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Posted on: Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Solms Delta picnics, heritage and film-making

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Solms-Delta picnics

Solms-Delta picnics

I am a fan of picnics. Particularly when they are set in amongst vineyards, sun-dappled trees and blue skies, as indeed this one turned out to be. But I had to have my wits about me, as we became so embroiled in frolic that I was in danger of missing out on the beauty of our surrounds – one of the perils of the job, but hey, what is a girl to do?

A friend of mine is doing a bit of work at Solms-Delta, the Franschhoek wine farm that is so much more than a wine farm (I won’t go into all of that here, but suffice it to say, it is really worth a visit – not least for their wines’ quirky names, or the re-introduction of desiccation – an ancient Greek practice that strangles the grapes) …

She is one of those people who manages to get involved in all manner of things, so it was unsurprising to find ourselves en route to the farm on a week day morning to help shoot a film about the farm – we were to star as the Solms Delta picnics eaters (fun, food and wine – in that order – you can see how I couldn’t refuse).

We had no sooner arrived on the farm when Anna called: ‘Can you make it earlier, the light…’. Need I say more? Light is of the utmost importance when you are a film maker or photographer, obviously. With little time, we did a whirlwind tour of the museum whilst Anna and her crew (all one of them) set up for us. Or rather, finished their third breakfast of the morning – it is hungry work getting up at 5.30am to shoot the beauty of yet another dawn in Franschhoek.

Solms-Delta picnics
Photographs – Left: Museum van de Caab / Right: The pretty forest

Dismiss any idea of this museum as stodgy. Old it most definitely is. Parts of the floor of the Museum van de Caab remain the original so you get a feel for the heritage of the estate, the social history of which dates back 320 years. This is the farm’s original wine cellar from 1740, and is filled with artefacts unearthed on the estate.

Stone plaques dominate the back wall to honour the farm’s slave heritage, and even for those who remain namesless there is a plaque entitled simply ‘female slave’ or ‘male slave’ that serves as a memorial, and a sign of respect. Solms-Delta is big on preserving the rich heritage of the farm, which, like many farms in the valley, is steeped in slavery; the first colonists to settle on the farm were Hans Silverbach and his freed slave wife Ansela van der Caab.

What really works in this museum is the stories that combine to form the history, all from the subjective viewpoint of individuals. History and archaeology combine to transport the visitor from initial human settlement on the farm, through pre-colonial pastoral usage of the land, to private ownership, the scars of slavery and apartheid and beyond. I really enjoy the idea of history explained through stories. It brings the past alive.

Solms-Delta picnics
Photographs – Left: The picnic / Right: Delecrable picnic!

On our way out we notice the spring wine special chalked on a black board: Two bottles each of Vastrap, Lekkerwijn and Cape Jazz for just R300. I also pick up a copy of Hiervandaan, the newest CD launch of Les Javan (he croons some amazing love songs towards the end) with other songs sung by voices from the Soetstemme choir, voices of the local community and produced on the farm – Solms-Delta initiated a musical heritage programme too, called Music van de Caab, to keep alive the rebellious musical traditions of the Cape winelands.

Back to the task at hand. We meet the crew up at the Fyndraai restaurant – for once it isn’t a French restaurant, despite being Franschhoek (have you noticed the dominance of French-style cuisine at most of the Western Cape’s wine estates?). This wine farm’s restaurant is, instead, defiantly local and serves food influenced by the indigenous Khoe and San nomads as well as traditional slave Muslim dishes. Picnic basket and blanket tucked under our arms we quickly reorganise the original picnic group to include two more for the hell of it.

This is a good moment to discuss the food, because the picnic spread is definitely worth forking out for. The picnic area where you will spread your wares, is completely private and away from the main buildings of the farm. Solms-Delta lies on the Dwars River and their picnics are meant for the enchanted riverside forest on the other side of the vines from the Fyndraai restaurant – the walk there is as appealing as the banks of the river turn out to be.

Solms-Delta picnics

Photographs – Left: The filmmakers muscle in on our food! / Right: Museum

Chef Shaun Schoeman (born and bred in Franschhoek) puts together quite a spread that includes basil pesto marinated farm vegetables with chive hummus, sage and boegoe (a lot of the food is flavoured and enriched by the roots, leaves or fruit of the fynbos and indigenous herbs of Dik Delta – the farm’s fynbos culinary gardens) flavoured feta cheese, olives, baby leaves and almonds, and a spread of local meats and cheeses all creatively made according to local recipes – like smoked Franschhoek trout, local cheese with homemade blatjang, crackers and kraakbrood, and chicken tandoori with cucumber and honey mustard yoghurt.

With that comes a bottle of Lekkerwijn per couple (a Rosé blended from Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier and matured for 6 months in French oak), fresh seasonal fruit and apple tart with fresh cream. And, in case you were wondering, Shaun can be persuaded to put together a vegetarian picnic too.

We wander through the vineyards whilst one of our group talks us through an earlier shoot where a group of workers were filmed pinching off initial vine growth with their fingers, whilst managing to catch up on the latest gossip and complete their task at a rate at which she found alarming.

There is a feeling about Solms-Delta that I really like. There is something here that is almost intangible, but obviously has a lot to do with the sincerity of the two men whose farm this is, and the overriding sense of ‘fun’ all are encouraged to have whilst making wine, music, and food.

Solms-Delta picnics
Photographs – Left: The spread / Down by the river

Our meander takes us to the river, alongside which we amble whilst selecting the best spot for the film. Tough choice: in the midst of a flower-infested meadow, or on the little beach next to the river – hmmm.

It is amazing to watch how far a Solms Delta picnic for two can stretch between six – yes, the filmaker and her crew were unable to help themselves. Our bottle of Lekkerwijn lasted minutes, whilst the bottle of locally purified water (glass bottle I am pleased to recount, and water sourced on the farm) and supply of delicious dishes were polished off rapidly, but not without great relish.

Franschhoek Info:

Contact Details & How to book:
Order a Solms-Delta pre-packed picnic on 021 874 3937. The picnic will cost you R135 per adult (children are welcome).

Solms-Delta is a joint venture between the Solms and Astor families and the Wijn de Caab Trust, the beneficiaries of which are the historically disadvantaged residents and employees of Delta farm and its environs. It lies 15 kilometres outside the village of Franschhoek and produces classical wines with a difference.

Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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