To town to meet Carolyn Martin, who with husband Jean-Claude owns Creation Wines, an estate in the Hemel-en-Arde Valley south of Cape Town at Walker Bay and taste their wines.
Hemel-en-Arde Valley, meaning Heaven on Earth, is home to South Africa’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The first vineyard here was planted surreptitiously, because it was outside the wine region allowed by the then regulator, by Timothy Hamilton-Russell in 1976. Hamilton-Russell Vineyards first winemaker was Peter Finlayson who went on to found Bouchard-Finlayson, the second winery in in the valley, in partnership with Burgundian winemaker Paul Bouchard.
Now Hemel-en-Arde Valley’s reputation for fine wine has seen a growth in wineries and the valley recently being split into three smaller wards, or appellations.
Creation Wines is one of the newest wineries, bought by Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin in 2002. There were no vines so they started planting in 2003 and now have 50 hectares, and a new winery.
JC, as Jean-Claude is known, started making wine when he was fourteen at his family’s winery in Switzerland. Carolyn was brought up on wine farms, her father is well known winemaker Walter Finlayson, and Peter Finlayson is her uncle. JC and Caroln married in 1999 and lived and worked in Switzerland at Grillette Estate. But JC and had become frustrated by appellation restrictions in Switzerland, and in the Cape he is free to plant what he likes.
Not all varieties have succeeded in their microclimate. “There’s a 12 degree difference between midday and midnight”, said Carolyn, “and although it’s between 20 and 16 degrees Celsius in the daytime during summer, at night it’s cool.”
First wine was
Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2015: This was crisp, dry rather austere. It had a long finish, and a meaty mid-palate from the 20%Semillon and also partial wood fermentation and aging in large barrels with and time on the lees. And yet the oak was well in the background, adding complexity without dominating.
Viognier 2016 saw no wood, being cool fermented in stainless steel and without malolactic fermentation. Elegant fresh and fragrant.
Art of Chardonnay 2015: ‘Art of’ is their premium (and premium priced) label. This is fermented in wood and aged for 10 months in 100% new oak barrels with fortnightly batonnage. All or half undergoes malo depending on the vintage. There’s dry fruit and a pure expression of Chardonnay, it’s delicate; and excellent wine. “It’s from a single site vineyard at the highest part of the property’, said Carolyn.
Pinot Noir 2015: “This comes from four blocks; we use 20% whole bunch fermentation,” said Carolyn. This is the reason why the Hemel-en-Arde has earned its Pinot reputation. It’s really nice with pure berry and cherry flavours. It was aged 12 months in barrel, 25% new.
Pinot Noir Reserve 2015: From a single site selection, aged in 30% new oak for 14 month. A step up from the pervious, more weight and more spicy. Lovely wine.
The Art of Pinot Noir 2015: Individual rows are selected for this wine which is vinified separately and aged in 100% newoak for 10 months. Art of indeed; this is the darkest coloured and most muscular of the Pinots, and more integrated offering smooth sophistication. Gorgeous.
Pinot Noir Reserve 2013. This has two years additional bottle aging and it’s a bit stinky and sour on opening. But it unfolds in the glass. It’s more challenging than the easy drinking estate Pinot 2015 but it becomes delicious and it’s this wine I call for when offered a glass with dinner.
Merlot Reserve 2014. “This is the most difficult variety to grow on our estate. We’ve pulled out a lot, it succeeds only in the right place and doesn’t like water stress. It needs clay soil for water retention and a cool climate.” Vines are not routinely irrigated at Creation, only those newly planted. “In 2015 we watered for a total of 6 hours,” said Carolyn. Aged 18 months in 60% new oak. This is richly full bodied with violet flavours and sweet fruit. Very good.
Syrah Grenache 2015. An 80/20 blend aged 14 months on 25% new oak. This is a beautiful with good acidity balancing sweet opulent fruit.
Syrah 2015 had 14 months on 25% new oak. Lighter bodied than the blend and with more white pepper spiciness and luscious sweet plummy fruit.
Their winery receives 60,000 visitors annually, half are international visitors, which is surprising for a winery about two hours drive from Cape Town and not on a main route. “We employ 60 people in our tasting room and restaurant” said Carolyn. “All our tasting room staff are trained to sommelier level where we offer food and wine matching. Our staff are paid above the average and 30% of our sales are at the cellar door.
This was the first time I had tasted Creation’s wines and I hope it won’t be the last. Currently Belgium and Denmark are their main export markets. “Foodie countries,” said Carolyn, “because our wines are so good with food we’re popular in restaurants.
Hemel en Aarde Road
PO Box 1772
GPS S34 19’54.40″, E19 19’54.92″
Talk about wine on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.
Disclosure: Peter May did not pay to attend the above tasting. He paid his own travel costs