Wine icon leaves indelible legacy spanning more than six decades
The Sperling family are sad to announce the passing of Michael Hans ‘Spatz’ Sperling, their much-loved husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather and patriarch of Delheim.
Since his arrival in South Africa as a 20-year-old from Germany in 1951 to join his uncle Hans Hoheisen and aunt Del, Spatz became a pioneering icon of the South African wine industry.
Over the next 60 years, Spatz grew this farm on the Simonsberg into one of the most enduringly popular and successful wine destinations, creating many firsts in the process. Among the most notable Delheim was the first farm to send out a newsletter and to serve cheese platters for lunch (first restaurant on a South African wine farm) – facilities today’s visitors to the Cape winelands take for granted. Spatz was ahead of the game too when it came to wines the consumer wanted. His first effort however was the famous Spatzendreck which has been loved by many since 1961. Heerenwijn, a light and dry white wine, was a first of its kind. At the other end of the scale, in the 1970s, Spatz recognised growing demand for red wines, purchasing prime vineyard land on Klapmutskop, which he named Vera Cruz after his wife. Delheim’s flagship, the Cabernet-led Grand Reserve, first produced in 1981 and among the early Bordeaux-style blends, comes from these vineyards.
Over the years this family-run wine farm also became a microcosm of Spatz’s visionary work in the greater Stellenbosch community and the Cape Winelands as a whole. In the days when there were few privately owned farms, Spatz, Sydney Back of Backsberg and Frans Malan of Simonsig, founded the Cape Estate Wine Producers. Together they were also instrumental in transforming wine estate legislation which led to the 1973 Wine of Origin system. Spatz was, together with Frans Malan, and Neil Joubert of Spier, a founder member of the Stellenbosch Wine Route (using his persuasive charm to convince the authorities that traffic signboards should be allowed) and was involved with the founding of both the Stellenbosch Bottled Wine Show and Food and Wine Festival.
He had a passion for trees, especially fond of his pine forest and contributed to the South African Timber Growers Association as chairman.
The wine industry’s ultimate recognition of Spatz’s extraordinary contribution came in 2009, when he was honoured with the 350 Celebration Scroll in the year South Africa celebrated 350 years of winemaking.
Spatz’s unstoppable energy was matched by his larger-than-life personality and cheeky sense of humour; when Spatz arrived at a friend’s house, it was a party. He was also a ready and generous friend. ‘Our father will often be remembered in the wine industry as ‘the difficult German’, recall his two eldest children, Victor and Nora – ‘but he was not afraid of any challenge, even that of Parkinson’s disease of which he suffered during the latter years.’
‘We are highly blessed to have had a father who we could share with so many people. In his honour please raise a glass of your favourite Delheim wine, share the moment and celebrate his journey with us – Prost!’
Spatz is survived by his wife Vera and children Victor, Nora, Maria, Nicholas and grandchildren Rudi, Karl, Gabriele, Michael, Louis and Renzo.
A private funeral service will take place in the Delheim cemetery. A celebration of Spatz’s life will be held at Delheim at a date to be announced.
The family is grateful to, and support donations to Hospice.