Monday, February 04, 2019

Hemel en Aarde Valley Pinot Noir Celebration Part One, Introduction and farm visits

Once a year, just before harvest, many of the vineyards in the Hemel and Aarde valley get together and hold their Pinot Noir Celebration. This year, we were thrilled and delighted to be invited by Creation Wines to attend and tell the story of the Celebration
We booked accommodation in the area and arrived for registration at 10h30 on Friday, 24th January
Three bubblies of the area were there to help us start the day: Two from Domaine de Dieux, the award winning Claudia and the Rose of Sharon Brut Rosé. We also enjoyed the MCC from Creation, new to many of the visitors, “Elation”, a maiden vintage 2015 MCC blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Classified ‘Brut Nature’, the wine contains only natural residual sugar. Perfumed, with blossom, apple and strawberry notes & some brioche; on the palate, light pink grapefruit, apple, a touch of umami and good minerality on the end. So enjoyable
And we met two of our readersthe Smiths, who used to be Main Ingredient customers
And in case any of us were flagging from the early start
(we did leave early to drive through and check in at our accommodation),
there was a breakfast buffet of note to sustain us all
Small seed and nut sweet muffins, spanakopita triangles with tzatziki dip, smoked salmon and caviar on soft blinis
Egg and bacon tartlets
Bacon wrapped sausages with a mustard dip
Who could resist these smoked salmon and caviar blinis? Not us
Devils on Horseback - glazed, bacon wrapped prunes
More old friends, Michele Guttler Roos from Sea Point and Dr Dorothy Olshfski from Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey
Norma Ratcliffe with Keynote speaker Remington Norman, Master of Wine
Remington is an author and a well respected expert on Burgundy and Rhône wines.
Nidderdale is not a wine farm; it is an apple farm and the views across the orchards are rather special
The crowd of arrivals grew
Roland Peens, director of The Wine Cellar, also a keynote speaker at the weekend, with Restaurateur Neil Grant
The Pinot Noir Celebration is organised each year by Craig and Anne Wessels of Restless River
Craig is the Chairman of the Hemel and Aarde Winegrowers' Association
After registration, we were taken in small groups in these minibuses to three farms to see the vineyards and hear from their owner/winemakers. We would visit, in turn, the Hemel and Aarde Valley ward, the Upper Hemel and Aarde Valley ward and the Hemel and Aarde Ridge ward and explore the different terroirs
Our group went first to Bouchard Finlayson
where we had a view of the devastation caused by the shocking fire that swept down the valley just a couple of weeks before. The hill used to be lush and green. Luckily, the vineyards in the upper sections of the valley were not damaged, although lower valley estate Hamilton Russell lost about 10% of their vineyards and Bouchard Finlayson also suffered
Peter Finlayson, who founded Bouchard Finlayson in 1989, told us about their special terroir and then took us into the vineyards to see them for ourselves
It was a large, interested crowd of Pinot Noir enthusiasts
Another of our keynote speakers for the weekend was Jan “Boland” Coetzee, who is the owner and winemaker at his farm, Vriesenhof Vineyards in Stellenbosch. Jan, who is passionate about Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is one of SA’s modern wine pioneers and a Springbok rugby legend. Loved and respected in the wine industry, he mentors and inspires young winemakers
A beautiful bunch of Pinot Noir in the vineyard
They had dug a hole so that we could see how far down the roots go in this dense and ancient soil
Leaves turning red, harvest is not far off
Bouchard Finlayson's tasting room
Back on the bus and up the hill to the Upper Hemel and Aarde Valley to visit Newton Johnson
Winemaker Gordon Newton Johnson told us about their soil and the challenges of farming in the area on 550 million year old Cape granite with quartz and silica crystal inclusions, and with clay beneath. It does seem to produce much softer, more perfumed and more seductive Pinot Noirs. Some of the lower vineyards are very stony, like Châteauneuf du Pape, and this is where they grow the grapes for the Full Stop Rock Rhône style blend. It gives denser, heavier reds, more broody and with good texture
Peter Clark, joint owner of Domaine de Dieux
The Newton Johnson tasting room, restaurant and deck has fantastic views over their own and other estates’ vineyards, the hills, down to the sea and the lagoon and further to Betty's Bay and Cape Hangklip
Gordon told us of the other grape varietals planted in the area, of which 40% is Chardonnay. There is some Cabernet Sauvignon on Restless River and the Rhône varietals are on the lower parts of the farm. The Newton Johnsons have planted some Albarinho, the first in the Cape, and it produced a four star Platter wine in 2018; a really lovely wine
Visiting from the Swartland was Adi Badenhorst, winemaker and co-owner of AA Badenhorst Family Wines
An interesting feature 'etched' on the windows of Newton Johnson's tasting room is a time line of the Hemel and Aarde valley
Adi in deep discussion with Wendy Appelbaum, owner of DeMorgenzon in Stellenbosch
And then we moved up the valley to the Ridge and to Kevin Grant’s farm Ataraxia, from which you can see Domaine de Dieux to the left of the curve in the road and Creation winery, just above the row of trees
If you are driving in the area, you cannot miss the Ataraxia tasting room, looking just like a Greek Church, perched high on a hill
Sharon Parnell, co-owner of Domaine de Dieux, told us about the soils and farming in the area
Shane Mullis of Domaine de Dieux
Oh Kevin, what a great idea!
As this was our third winery in a couple of hours, we so needed to taste some wine to slake our thirst. It was very welcome
Kevin Grant, owner and winemaker at Ataraxia. He told us a lovely story, which he had read in a book, of a Mr Marais who came to the area, tasted the wine and wrote about it. That was in 1825! So wine is not a new development in the valley. Ataraxia is a dry land farm, which is blessed with more rain than London. They need longevity on the vines. There are 14 different soils on the 14 Ataraxia hectares. The Ridge has the most Pinot Noir in the valley as well as some Rhône and other varietals. "We have this dirt, we love this dirt, we want to work with it and we want to get this dirt into the bottle", said Kevin. And he certainly does; his wines all show the character of his terroir which, for some of us, is recognisable
The wine we enjoyed with him was the Ataraxia 2017 Chardonnay. It has golden fruit on the nose with white peach, golden oak, some citrus and is very, very elegant. It has a lovely texture, clean citrus and more white peach on the palate, with white Bing cherry; long flavours with the perfume of peach remaining. Superb and priced at R265
Gerhard Smith, winemaker with J C Martin at Creation
The tasting room is also an art gallery
with comfortable sofas and chairs. They had laid on some roasted nuts and some biltong, all welcome
Church windows with fabulous views
And then we were transported back to Nidderdale for a tasting and some lunch

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