Back in October Claire, Anthony and I along with a customer from Cru visited the Hemel En Aarde Valley South Africa. To this point in my career, I had never experienced such amazing hospitality as at the Hamilton Russell Estate. The greeting by the family dogs, Ashbourne, January, Ophelia and Como and Guillaume the resident Butler, was a fabulous welcome (as long as you don’t mind tail whipping and a bit of slobber!). Setting bags down we got straight into the experience with swift refreshment, Bollinger Special Cuvée, followed by a short hike across the Estate and down an old Elephant Path to a lunch by the sea at the Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape Point, Hermanus.
On our way down Anthony pointed out many species of flora that are specific to this region of Africa, on the North facing slopes which make up the middle property of the three they own and farm, Hamilton Russell Estate bordered to the East by Southern Right and West by Ashbourne Estate, each growing different grape varietals suited to the soils below and surrounding terroir.
Lunch was local seafood complemented by the Southern Right wines, the brand was formed in 1994. At this time the range was comprised of 11 wines, but Anthony decided to focus on what he saw grew best and to follow the Hamilton Russell Philosophy of two wines per property. The label depicts the Southern Right whale and a percentage of the profits goes to support Whale conservation as well as indigenous vegetation conservation projects. Coming back from the bathroom, everyone was in a state of excitement as two whales had breached, following them around the rocks with binoculars I managed to see them also. It was a beautiful site and we were told that at times up to 70 or so Whales can be seen in the bay.
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2015 is made using multiple clones of Sauvignon Blanc to build complexity on the nose with lifted fruit, lime, pear and tropical notes and texture on the palate. Southern Right Pinotage 2015, all juicy blackberry and clove spice and a 2016 Barrel sample, much more savoury with smoky bacon flavours, fresh juicy fruit and a creamy texture and aroma from the recent malolactic fermentation.
As Pinotage is an early ripening grape it can show unpleasant “band aid” characters if it is allowed to become overripe in the vineyard. Knowing this, Southern Right pick early and we learned that it is also a varietal prone to bacterial spoilage and as such needs careful handling and a delicate relationship with wood. Large format barrels are used for the reds, with Anthony describing it as “Pinotage for people who don’t like Pinotage”, the intention is to elevate the perception of the varietal internationally. Use of a zero TCA cork, introduced by Emul the wine maker, is just one of the many innovations that Hamilton Russell Vineyards employ. The property is also carbon neutral and organically farmed.
That evening at dinner we were treated to the Ashbourne Estate Wines. Influences and aspiration for Ashbourne white looks to the Hunter Valley, lees contact and a lime and waxy nose. Ashbourne Sandstone White 2010 is Sauvignon Blanc blended with Semillon, 100% vinified in Amphora, a co-fermented experimentation. Ashbourne Pinotage 2010 was poured with dinner, but a couple of other treats were also brought up from the cellar including a 2001 very first vintage of Ashbourne red, “Tense, edgy, nervous” which went extremely well with the Mushroom Risotto.