What is your winemaking philosophy?
The Solms philosophy is to take maximum advantage of local conditions to produce world-class wines, which are uniquely South African. Accordingly, we have planted varietals that perform best in hot, dry climates, using New World viticultural approaches (e.g., Richard Smart’s ‘sunlight into wine’ method of trellising and canopy management).
Also, we have introduced harvesting techniques derived from the Mediterranean wine cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, that were all but lost in the Middle Ages when the centre of excellence shifted to cooler European climates. The famous Mijnheer Cloete used similar methods in the 18th Century to make his legendary Cape wine at Constantia.
Desiccation explained – desiccation is achieved through strangulation of whole grape bunches on the vine; not simply allowing the grapes to dry out in the sun. The stalks of the bunches are clamped on the vine before harvest, thus blocking the channels carrying various components to and from the berries. While up to 40% of the water evaporates, the natural acids and grape sugars are retained, concentrating ripe flavours and colour but retaining structure. (click here to read Notes on Desiccation)
Experimental quantities of grapes harvested by this method were included in our 2004 red blend and 2005 white blend, and formed an increasingly large component in subsequent vintages. We then introduced 100% desiccated wines. The method involves strangulating whole bunches as soon as they ripen, and then leaving them on the vine for several weeks to desiccate in the sun. (This concentrates flavours and colour without sacrificing acidity). The effort we are putting into our rosé blend reflects a similar local emphasis: we believe that this style of wine is particularly suited to South Africa’s climate and outdoor lifestyle, but it has been neglected by discerning drinkers for want of a quality example. Our dry rosé, by contrast, is a serious, complex wine.
Lastly, from 2007 onward, we began experimenting with more traditional South African varietals which have proven themselves uniquely suited to local conditions over the past 350 years. Langarm is a Cape Blend based on SA’s very own Pinotage grape (30%), Vastrap sets the benchmark for a white Cape blend (based on Chenin blanc and Semillon) and Cape Jazz Shiraz shows what can be done with SA’s red grape varietal of the future.
What are the biggest challenges facing us as a new producer?
We have introduced new techniques and styles which we believe are particularly suited to local conditions; but doing things differently can meet with resistance. For example, our red ‘Hiervandaan‘ is a classical Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend but it includes a component that was desiccated on the vine by a method that is likely to be associated with the Amarone wines of the Veneto. A combination like this, albeit perfect for local conditions, runs the risk of being seen as lacking the expected characteristics of both traditional styles.
What we are doing to prepare ourselves for the challenge?
We are introducing our innovations gradually! For example, the proportion of desiccated grapes in our 2004 red blend was only 5%, so it is still recognisable as a Shiraz-based Rhône style blend; then we gradually increased this Amarone style component to create something more unexpected. We now make three wines from 100% desiccated grapes.
What are our major strengths and weaknesses?
Our major strength is a scientific and scholarly approach, based on Professor Mark Solms‘ extensive contacts in the academic world. When planning our vineyards and wines, we enlisted the support not only of soil scientists, climatologists and the like, but also of leading archaeologists and historians of the Cape and of ancient Mediterranean wine-making cultures. Visit the Museum van de Caab complex to experience the rich history of the area surrounding the Solms-Delta estate. Our main weakness is lack of experience, which we have sought to temper by appointing an extremely experienced wine-maker in the person of Hilko Hegewisch.
Combining his sometimes jaundiced familiarity with every aspect of the South African wine industry with our youthful enthusiasm for new directions makes us a formidable team with an exciting new South African winemaking philosophy.