THESE are tough times for South Africa’s winemakers and grape growers in the Cape area.
They had survived a three-year drought cycle when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived. It has ravaged the country, with almost 40,000 deaths recorded.
To beat the killer virus the South African government imposed a strict lockdown last March: wine production and exports banned, and the sale of all alcohol within the country forbidden.
Fortunately, the production ban was lifted for the 2021 harvest and exports have resumed.
But with so much of the 2020 wine still in tanks there is little room for the new vintage.
Wines of South Africa, a not-for-profit industry organisation, has urged wine lovers across the globe to support the struggling industry by purchasing their wines.
Some 300,000 jobs, directly or indirectly, are affected by the current crisis. Many of the 580 wineries are small to medium sized, family-run businesses.
There is a sobering awareness that some will go to the wall.
One such family-owned wine estate is Delheim situated on the slopes of the breath-taking Simonsberg Mountain, 50kms east of Cape Town. The Sperlings have been making wines of character here for many decades.
Michael “Spatz” Sperling, then 19, arrived from Germany in 1951 to work with his uncle, Hans Otto Hoheisen, on the estate. Spatz soon began to take an interest in the vineyards already planted.
In 1957 the property was left in the hands of Spatz as his uncle retired. In the intervening 64 years Spatz and his family built Delheim into one of the most innovative vineyards in South Africa.
Spatz passed away in 2017, aged 87. Victor Sperling and his sister Nora Thiel continue to build on the success of their father, now regarded as one of the icons of South African wine.
Their success has come with hard work and endeavour which I confidently believe will see them come through the current crisis affecting their industry.
When I phoned Nora this week, she was particularly upbeat that the crèche on the estate, catering for the children of parents who work on the farm, had re-opened.
It also looks after the needs of some youngsters from surrounding wineries and community.
This caring and holistic approach – to staff, community, and the land – are the hallmarks of good practice that have helped grow and sustain Delheim for six decades.
Nora said: “This pandemic has led to a new community spirit. People helping each other. We have to work together during this time.”
Delheim’s cellar door tastings and award-winning restaurant are in lockdown. But hospitality staff have been re-deployed.
‘KEEP AS MANY WORKING’
Nora added: “Some have worked in the vineyard; others have helped in the cellar. We have tried to keep as many as possible working.”
The lives of workers, friends, and neighbours in the community have been claimed by this horrible virus.
These are indeed worrying times for South African winemakers. Finances are tight and the only income comes from exports.
We can all help by thinking South Africa when picking up a bottle or two of wine this weekend.
O’Briens Wine outlets nationwide exclusively stock Delheim wines.
Their lemon and peachy Chenin Blanc (ABV 13.5%) and Pinotage Rosé (ABV 12.5%), one of the best South African rosés, are €13.73.
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The elegant Chardonnay Sur Lie (ABV 13.5%): Oak ageing and time spent on the lees (spent yeast cells). At €26.02 it is as good as Burgundy twice the price.
Delheim Grand Reserve (ABV 14.5%): Classy, delicate Bordeaux blend (Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc) with red berry notes on the palate and firm tannins. Special occasion wine at €36.95.
I cannot recommend the Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest Botrytis (ABV 11.5%) dessert wine highly enough. Vibrant acidity. Honey, apricot and peach flavours. €26.52