SUMARIDGE ESTATE WINES
Friday 12 May 2017
The ocean was clearly visible 8 kilometres away from the elegant teal Tasting and Dining Room at Sumaridge wine estate. Whilst the glowing fire brought welcome warmth from the stiff, chill breeze outside, I needed no reminder that the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is famed for maritime, cool climate wines. Gusts of wind raced across the surface of the dam below and to the rusty coloured vines beyond that are losing their summer plumage. The robust building, tall beside the dam and made from local stone, had a reassuring feel to it. Part French Chateau, part Baronial Hall, part Monastery and part Suffolk Barn, it came as no surprise to read that owners Simon Turner and Holly Bellingham stem from Suffolk, England.
Simon and Holly bought the estate in 2008 having had a holiday home in Hermanus. The estate origins go back 30 years before then, to 1975 when it was 4 apple farms. However, it was not for another 20 years before George Sumaris – from which the estate takes its name – integrated the farms and laid them to vine. The 210 hectare property presently has 42 hectares under vine. The remainder area has been cleared of alien vegetation and restored either to virgin fynbos (65 hectares) or pastureland for Dexter and Sussex cattle.
I felt at home and comfortable in the English-styled Tasting Room. Tean was my tasting host (R20, R40 and R60 for 3, 6 or 8 wines, respectively; waived on purchase) and coincidentally from England too. She hailed from Cornwall, where I spent childhood annual summer holidays, so there was easy conversation as she poured my first wines.
I returned to taste ‘blind’ and picked out a very bright, watery pale straw Sauvignon Blanc. There was obvious fresh minerality and a crisp acidity to balance zesty lemon, lime and grassy aromas. I successfully identified too the lightly wooded Chardonnay (10 months in French oak, 30% in new wood). This was my favourite wine as it had a harmonious complexity between light honey, nougat, and stewed apple aromas that followed though to a creamy palate.
The second white for tasting proved a challenge. Tean had told me it would and she was right. It is easy to assume whilst blind tasting that every glass contains a single variety wine. Blends therefore confuse as I try to make the wine ‘fit’ a particular grape varietal. Pale straw in colour, watery in appearance suggested Sauvignon Blanc. The nose was delicately floral but fruity too – honeysuckle and litchi – to suggest Sémillon. Last, the mouth feel was creamy or even slightly oily, reminiscent of Chardonnay or a Riesling or Viognier. Tean reckoned there were seaside aromas too and I could easily have been persuaded. I guessed a Riesling to be told it is not grown on the farm (nor, I think, in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley but West in the Elgin Valley). I had more success when informed that it was a white blend and could then pick out most of the cultivars: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Sémillon and Viognier.
The prevailing Southeaster winds bring autumn and winter rain, with cool, moist air during the summer. The estate faces generally North-West. The vines are planted in clay and decomposed granite soils, of poor fertility, at between 180m and 275m above sea level. These are ideal conditions for the Burgundy-styled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is famed for.
I thought the next 2 wines were Pinots Noir and I was part right. The 2012 Pinot Noir, a 5-star Platter winner, was a deep pink in colour, with sweet plum and sour red cherry aromas, and a smooth integrated palate. The second red was a touch paler in colour and of light-to-medium body. It was less sour cherry but fruity with soft spicy undertones. Dry on the palate, with soft tannins, I was surprised that it was a Syrah. The cool climate and moderate (2013) vintage made it delicate compared with the bold examples from Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. I liked it and bought a bottle.
Tean and her colleague were fascinated by my tasting analysis and thought processes. This made for a fun tasting for each of us. The Syrah in the Epitome blend was obvious from the purple-red colour and white peppercorn and cinnamon spiciness. It didn’t surprise that its fruity partner was Pinotage. I savoured one more wine, a Merlot, which was recognizable from the ruby colour, cedar and red/black fruit aromas, moderate acidity and dry tannins.
Sumaridge stood high in my opinion and offered a rewarding tasting experience. The excellent wines spoke for themselves without the need for flashy food pairing or witty labels that characterise Creation Wines and La Vierge, above and below in the Valley. British reserve – and windy British weather – made me feel at home and for that I was thankful.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2016 Sauvignon Blanc – R105
2012 Maritimus (55% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Sémillon, 5% Viognier – R150
2014 Chardonnay – R245 FAVOURITE WINE
2012 Pinot Noir – R290
2013 Syrah – R180*
2010 Epitome (60% Syrah, 40% Pinotage) – R225
2015 Merlot – R220 (R140 on promotion)