria Boys’ High School. From the mid-1980s he lived in England and from 1990 onwards he commuted monthly between London and New York.

Although he is currently professor in Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town, an ‘A’ rated researcher, Hon. Lecturer in Neurosurgery at St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London School of Medicine, and director of the Neuropsychoanalysis Center of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, he wears his weighty academic reputation lightly.

Widely published in technical scientific journals as well as popular magazines such as Scientific American, Professor Solms has also published five books. His Clinical Studies in Neuro-Psychoanalysis won the Gradiva Award for Best Book, Science Category in 2001; his latest, The Brain and the Inner World is a best-seller, translated into thirteen languages. He is the authorised editor and translator of the forthcoming revised 24-volume Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud and the 4-volume edition (in both English and German) of Freud’s Complete Neuroscientific Works. He was named International Psychiatrist of the year 2000 by the American Psychiatric Association.

Outside academia, Professor Solms is pursuing a personal dream: on behalf of the Solms-Delta family estate, he is overseeing the rebirth of a Franschhoek farm, where wine has been produced over the past four centuries. Not surprisingly, Professor Solms’ approach to winemaking reflects his background. His choice of grape varieties and vineyard management methods are based on a comprehensive scientific appraisal of site-specific data on climate and terroir.

Mark Solms, whose family had not produced wine for generations, guessed that the estate’s Mediterranean climate would be ideal for Rhône varietals. After soil and climate analyses confirmed this intuition, he planted the bulk of the estate to Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Viognier.

Professor Mark Solms, custodian of the family farm and prime mover in its revitalisation, considers himself an ‘outsider’. By this he means he has neither formal training nor preconceived ideas on winemaking. But as an ardent wine lover, scientist and scholar, he has immersed himself deeply in the subject.

Conscious of the Cape’s ‘Mediterranean’ climate, he noted references to a common practice in ancient Greece and Rome: twisting the stalks of bunches on the vine before the harvest to concentrate and intensify the flavours of the grapes.

This custom spread through ancient wine-making cultures of the Mediterranean. When the merchants of Venice, the great wine importers of the 15th and 16th centuries, were deprived of their Middle Eastern supplies by the Turks, they encouraged the development of vineyards around Verona and south of Padua. Badolino, Valpolicella and Soave began to make high-alcohol wines by half-drying their grapes – a tradition that persists in the modern wine styles of Recioto and Amarone.

Desiccation was still common in the 18th century: in France, the Abbé Bellet, writing about botrytis in the early 1700s, mentions that in Italy and Provence, grapes for sweet wine were over-ripened by twisting their stems and leaving them on the vine. But after that … silence.

Professor Solms saw the almost-forgotten process as a means of creating a specific signature for Solms-Delta; a winemaking philosophy that seemed ideally suited to local climatic conditions in the Franschhoek valley.

While his decision to plant only Rhône varieties on the farm met with expert approval and was endorsed by site-specific analysis of the terroir, his plans to desiccate the grapes were greeted with scepticism. Mark Solms himself was forced to go into the vineyards with pliers to prove his point.

He asked ex-Boschendal winemaker, and then winemaker, Hilko Hegewisch, to experiment with the largely forgotten practice of desiccation (strangulation of whole bunches on the vine), which was championed thousands of years ago by the ancient Greeks and Romans. This hallowed method – which greatly intensifies flavours and colour, but retains fresh acidity – could not be transplanted to the cooler, damper regions of Europe, where wine-making excellence re-emerged after the collapse of the ancient world. The hot, dry, windy conditions of Franschhoek on the other hand, seemed ideal.

It was therefore not altogether surprising that Solms-Delta’s new vintages – re-launched for the first time in a century – received such unprecedented accolades from the critics.

We welcome you to enjoy a tasting of the Solms-Delta wines with us at the estate, also available from our various stockists and restaurants around the globe.