Dynamism doesn’t end at Swartland

Which are the most exciting wine areas of the Cape? I’ve been pondering the alternatives as I increasingly hear murmurs of discontent of too much focus on the Swartland and on its wineries such as Sadie, Mullineux, Badenhorst and Lammershoek — although these examples suggest why so much attention is being directed there.

Whether the grumbles are justified or not is debatable but it is not difficult to think of other areas where developments over the past decade or so have also been remarkable — and that is not to mention established places such as Stellenbosch and Constantia, where it has largely been a question of continuing traditions and expressing them ever better.

Franschhoek, for example, which has combined experimentation with persistence, has been transformed out of all recognition from the time when the overwhelming majority of good stuff with Franschhoek labels was made from bought-in grapes.

The windswept bleakness of Elim and Agulhas too — but, unlike Franschhoek, at the southernmost tip of Africa it is all new development and in five or 10 years time I suspect its claims will be even more clamorous than they are now. And there is Elgin, where the quality just gets better and fine red wines are punishing people like me who’d thought that the only Elgin reds worth noticing must be made from pinot noir.

More surreptitious and surprising is the vinous development of the Hemel-en-Aarde area — that chain of valleys stretching inland from Hermanus. It’s 30 years since Hamilton Russell started demonstrating that good wines could come from here, and things are blossoming wonderfully. We find here the tiny, shoestring-financed dynamism that makes the Swartland so exciting and also the richer establishments more characteristic of Elgin’s growth.

One of the most intriguing signs of Hemel-en-Aarde potential is the way that they are now taking on the Swartland at its own game, with blends of red Mediterranean grape varieties such as shiraz (aka syrah), mourvèdre and grenache — and playing the game brilliantly, albeit on a small scale as yet.

Creation Wines, just about the most inland of all the Hemel-en-Aarde wineries, makes both a straight Syrah and a Syrah-Grenache. The large Creation range has been rising inexorably in quality over the four or five years that J-C and Carolyn Martin have been releasing wines. They are all good, dependable and designed to be both serious enough and easy-going enough to please most tastes. The Syrah-Grenache is for me the most interesting and enjoyable of all — generous but not gushing, firmly structured and delicious.

Perhaps even better are the Rhône-style blends from another family concern, Newton Johnson, one of the longer-established wineries of the area and unquestionably among its leaders. The Syrah-Mourvèdre has changed its name for the 2009 vintage to Full Stop Rock, which will have significance for a dozen surfers (or so I’m told), but mystify or irritate everyone else.

It remains a more perfumed, fresh and charmingly elegant wine than the monolithic name suggests. But I wonder if it could have been as subtle and powerfully delicate as it is if Gordon and Nadia Newton Johnson hadn’t mastered the trick with their first-class Domaine Pinot Noir, one of the country’s finest.

A fruitier, supple, silky grenache-based blend is also forthcoming, starting from the 2010 vintage. A name for it hadn’t been chosen when I last heard. I’m bracing myself.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories