• Anne Krebiehl MW on the special lure of Hemel en Aarde’s Creation Wines

    For the past three years, Creation Wines has been voted into the top 50 of the World’s Best Vineyards and has now grabbed the top spot in Africa. While Creation’s restaurant and tasting room are a destination in their own right, the wines are pretty special too, as Anne Krebiehl MW discovered when she tasted through the range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and got under the skin of Creation’s philosophy with owners Carolyn and Jean-Claude Martin.

    For the past three years, Creation Wines has been voted into the top 50 of the World’s Best Vineyards and has now grabbed the top spot in Africa. While Creation’s restaurant and tasting room are a destination in their own right, the wines are pretty special too, as Anne Krebiehl MW discovered when she tasted through the range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and got under the skin of Creation’s philosophy with owners Carolyn and Jean-Claude Martin.

    mm By January 26, 2023

    “The most critical thing for me, from a viticultural point of view, was that we had the privilege to plant virus-free vines – certified virus free,” says Creation Wines’ Jean-Claude Martin.

    Creation Wines
    20 years and counting: Creation Wines owners Carolyn and Jean-Claude Martin

    “We are very proud – it is about building consistency over time,” says Creation Wines owner Carolyn Martin who started this winery on virgin land with her Swiss husband Jean-Claude Martin 20 years ago when they bought the farm in 2002.

    Wine is in their blood

    Carolyn is South African winemaking royalty: her father was Walter Finlayson who grew up at the Hartenberg wine farm in Stellenbosch. Finlayson then became winemaker at Blaauwklippen and later started the Glen Carlou Estate in Paarl. Her uncle is Peter Finlayson, who started the Bouchard-Finlayson estate, also in the Hemel en Aarde Valley.

    Jean-Claude, or JC, likewise, was born into a wine estate in Neuchatel, Switzerland where his family made Pinot Noir. Initially, the couple moved to JC’s family estate and made wine in Switzerland, but they holidayed in South Africa.

    Creation Wines
    A special place in the Hemel en Aarde Valley

    A fateful holiday

    “We went to see Caroline’s uncle who lived in Hermanus,” says JC. He told them that “the nicest farm was on the market,” JC remembers, still as enthused as he was then. “The quality of soil was outstanding. We looked at the farm but did not really have the intention to buy an estate, but we bought it on that day in 2002. We started to plant in 2003 and 2004 and in 2004 we decided to sell the shares in the Swiss estate.”

    This means that by the end of 2004, Carolyn and JC had moved permanently to South Africa to establish themselves and their winery.

    “In 2006 we had a small harvest, like garagistes, but we started from 2007 with our own winery,” says JC.

    “It was not all plain sailing,” adds Carolyn. “It took us at least a decade to make a profit.”

    Creation Wines
    Wine tourism has been key as a marketing opportunity for Creation Wines and its carefully designed tasting and pairing menus

    Out of the way

    “We are right at the end of the Hemel en Aarde Valley, on a gravel road,” says Carolyn. “Nobody knew us. If we built a tasting room would people come to visit?” They were not sure but did it anyway and built a tasting room. People came. Today, Carolyn says, they sell 30% of their wines at the cellar door.

    “It is an incredibly powerful tool to get a sense of place and feel that beautiful breeze from the Walker Bay,” she adds. “Everyone talks about terroir, but how about actually feeling it.”

    JC adds: “We have something that we can hardly believe – wine tourism – such a good direct marketing opportunity. There is a lot of momentum. We have to survive with zero subsidies, so we have to be so competitive in farm practices, but we have our own destiny in our hands.”

    The right decisions

    “There was no benchmark when we planted vineyards,” says JC who clearly approached this with curiosity and an open mind. “We did plant quite a large range of varieties to see what performed best but Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are a no-brainer.”

    Today these varieties constitute the largest plantings of their almost 65ha of vineyards, alongside smaller plantings of other grape varieties.

    Another thing was clear for JC: “The most critical thing for me, from a viticultural point of view, was that we had the privilege to plant virus-free vines – certified virus free – via an exchange programme with Vititech.”

    Their 20-year-old vineyards of Pinot Noir are now in “fantastic shape,” he says. “This is one of our trump cards.” Carolyn makes the point that “the owner is a viticulturist and a winemaker – this of course affects the decisions that are made – the right decisions are being made.”

    Creation Wines
    The Art Block vines are south-east-facing and are the home to the oldest Pinot-plantings on the farm where there is less clay

    Soils and vines

    Creation Wines’ vineyards are on shale-derived clay, loam and granitic soils. “We have a lot of fractured seams,” says Carolyn, she means fault lines that juxtapose different strata of bedrocks. Their Chardonnay is grown mostly on granitic soils, while Pinot Noir is grown where there is more shale. Carolyn loves the clay: “It is kind of a heavier soil structure – the big advantage is the water retention capacity. It stores winter rains and roots go deep to reach the water. We can irrigate, we have the equipment, but we hardly use it.”

    Both the Art Block Pinot Noir and the Glenn Chardonnay are from the same vineyard, but Glenn, named after their 21-year-old son, is made from three wild-fermented barrels. The Art Block vines are south-east-facing and are the home to the oldest Pinot-plantings on the farm where there is less clay, leading to naturally reduced vigour, compact bunches and smaller berry size – “but very balanced growth,” Carolyn says.

    All the Pinot Noir is wild fermented and year by year, they have increased the amount of whole bunches used: 50% in 2019, 60% in 2020 and 70% in 2021. JC says he did it for “extra freshness, complexity and a little more texture.” He believes his healthy older vines allow him to “pick the grapes a little earlier without having green elements. I can also come down a little with the alcohol.”

    The wines are pictures of translucent elegance. I can see why people flock to taste them.

    Creation Wines

    The Art of Chardonnay 2020 – 13.5% abv

    Aromas of very subtle smoke, slightly toasted hazelnut, creamy lemon and a lifted, slightly herbal scent – perhaps of nettle – are immediately apparent on the nose. The slender yet textured palate is pervaded by bright lemony freshness and has a tangerine glint of sunniness. There is linearity and subtle concentration, a very elegant Chardonnay without an ounce of fat and a lasting lemon and oatmeal echo. Wonderful.

    The Art of Chardonnay 2021 – 13.5% abv

    Notes of wet clay and oatmeal appear first on the nose, lemon only follows later with more swirling. On the palate this also remains a very subtle wine that lets soil speak more than fruit. There is a lovely verticality here, a bright sense of cool depth and a slender, elegant body brimming with freshness. Hints of toasted hazelnut appear on the finish.

    Glenn’s Chardonnay 2020 – 13.5% abv

    Oatmeal and lemon on the nose come with an overtone of toast and a glint of citrus pith. The palate comes in with smooth mouthfeel and luminous freshness. A wonderful interplay of elements. Pithy concentration creates a lovely mouthfeel and adds a sense of weight, toastiness and notes of dried corn husk dominate the long, textured finish.

    The Art of Pinot Noir 2019- 13.5% abv

    This opens with a beautifully savoury note of peppery briar leaves and comes with echoes of red earth, a hint of creaminess and tart, red fruit. The palate is concentrated and gives full dimension to those aromatic, tart red fruits that seem to sing of pomegranate and cranberry, alongside some black tealeaf and that same herbal briary touch. Wonderfully spicy, very fresh and beautifully concentrated, despite the slenderness. Wow.

    The Art of Pinot Noir 2020- 13.5% abv

    A hint of toast hovers over the glass before earthier notes of moss, wet pebble and red berry take over. The palate then sweeps you off along a silky red streak of aromatic fruit. Tart berries and cherries swirl, while fine tannins gently crunch. White pepper and herbal savouriness shimmer here and there, adding allure to this seductive, peppery, bright wine.

    The Art of Pinot Noir 2021- 13.5% abv

    The shy nose takes a moment to unfold but soon offers peppery, lichen-like notions, almost verging on conifer. These wonderful aromatics then accompany a vividly fruited palate that offers raspberry, cranberry and Morello cherry on a super-fresh, slender but wonderfully crunchy body. Graceful tannins provide a lovely, firm but slender structure. The finish again gives that hint of lichen. Gorgeous.

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