The recent transformation of the Zandvliet/ Delta Estate in the Franschhoek Valley started early in the new millennium, with the acquisition of a portion of the farm in 2001 by renowned neuropsychologist Professor Mark Solms and family. The property included the Tshaped gabled homestead (dated 1831, but incorporating older fabric) and a much-altered old wine cellar.
The landholdings have since been increased in association with philanthropist Richard Astor, who purchased portions of Lubeck and Lekkerwijn. Collateral provided by the Astor and Solms families facilitated the purchase of portions of abutting Deltameer by the farm-workers’ Wijn de Caab Trust.
Solms-Delta Estate now comprises some 78 hectares, and includes portions of the historical properties Zandvliet (granted in 1690), Lekkerwijn (1690), Lubeck (1695) and Deltameer (a recent amalgamation of portions of several adjacent properties). It has evolved as a highly- rated wine-producing estate, where the choice of grape varieties, vineyard management methods and wine types has been based on comprehensive scientific appraisals of site-specific data on terroir and climate.
The transformation of the lives and opportunities of the estate’s numerous historically disadvantaged residents and workers has also been fundamental to its recent evolution. Through initiatives including the establishment of the Wijn de Caab Trust, decent houses for the workers have been constructed or renovated, and multiple social services have been provided.
Solms-Delta Estate has established itself as a serious centre of research and celebration of the ‘social and cultural heritage of the Solms-Delta estate and surrounding region….Ensuring that all people, especially those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, have access to history and participate in the interpretation of their own heritage and identities, is part of the Museum’s mission.
‘A larger project … centres on the establishment of a community research centre, library and artefact repository. The centrepiece of this research centre is the creation of a genealogical database for current inhabitants (and descendants of past inhabitants) of the Drakenstein and surrounding rural region’ (http://www. solms-delta.co.za/heritage/families-vande- caab. Accessed 8 January 2015).
The estate is thus home to the innovative Museum van de Caab, housed in part of the historical wine cellar, and the Music van de Caab Centre, a music museum recently opened by David Kramer in a conserved and altered old stables and wagon-shed. It hosts an increasingly popular annual Oesfees (Cape rural musical harvest festival), drawing amateur groups and professional bands from all over the Boland.
The farm Solms-Delta is located on the Delta Road off the R45 in the Groot Drakenstein, 15km West of Franschhoek. The Zandvliet/Delta wine cellar and gabled homestead are sited close to the Western edge of the escarpment overlooking the Dwarsrivier flood-plain, a few hundred metres before its confluence with the Berg River. Both the floodplain (to the West) and the slightly raised area (to the North, East and South of the Delta buildings) have been cultivated as vineyards and orchards for some three centuries.
The intrusive ‘Deltacrest’ gated residential and equestrian development lies to the Southeast of Zandvliet/Delta, along the Delta Minor Road. This security village, with its over-scaled houses and gabion stone boundary walls, is incongruous with the surrounding farmlands.
The gabled Delta homestead and old cellar align in the linear werf. Behind or to the Northeast of the homestead werf, at a differing alignment, is an old stables building.
A range of secondary buildings are scattered about: two early 20th century Baker-esque semi-detached cottages with similarities to Languedoc housing; other mid-20th century workers’ cottages; and large portal-framed fruit-packing sheds (now converted for use as wineproduction cellars).
To the South of Zandvliet/Delta lies the incorporated portion of Lubeck, which includes an early 19th century homestead and a cluster of mid-20th century farm-workers’ cottages.
Archaeology, conservation, recycling and transformation
‘The Solms-Delta wine farm is particularly rich in historical remains, from the early Stone Age to the present. Mark Solms employed trained historians and archaeologists to undertake archival research and site excavations.’ (Malan 2008)
The Zandvliet/Delta homestead had been renovated in 2001/2002, prior to our appointment, by other architects. Thorold Architects has contributed, since 2005, to the incremental conservation and redevelopment of the estate’s built environment and landscape, initially through Solms’s historian and the archaeologists who were then investigating sites located within the homestead werf, notably the original c1690 pioneer dwelling. A dense scatter of Late Stone Age microlithic tools lay in close proximity to the ruin. An old brick-lined well, to the West of the old cellar, was located, investigated and conserved. These sites have been intermittently investigated by the Archaeology Contracts Office (Orton, Halkett & Hart, 2005), and more recently by Katie Smuts and Hugo Pinto.
The Dwarsrivier Valley and Groot Drakenstein farms are located within the portion of the Cape Winelands Cultural Landscape that was provisionally protected by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), from June 2005, for two years. All proposed interventions thereafter were subject to SAHRA’s close scrutiny, and required soundly-motivated submissions.
We initially recommended that a broad ‘masterplan’ be prepared for the entire farm, to be implemented in phases and that was flexible enough to accommodate future developments.
We worked closely with the historians and archaeologists on most of the major interventions to historical buildings: notably the Delta Cellar, where there had to be considerable redesign of the initial approved plans; and the old Stables Building, where Katie Smuts undertook comprehensive excavations (for her MPhil in Archaeological research).
Staff housing and community facilities
Many historical buildings at the farm had been through changes in use and form over time; some, like the Delta Cellar and Old Stables, had been subdivided into cramped dwellings for farm-workers’ families.
One of our first projects, prior and in order to investigate the old structures, was the design of eight semi-detached staff cottages. These were constructed as a continuation of earlier workers’ cottages, in a slow crescent. The new houses are under steeply pitched roofs, with additional loft accommodation over bedrooms and bathroom. Raised North-facing front stoeps overlook small cultivated gardens and the Berg River floodplain, while wide-covered back verandas are utilitarian. Some of the older cottages have been progressively converted into a crèche, social and community facilities.
The investigation of the old Delta Cellar revealed several phases of construction and change from the mid/late 18th century, its growth in the early 19th century into a gabled wine cellar, and evolution into fruit-packing shed and then farm-worker dwellings in the 20th century.
The Museum van de Caab had been established in the Northern end of the Cellar by Solms prior to our appointment. The retention of the abutting old lean-to, containing museum and wine sale functions, was obligatory. Following extensive investigations, a permit was received from SAHRA, in 2007, to alter, renovate and partially restore the building. The cellar was much degraded in condition and form, with much original fabric lost. The eventual scheme retained the building’s history, producing a layering effect that acknowledges its social and spatial elements. The central, largest space, for wine-tasting and sales, has an engineered glass floor suspended over exposed archaeological material. A kitchen and service facilities occupy the remnant subdivided spaces.
The popularity of Fyndraai Restaurant, now located in the cellar, subsequently obliged us to design veranda or pergola protection for the generous West-facing stoep. We explored a range of possible options, mindful of visual, structural and architectural impacts. The final design comprises an overtly contemporary adjustable aluminium pergola system, housed into a steel beam-and-post structure that is free-standing (and reversible). A parapetted, flat-roofed Services Building, in line with and of equal width to the Cellar, was built to its South in 2011 to accommodate additional staff and storage facilities. The Fyndraai Restauant has since been relocated to premises behind Deltameer Stables; picnics are still serviced from the Cellar’s kitchen.
The portion of the farm Lubeck, acquired by Richard Astor in 2006, was included in the early 19th-century homestead: a simple, almost 40m-long building under steeply double-pitched roofs contained between end-gables, divided into two almost equal sections by a central fire-wall/ gable.
The construction of each ‘half’ of the building differs, as does the joinery and fenestration. Historical and fabric investigations indicated a form of long-house, comprising a dwelling in the Southern half, with simple Regency/early Victorian detailing, and barn, cellar and/or stabling in the Northern section.
The homestead was substantially renovated and conserved, with restoration of historical fabric, limited reconstruction/ replication of missing elements, and limited alteration in order to meet the requirements of the new owners. The thatched roof was reinstated, as was an external staircase to the loft, semi-replicating that shown on the c1900 Gribble photograph AG 7552. Remaining historical joinery was restored; and late 20th-century doors and windows were replaced with purpose-made items.
A new outbuilding was constructed some 20m to the South of the house, as a continuation of remnant historical fabric. The low, flat-roofed structures project off the spine Eastwards (carport, laundry) and Westwards (guest apartment, pergola-ed stoep overlooking swimming pool).
Deltameer old stables
The ‘Old Stables’ most recently housed a number of farm-worker families, since relocated to new or renovated houses on Deltameer or Lubeck. Katie Smuts conducted extensive archaeological and fabric investigations, in conjunction with us (Smuts 2012). While the external walls are of random semi-coursed stonework, no evidence has been found of the building being older than early 20th century; the end gables, for example, are Cape Dutch Revival. Investigations showed it originally comprised a wagon-shed, tackroom, stables and two dwelling units. Later internal walls have been demolished, and the original configuration and openings reinstated.
New Kitchen and Restaurant buildings, linking walkways and service yard were constructed behind/East of the Old Stables. The design of the new buildings, conceived as steel portal-framed structures, was derived from both older and more contemporary agricultural structures (e.g. the c1900 Perdestalle at Elsenberg) and farm sheds. The raised ridge provides clerestory lighting and high-level ventilation, while the restaurant is enclosed with movable glazing that maximises views over the vineyards and mountains.
The landscape of Solms-Delta Estate has been successively altered by human activity since pre-colonial times, but more extensively since the 1690s following its pioneering settlement: earlier than, but in common with the subsequent evolution of the Southwestern Cape.
Agricultural development transformed the natural landscape over the 18th century, while the core buildings of Zandvliet/Delta were iteratively altered and extended, reaching their heyday in the early 19th century.
Delta, in common with many of the struggling local farms, was transformed from vineyards to orchards during the early Rhodes Fruit Farms (‘RFF’) era, following the collapse of wine production resulting from the Phylloxera epidemic. Rhodes’ deciduous fruit-farming project, initiated in 1892, included Harry Pickstone and Lionel Baker (brother of Herbert) as managers. By the end of the 19th century, Rhodes had authorised the purchase of about 30 farms from bankrupt farmers in the Groot Drakenstein and Wellington districts, amalgamated under the name Rhodes Fruit Farms.
Herbert Baker, Rhodes’ architect,authored some interesting interventions in the Dwarsrivier valley, including the doublestorey wing to Pickstone’s neighbouring farmhouse Lekkerwijn; the Languedoc Housing; the little thatched St George’s Anglican Church at the entrance to Delta Minor Road; and some internal alterations to the Zandvliet/Delta homestead.
The design and placement of new buildings at Delta, and alterations to existing structures, was increasingly a ‘boermaak-’ n-plan’ affair over the course of the 20th century: the design of the Stables building followed the new Cape Dutch Revival style, but its siting and alignment are arbitrary. The placement and orientation of the two Baker-esque semi-detached cottages is equally puzzling – perhaps the mimicking of elements of contemporary precedent but without a grasp of context. An utilitarian approach saw the Delta wine cellar transformed into a fruit-packing shed. Thereafter, both the cellar and stable buildings were heavily altered in the 1930s and ’50s to accommodate farm workers, under Pickstone and his family (Smuts 2012).
The Pickstone landholdings were substantially subdivided in the late 20th century; the subsequent purchase of portions of Delta in 2001 by Mark Solms heralded the start of a new era.
Malan, A. (2008). ‘Unearthing Slavery: The Complex Role of Archaeology’. Iziko Museum’s Freedom Day Lecture. Historical Archaeology Research Group, University of Cape Town.
Orton, J., Halkett, D. & Hart, T. (2005). ‘A Program of Test Excavations at Delta (Farm 944), Franschhoek’. Unpublished report prepared for Professor Mark Solms.
Randle, T. (2004). ‘Transfer Deeds for Zandvliet/Delta’. Unpublished paper for the Wijn de Caab Museum, prepared for Professor Mark Solms.
Randle, T. (2005; 2013). ‘Philosophy of the Museum’. Unpublished paper for the Wijn de Caab Museum, prepared for Professor Mark Solms.
Smuts, K. (2012). ‘Report on Research Excavation of the Stables Building at Solms-Delta Farm, Groot Drakenstein.’ Component of MPhil (Archaeol). Prepared for Heritage Western Cape.
Thorold, T. (2006). ‘Proposed Renovations, Alterations & Conservation Works to Lubeck Homestead, Portion A, Farm 1645 Paarl’. Application to SAHRA.
Thorold, T. (2007). ‘Proposed Alterations & Renovations to Old Cellar, Zandvliet/Delta, Portion 35 of Farm Deltameer 1460, Paarl’. Application to SAHRA.
Thorold, T. (2010; 2012; 2013). ‘Proposed Alterations, Renovations & Additions to Old Stables, Rem. Portion 4 of Farm Deltameer 1460 Paarl’. Permit applications to Heritage Western Cape.
Titlestad, S. (2008). ‘Brief Illustrated History of the Delta Landholdings’. Unpublished report prepared for Professor Mark Solms.