The South African wine country is a wonderful place to visit after the cosmopolitan nature of Cape Town. Inevitably, one compares the Cape Winelands to Napa Valley. Both are in striking distance to wonderful cities on the water, and both produce stunning wines.
We visited the Solms-Delta Wine Estate on the evening of one of their summer concerts, and had a delightful time. Solms-Delta is much more than a wine estate. Located 15km outside the village of Franschhoek in the heart of the Cape Winelands, Solms-Delta has done an amazing job of addressing the reality of South Africa’s apartheid history by undertaking an ambitious educational initiative for the townsfolk whose elders suffered under the prior political regime.
CEO Craig MacGillivray was our host, and we spoke by phone before our visit. He described how he had worked for Solms-Delta on the outside for years and became enamored of the estate’s mission. Several years ago he jumped at the opportunity to become directly employed. His enthusiasm for the estate’s mission was infectious, and I was intrigued to see firsthand how the estate was able to surround its philanthropic and educational mission with winemaking.
We arrived at Solms-Delta in the late afternoon, and the shadows were growing long but the air remained warm. The large lawn was arrayed with dinner tables facing the stage, which by day is the porch of the main building. The summer concert series (named ATKV Franschhoek Oesfees) gives thanks for and celebrates not only the end of the harvest, but also the real music and culture of the region, with its deep heart, soul and history. The Solms-Delta effort is unique in that it brings together farm workers and farm owners from the valley to celebrate their hard work and the Cape’s rich cultural heritage. We certainly experienced the excellent food, fine wine and wonderful music on our visit.
“In South Africa, we do not always do enough to show our appreciation to the workers of our country,” Mark Solms of Solms-Delta has stated. “This acknowledgement is the spark that ignited the Oesfees six years ago, and music the catalyst for uniting people of all backgrounds in this day of celebration. Anyone with heart and soul cannot help but be moved by the outstanding and authentic music, rich cultural heritage and spirit of togetherness that pervade the Valley during the Oesfees.”
Adriaan Brand has been at Solms-Delta since 2009 and arrives with an amazing pedigree. As a member of Springbok Nude Girls he attained impressive status as one of South Africa’s top bands, opening for U2 and 104,000 people in Johannesburg and then 80,000 in Cape Town. He also eased my minor trepidation and confirmed that the singer Rodriguez (hero of the compelling and Oscar-nominated “Searching for Sugarman”) is indeed of massive importance in South Africa.
Adriaan is currently working on his Master’s Degree in music therapy, and leads the music program at Solms-Delta. Adriaan wants the local townsfolk to “seize control of their identity.” One way is by assisting them to write new songs in the style of the old songs. For many years, prior to the end of apartheid in 1994 there was an “inward repression of the old songs.” Adriaan described how the traditional gospel songs had the same words across the myriad languages of South Africa, and then he eagerly sang me a few examples.
His fervor was infectious earlier onstage as well, where he led the local woman’s choir through an invigorating set that had folks of all ages and colors on their feet dancing. Offstage after his performance he described to me how the townsfolk need to “own the responsibility” and “use music to fight the impotence” of their situation. He described his theory of “centre out” in juxtaposition to the traditional and often failed efforts of “top down” or “bottom up” approaches to effecting change.
Adriaan’s most compelling story was about his childhood. Raised in a mixed race family, he was acutely aware of the racism around him. In response to the strict racial separation in church services, and in direct response to the oxymoronically-named Christian National political party, Adriaan was part of a Baptist congregation that “went rogue” and hosted multi-racial church services. The authorities required separate seating areas for the races, but when the hours-long gatherings turned to the musical portion of the service, all races moved together on their feet, joining in song and praise. The repressive enforcing observers were left flummoxed.
Our evening at Solms-Delta was a complete joy. The regional food and delightful wine was a catalyst for an invigorating evening of history and music. Although we came to South Africa for the safari, we were very fortunate to partake in a cultural experience that more fully exposed us to the rich history of the region.