The oesfees on Solms-Delta was the most fun event in the Winelands last year, by a country mile. A celebration of the bounty of nature, the pioneering vision of Mark Solms and Richard Astor, the irrepressible joie de vivre of the farm worker community and the sheer exuberance of Afrikaans vernacular music are the highlights of Episode 3 of a BBC series on wine which flighted in the UK earlier this month.
Entitled “Wine: The Future” it focuses on two new producers: Oupa Rangaka in Stellenbosch and Mark Solms in Franschhoek but the boring old black/white dichotomy is unfortunately the clichéd M.O. chosen.
The program is promoted on the BBC website via the age old tradition of not letting facts spoil a good story. The Rangakas are not “the only black people to own a vineyard in South Africa” – Tokyo Sexwale owns plentsch. Nor was Oupa even the first as Miko Rwayitare preceded him, who in turn was preceded by the president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, who bought his pied à Franschhoek back in 1995 while Ansela van de Caab, a freed slave and 17th century owner of Muratie, beats them all into a cocked hoed.
This apartheid frame of mind is a pernicious one, unfortunately seized upon in a review of the program on the Grape communal blog, where UK wino Peter F May makes the point that Solms-Delta is white owned while M’Hudi is not. Which misses the whole point of the Solms-Astor partnership: it is one of the first empowerment initiatives where black people own land. A point eloquently made by Mark in the program reflecting on what his neighbours must think.
Likewise Peter’s claim that “M’Hudi is bankrolled by government grants and loans” is unsupported by the commentary that makes the point that Oupa cashed in his pension from a Johannesburg university to buy the farm. Nor is Mark’s Cape Jazz Shiraz a paternalistic “sweet fizzy wine” made exclusively “for non-wine drinking black people in Africa” nor was it sold for R50 – it was R5 a glass, and so on and so forth. But leaving those with axes to grind to get on with their chores, I thoroughly enjoyed the program which had a quirky humour that shines through like a laser beam.
The shot of an earnest Oupa standing in front of a trailer full of guavas explaining how financially tough it is to make a living from wine was completely undermined by an unseen hand repeatedly throwing guavas onto the trailer behind his head, like so many green juggling balls. Serious security preparations for the oesfees Peter makes so much of were likewise contradicted by the conversation of the guards and the impromptu lesson on how to slightly pick up a rowdy reveler under the arms in preference to a “kom donner” dragging action.
Mrs. Vloos, the Delta matriarch with the well-lived in face, steals the show in her Sunday best “Naomi Campbell” wig and for those who knew him, the many angelic appearances of musician Alex van Heerden, tragically killed in a car crash earlier this year, are unbearably poignant. What a pity there was no space in the rolling credits to note his passing.
The eminently reasonable comments of the two protagonists, Professors Rangaka and Solms, make me confident that if this is indeed the future of SA wine, then it is a rosy one. And all I need do is learn how to stick out my bottom like David Kramer while swiveling on one veldskoen foot.