On the R320 – also known as the Hemel-en-Aarde road – you get what many consider to be some of the best South African wine producers: Whalehaven, Southern Right, Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Sumaridge, Newton Johnson all acknowledged by the Wine and Spirit Board as official Hemel-en-Aarde and Upper Hemel-en-Aarde wineries.
If you continue on this road, however, you eventually end up in no-man’s land – literally, since this part of the geographical demarcation is still unnamed. It also looks like outcast-territory, the mountains along the road a seemingly impenetrable mass But then a sign directs you to Creation Wines’ vineyards and the scene changes dramatically.
During a tasting of this winery’s newly launched Creation range, all-in-one owner, winemaker and viticulturist JC Martin reminisces how he stood next to Peter Finlayson six years ago when the latter proclaimed that this arid land had potential. “He was looking with a real farmer’s eye” laughs wife Carolyn (ne Finlayson) about her uncle’s acclaimed ability to sniff out “gold”. Not one to argue with one of South Africa’s Burgundy-style wine masters, Martin – who is Swiss – planted a few hectares of vines. The first batch was only enjoyed in a personal capacity, but recently the 2007 and 2008 vintages were released. These I tasted, and I was more than surprised.
Creation Wines opened its tasting room on 15 November. Carolyn was responsible for the dcor that is “modern yet acknowledges those that were there before us”. A coffee table made from integrated wine boxes bearing the names of established wineries such as Nederburg is thus not only aesthetic but also a symbol of humility in an industry that can quickly sap it from you.
We all sit down at the barrelwood table where we taste the wines together with a food-pairing platter prepared by Anli and Andr van Vuuren of Season Restaurant. This is available to all visitors at R60 per person, plus they offer an antipasti platter of local and imported cheeses and decadent meat shavings at R135 for two. Well-priced food and wine support Carolyn’s description of her husband: a “socialist winemaker” who believes that “good wines should be made available at the best price”.
In white wine they have the herbaceous, mineral-rich Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (R79.50) and the peaches-and-cream Viognier 2008 (R79.50), the latter already sold out from the farm. On the red side, Creation has a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend 2007 on its books (R124.50), with a yet-to-be-released Pinot Noir 07 that, sampled during a cellar tour, is already fragrant and full bodied. For Martin, the Pinot Noir varietal epitomises finesse: “You do not know finesse until you have produced a Pinot Noir. If you have one element missing from the wine, it will not taste right. Paying attention to every detail enables you to achieve finesse.”
Martin’s reds all have remarkable tannin structure: soft and unobtrusive. This is in line with his goal to produce wines that are “redemanding”: a good wine is not about how many stars it has to its name, but how many glasses are asked for. Based on this theory, his Shiraz Grenache 2007 (R124.50) with ripe fruit, white pepper and smoky undertones is the winner – since we quickly switch from tasting to drinking it.
Enjoying the Italian-style platter, we chuckle, debate and have a good old skinder about some players in the wine industry. A philosophical Martin says that the mark of a true winemaker is “being true to your style”, adding that he will not compromise his style of winemaking for any competition. And would you want him to?
Wines from Creation are available at select wine shops and the cellar.