Vera Sperling: #SAWINELEGENDS

Delheim was the furnace for many of the things we associate with a day out in the winelands. Things we take for granted now, such as an authentically styled tasting room, a restaurant to complement the estate’s offering, vineyard tours and the like. It all started here.

 Delheim radiates hospitality from its very entrance where complimentary mulled wine is waiting to greet guests. I’m here to have lunch with the estate’s matriarch, Vera Sperling.

Our winelands was the Wild West before these niceties came into play—though it wasn’t just window dressing, but a considered effort into creating not only a wine estate, but also the nascent Stellenbosch Wine Route, and the vision of what it could be.

Vera cuts a slim figure in her grey blazer; her neck is wound with scarfs of warm pink and orange. We settle in the estate’s intimate restaurant with views of the tailored gardens. The waiting staff greet her warmly as Tannie Vera, and she promptly orders a bottle of Delheim’s Gewürztraminer 2017.

Her husband, the legendary winemaker and proprietor of the estate, Michael Hans ‘Spatz’ Sperling passed away at the age of 87 in 2017. (Sperling is the German word for “sparrow” and Spatz means “baby sparrow”.) Known as Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, Vera and Spatz were the original power couple. 

“I knew my husband for two weeks when he proposed,” says Vera. Her parents moved to South Africa just before the war and when they separated, her father remained, while Vera and her mother went abroad, spending time in both Holland and Chile. In typical Vera fashion she says: “In Chile I had to learn Spanish, so then I could at least participate at the dance parties!”  She regularly came to the Cape to visit her father, who had by then set up a successful furniture design company called Binnehuis.

Creative by nature, Vera studied art in the Hague, specialising in interior architecture. For her practical year she came to work with her father in his company, who at the time was renting a house at nearby Muratie (the estate downwind from Delheim). She quickly immersed herself in the social life of Stellenbosch.

“I remember this one party, it was terribly hot,” she says reminiscing. “All the students went to swim in a cement dam; the girls went in their underwear, but I’m Dutch I do things properly—and I didn’t want to sit in wet underwear all night, so I went nude.” She says she came back from her swim, and her clothes were gone. “I spent the night dancing in a mosquito net!”

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