Socialist winemaking at Creation Wines

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.

Persistent Rhetoric (PR) versus Pleasant Recollection (PR)

This week I said yes to two invites that I knew were just a frantic bid for (good) publicity.

The one was a tasting evening of wines produced by boutique winemakers in Hout Bay. Where once stood stables they now plant vines, and the horses, well, most likely graze on hay at Noordhoek – I don’t know.

I probably should have asked about the level of winemaking experience and training, but instead I allowed the wine to provide the answer to this. Never before had I attended a wine launch where the missing spittoon was a deplorable reality.

Maybe the sensory appeal of the wines were affected by the high-brow conversation, or maybe the glasses carried a smell of dishwater as they were continuously rinsed in the kitchen due to too few being in circulation. Nevertheless, I don’t think my facial expressions have ever been as untactful as when I sniffed some of these wines. Enough said.

The second was a lunch at Wedderwill winery just outside Sir Lowry’s Pass Village. Whilst their wines are by far better than those tasted the previous night, the pleasure was obscured by a PR lady trying to suggest news angles. It was the kind of persistence I don’t enjoy, although the owner Wolfgang von Loeper and winemaker Nico Vermeulen can be rightfully pleased with their aged (unwooded) Sauvignon Blanc 2005 that has only just been made available to the public this year (it was rated 3 Stars by the WINE magazine panel).

This contradicts many of the events that are professionally executed by those who know that pleasant recollection is the first step in successful marketing.

For example, last week I was invited to Creation Wines’ tasting room to experience the new winery’s produce. What should’ve been a quick tasting of their first publicly-launched wines turned into a hearty lunch with winemaker/owner/viticulturist JC Martin and wife Carolyn (who handles the marketing). Although the invite’s aim did not differ from the others mentioned here, the experience was entirely different. That I think their wines are worth an honourable mention is undoubtedly linked to my pleasant recollection of the afternoon.

And just today I received post from France. Marked PRIORITAIRE, the red envelope contained a post card illustrated with Baroque angels and the Eiffel Tower. On the back a handwritten note, dated Paris, Nov. 14, 2008, from Peter and Daniel Falke (of Stellenbosch producer Peter Falke Wines) thanking me for accepting the invitation to their “launching evening”.

No, not off to Paris anytime soon, but how’s that for Pleasant Recollection?

An in-depth study of the relation between the environment and the level of enjoyment average wines elicit

Introduction:

During a recent event an established wine journalist reflected upon the relationship between the environment and the level of enjoyment a wine elicits. He argued that generic wine tasting panels can not offer an objective assessment since the clinical environment of long tables and spittoons induce a critical mindset hardly similar to what you are likely to experience under the Kalahari sky.

Methodology:

Last weekend I was in Stilbaai for my birthday with a group of friends. They are all wine lovers in some or other form, and although they do not always know what to smell and taste for, they do know what they like. This was very obvious from a wine tasting held the Saturday night. Although the “environment” was perfect – the ocean on our doorstep, music and dimmed lights – it seemed that a level of criticism could not be avoided.

Findings:

These are the summarised tasting notes from the panel of five:

Zonnebloem Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc 2008: It smells of guava and alcohol – which should always make you happy. There is also a distinct smell of toe jam and bellybutton lint. When in doubt, say you smell green pepper, or, when confident, a gym instructor’s armpit (not a hobo’s).

Brampton Chenin Blanc 2007: A sharp smell that irritates your nose. Can be mistaken for a wooded Chardonnay, whatever that means. Try it with different tongues and go with the sweetest-smelling one.

Weltevrede ‘River’s Edge’ Unwooded Chardonnay 2007: Woolies dried apricot on the nose, Germans might get a whiff of marzipan, otherwise caramel like when you burn your cake.

Brampton Shiraz 2006: On the nose you get pre-processed meat and hay flattened by a cow on laxatives. The label says you must enjoy it with good-looking friends, but this does not make the wine better.

Slanghoek Pinotage 2006: Funky smell and bubbles. Drink when there are enough toilets to support everybody. Burn glasses when done drinking to prevent future contamination.

Conclusion:

Although it was argued that sensory enjoyment is a subjective, individualistic experience that in part is dependent on the environment, it was found, through an experiment involving a panel of five men, that wines of various quality levels are not prone to taste better when you can hear waves breaking on the beach. An independent study involving myself found that the Zonnebloem Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc is not an average wine and rather pleasant when enjoyed underneath a pergola, so is the Brampton Chenin when enjoyed on the rocks at Clifton. It is my recommendation that these fluctuations in drinking preferences should enjoy further study.