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Delheim

Delheim

High up on the southwestern slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain, one finds the land known as Drie Sprong. It was originally home to a Dutch East India Company servant, whose job it was to fire a cannon from the peak directly above the property, appropriately named Kanonkop. The cannon was the third in a relay from Cape Town, via Koeberg, signalling the arrival of any foreign vessels arriving in Table Bay. The farmers in the surrounding areas would then hurry to Cape Town and trade with the visitors or defend the town against attack.

Delheim's Cellar, situated in the Simonsberg ward in Stellenbosch, is family owned and produces a wide range of internationally acclaimed wines. The original farm was founded in 1699 and today, Delheim still reflects the traditions and values of the Sperling and Hoheisen families who have established the strong foundations, known to people worldwide as Delheim.

Hans Hoheisen was one of the pioneer wine farmers, whose endeavours were based entirely on trial and error. Vines of all types were planted with easy access for harvesting uppermost in mind - thoughts of soil pH, suiting variety to soil-type and climate, let alone rootstock, were unheard of. Vines were vines and that was that - there was no grappling with the variables offered by different clones. There were no oenological and viticulture experts to refer to for help, and for Hans Hoheisen it was often a case of standing over a tank of wine, text book on winemaking in hand. Due to the lack of new machinery and other materials as a result of the war, ingenuity had to be exercised in the cellar. When it came to bottling and there were no bottles available, Hans used second-hand beer bottles for his wine. All problems and difficulties had to be overcome whilst some sort of income for the farm was still generated.

All the more remarkable, then, is the success of wines such as Drie Sprong HOH (Hans Otto Hoheisen) Muscat Dessert and HOH Cabernet. Hans considered these early efforts to be no more than 'vin ordinaries', dubbing them 'Hell of a Hangover'!

Nevertheless, He managed to sell his wines to friends, but marketing presented several problems, as the drier style of table wine then played very much second fiddle to the fortified dessert wines, while brandy offered even greater competition.

Friends also said that HOH was too obscure a name for the man on the street. This criticism gave Hans a golden opportunity to permanently honour his wife, Deli. She had been a stalwart during all the ups and downs, helping Hans in the cellar, planting the vines, keeping the farm accounts, and being a constant source of encouragement. What better way for Hans to thank her than to rename the farm and its wines in her honour? Thus Delheim - Deli's home - was born in 1949.

The Hoheisen“s dream retirement home, with its acres of land demanded constant attention; there was more to farming and winemaking than had ever been imagined. The answer came when Deli Hoheisen took a trip to Germany to visit relatives. Here it was agreed that Micheal "Spatz" Sperling, nephew of Deli, would join the Hoheisens in South Africa to assist with all farming activities. Spatz set sale on the Winchester Castle, arriving on Delheim Thursday, 19 April 1951. After 50 Years of hard work and dedication, Spatz has become synonymous with the name Delheim, he also has an unequalled reputation in the South African wine industry of today.

Delheim continued producing wine, despite almost insurmountable difficulties. The ill winds that had blown down the Simonsberg and ruined the fruit trees now also tore the vines apart. Buck ate the vines, and what remained was often ravaged by disease. In some places the 'vineyards' were just miles of wire and poles.

In the 1950's Hans and Spatz were on the point of planting the whole farm to pine trees, but the problem posed by the disposal of all the wire and poles, combined with their dogged determination to have another go at making a success of their wines, fortunately forestalled the plan.

Other problems arose from the dry and semi-sweet wines they produced. At that time there was little call for these styles, as the majority of people drank brandy or other spirits. Most of the country's grape crop was distilled, with only a small amount made into fortified dessert wine or brandy. Therefore, the profitability of the venture remained marginal, and in 1957 Hans decided to call it a day.

He preferred to help his father in his new business and to indulge his love for wild life on his 14 000 ha farm at Timbavati in the Eastern Transvaal. However, his wife and Spatz really loved Delheim, so rather than sell it, he left £1500 in the kitty to give Spatz a fighting chance of survival, and handed over the running of the farm to him on the agreement that Spatz would pay him a portion of the profits.

The Drie Sprong vineyards have Hutton-type soils, predominately sandy loams. Only 50 ha of this farm is planted to vine for two reasons. Firstly, the higher slopes are still too steep to cultivate, and secondly, the climate at this elevation (between 300 and 480 metres above sea level) is suitable for growing white varieties only.

When Spatz took over the running of the farm, his experiments proved that the climatic conditions were unfavourable to make the best red wines. The soils, combined with the cool, high altitude and an annual average rainfall of 850mm per year, favour the production of delicate white wines. The only red variety planted on Drie Sprong is Pinot Noir, its crop being used in the production of the Dry Red blend.

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