SAME ESTATE, SAME CULTIVAR, SAME VINE-GROWING, SAME WINEMAKING, SAME VINTAGE – DIFFERENT SOILS
Thursday 25 May 2020
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A month ago, I ‘Tasted Live’ two Sauvignons Blanc from Lomond estate. The wines were identical except that one was made with grapes from clay and the other from sandy loam. It made for a fascinating tasting and to explore whether theory matched practice (read more here) and one worth repeating. The opportunity arose with two Chardonnay from De Wetshof. Both wines were 4* Platter’s rated, of the same vintage (2019), made with grapes of similar age, contained 13.5% alcohol and vinified in the same way: de-stemmed grapes, fermented in stainless steel tanks, unwooded and matured on the lees for 6 months before bottling.
De Wetshof lies in the Robertson Valley. It is the oldest estate in the Valley. Danie De Westhof pioneered the growing of noble grape varieties in 1972, first Chardonnay and then Sauvignon Blanc. Three generations of winemakers later and with 180 hectares under vine, De Wetshof produces mostly white wine (90%). The estate has a range of rocky slate and clay soils with limestone outcrops.
Each soil type brings a different character to a wine. Limestone contains beneficial nutrients to produce better and sweeter grapes. It remains moist in dry weather and has good drainage. It can lead to iron deficiency which is overcome by frequent fertiliser application. The alkalinity in the soil promotes acidity to make zesty wines. Clay retains even more moisture than limestone which it releases throughout the dry summer months. The extra moisture brings a cool soil to slow ripening. The resultant wines are rounder, bolder, more generous and with more structure and colour from deeper extraction. Slate is metamorphosed clay that has been compressed under heat and pressure. It is low in organic matter so does not retain water. Therefore, slate soils warm quickly and retain heat. Broken rocks on the surface shade the roots from the sun and reflect the heat onto the vines, which make them good in cool climate regions. The resultant wines contain higher levels of alcohol, leaner and more mineral in character.
The popular Limestone Hill Chardonnay is made with grapes that are grown close to the River Breede. This has heavy clay soils that are rich in limestone. The Bon Vallon wine comes from vineyards in Bonnievale (hence the name) that contain broken rock with slate. The expectation therefore is that the Limestone Hill wine will show more structure and fullness, with deeper colour and more tropical fruits than the Bob Vallon Chardonnay. The latter ought to show a more steely and mineral character. The Tasting Notes describe aromas/flavours of ‘grapefruit and nuts’ and ‘citrus, wildflowers and grilled nuts, with a nuanced minerality on the aftertaste’ for the Limestone Hill and Bon Vallon wine, respectively.
The proof of the wine is in the drinking, so to speak, and so I poured equal amounts of each into a bowl-shaped wine glass, ideal for Chardonnay. With both wines being unoaked and with the same winemaking, there was predictably little colour difference. I tested the Nose on both wines first without swirling as this can help to detect minor variation. The Limestone Hill (clay) showed slightly more intensity of aroma than the Bon Vallon (slate). With swirling, the Limestone Hill revealed aromas of baked Granny Smith apple, melon, kiwi fruit and green pineapple. This compared with the Bon Vallon that was more citrus in character, showing less tropical fruit notes and more lemon and lime citrus.
The Chardonnay were beautifully balanced on the palate – between fresh fruits, well-integrated acidity, and the medium alcohol – to make two excellent wines. There was a distinct difference on the Palate between them. The warmer tropical fruits of the clay-based Limestone Hill followed through on the Palate that was fuller, weightier and with more structure in the mouth. In contrast, the Bon Vallon showed a livelier and fresher character with a cleaner mouthfeel and more mineral character due to the rocky slate soils.
The tasting fascinated as expected. It was intriguing that the practice of tasting matched the theory as forecast. Whilst the clay soils were cooler than those of the rocky slate, this had the effect of slowing down ripening to allow a fuller structured and rounder wine with more sugar development and hence a warmer fruit profile. The tasting proved, if proof ever needed, the extent to which fine wines are made in the vineyard, together with the vital importance of terroir.
2019 De Wetshof Limestone Hill Chardonnay – R102
2019 De Wetshof Bon Vallon Chardonnay – R142
HARTENBERG WINE ESTATE
Saturday 29 June 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4.5/5
I have greatly enjoyed Hartenberg wines at successive Stellenbosch Wine Festivals, the Shiraz & Charcuterie Festival and at a Steele Wines Trade Show but I have never visited the estate itself for tasting. It has been a wait of 2 years so I was pleased again to be in the Bottleray Road area, North-West of Stellenbosch. My plan was to visit Hazendal and Fort Simon before going to Hartenberg for lunch and wine tasting. At last!
I nearly missed the entrance in my excitement before heading up the paved road through winter vines with detailed signs for each block. A low stone wall gave clue to the free draining soils on the North, West and East facing slopes of the Bottleray Hills that bring either morning or afternoon sun to the varietals. I parked above the Tasting, Restaurant and Cellar historic buildings with their quintessential white washed walls and heritage green painted windows.
The walk to the Tasting Room is past a slave bell and down a flight of steps. Slave bells remain on many of the Cape’s wine estates and, as I paused to look, I was unsure of the ‘monument’. Slave bells were brought from Europe to regulate and control the routine of slaves for 180 years until slavery was abolished in the Cape 180 years ago. There is a fine balance between retaining the history of a nation and modern day diversity, inclusiveness and sensitivity. Witness, for example, the name changes of countries, regions and streets; removal of the Cecil Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town following pressure from the #rhodesmustfall campaign born out of the 2015 #feesmustfall movement; or even last week’s decision by Nike to withdraw the special 4th July edition of the Max 1 trainer that featured the Betsy Ross flag. The two needs do not always sit together in balance -especially when symbols can be hijacked by others for other needs long after their original purpose – and so I make a mental note to return to the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum in Cape Town.
I was reminded of the history of winemaking at Hartenberg by a 1920 piston wine pump as I make my way for tasting. The estate dates back to 1692 when settler friends Cunraad Boin and Christoffel Esterhuizzen were given permission to farm 20 hectares of land. They cleared it to plant 2,000 vines (I wonder what cultivar?). Christoffel was granted the title deed for ‘Het Hartenberg’ twelve years later, in 1704, by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel. The property was planted with 10,000 vines by 1718 to produce 4 leggers of wine. A legger is an Old Dutch unit of liquid capacity used by the East India Company, equivalent to around 575 litres in today’s measure. Ownership of Hartenberg changed hands many times during the next 260 years, including by the Finlayson and the Gilbey families, until Ken Mackenzie purchased the estate in 1987, 2 years after launch of the Hartenberg flagship brand. Today, 85 hectares of the 187 hectare property are under vine, growing Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz from which the wines are made. Production is mostly red (80%) with Hartenberg famed for its Shiraz.
I chose to sit inside the Restaurant-come-Tasting Room rather than outside in the Courtyard Garden or small Tasting area beneath. The Tasting Room shares the same space as the Restaurant (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) to make for a warm and cosy environment to relax in and to enjoy the wines, with its log fire, yellowwood tables, riempie chairs and terracotta tile floor. There were several winter specials on the menu to tempt. I ordered a very tasty and filling beef ‘Hartenburger’ that was excellent value for R120 and came with crisp potato wedges. There were 2 wine tasting options: the Premium Wine Tasting, R50 for 5 wines from the Premium Range; or the Super Premium Wine Tasting, R150 for a set tasting of 5 of older vintages of the best wines, including the Flagship Gravel Hill Shiraz. I opted for the former. Roderick was my attentive and very knowledgeable host who, seeing my obvious interest in the wines, generously allowed me to taste from both ranges.
I enjoyed the white wines in 2 paired flights to compare. First, were the dry and off-dry Riesling. Both wines were a similar shiny pale straw colour in appearance and contained 13% alcohol. The dry wine showed typical Riesling diesel notes balanced with lemon/lime citrus, delicate white honey and floral aromas. These followed through for a fresh, green, acidic palate with a medium finish. The off-dry wine, picked later and with longer skin contact for a more concentrated, acidic must, offered like lemon/lime notes but sweeter and with less pronounced diesel on the nose. The body was noticeably fuller on the palate with a greater intensity of flavour than the dry wine, with the extra sugar (20 gram/litre compared to 5 gram/litre residual sugar) deftly balanced by the higher acidity to maintain freshness.
Second, was Chardonnay from the two different ranges. They were of like pale-medium straw colour and both barrel fermented and matured. The Estate wine, blended from 4 blocks of vines, was shy on the nose with aromas of lemon, lime, yellow apple and buttery vanilla. The smooth mouthfeel and light style made for a Chardonnay with a delicate elegance albeit limited complexity. Unsurprisingly the Super Premium Eleanor at nearly 3 times the price, made from a single block and named after matriarch Eleanor Finlayson, showed a greater intensity and complexity on both nose and palate. The wine was richer and weightier with much better length, aided by longer ageing in a smaller proportion of new French oak (13 months in 25% new/75% old oak compared with 11 months in 34% new/66% old oak). I preferred the Eleanor.
It was soon time to enjoy the red wines on which Hartenberg’s reputation is built. I started with two well made Estate wines of 2016 vintage, a Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines were distinct and characteristic of the cultivar. I liked the Merlot most for its vibrant red cherry and red plum fruited nose, complemented by sweet spice and cigar, that well followed through to give a good intensity of flavour and classic silky Merlot tannins.
The Cabernet Sauvignon substituted spicy sweetness for more herbal, minty flavours, red fruits for fresh dark fruits – blackcurrant, blackberry and mulberry – and tannic silkiness for cleaner, textured yet angular and youthful structure in which the fruits did not balance the tannins as well as for the Merlot.
I sampled the Estate Shiraz beside the Stork Shiraz which, like the Chardonnay had a three-fold price difference. The Estate wine, from grapes grown on rocky sandstone soils, was a classic, lighter styled Shiraz with medium purple colour, fresh cherry, plum and mulberry fruits, a tinge of greenness and white peppercorn on the nose together with a delicate and balanced palate.
The Stork, which I had previously tasted elsewhere, was a step up in all wine criteria. Named after WWII fighter pilot Ken ‘Stork’ Mackenzie, so-called because of his long thin spindly legs, the wine was deeper and more intense in appearance. As fruity as the Estate, the wine was more vibrant, less green in character and with a leathery smokiness to the darker fruits of black cherry, dark plum and cassis with their cinnamon and pepper spice aromas. Slower ripening grapes from the single vineyard on cooling clay soils meant that the latest of harvests brought a rich, ripe fruitiness of flavour that superbly balanced tannic grip and structure on the palate.
The Stork was my favourite wine until Roderick persuaded me to end with a tasting of the flagship Gravel Hill Shiraz, double the price of The Stork at a dizzying R1300 per bottle. I needed little persuading as he poured me a glass using a Coravin to maintain wine quality once opened. I had a new favourite wine. The wine, made from grapes from the small and unusual ‘gravel hill’, was first made in 1978. It develops very slowly and is labelled only after 5 years, this being of 2006 vintage. The unique geology rests on concentrated iron laterite ‘koffie-klip’ stone underlain by fine, deep clay. The combination gives water retention in the wet winter whilst just enough of a reservoir for summer moisture to limit vine vigour.
The Gravel Hill was the fullest bodied wine of the tasting with a rich and deeply intense nose of brooding blackcurrant, mulberry, bramble, ripe plum and white peppercorn. The wine, like all classics of supreme quality, had a freshness that belied its age. Power, focus and concentration were the hallmarks of the palate that was smooth, intense and perfectly balanced. Intriguingly, and testament to its quality, I could drink this wine alone as much as with food.
Hartenberg was well worth the wait, as I had much expected. The wines were all extremely well made, with good cultivar definition, and priced at the right level for their quality. I liked the wide price range (from R95 for the entry Alchemy Range, which I did not taste, to a stratospheric R1300 for the Gravel Hill) that meets those of every budget. The experience was good too with pleasant setting where it was easy to enjoy simple home-made food whilst sampling the wine. I could easily have chosen any item off the lunch menu. Sadly, I did not think of visiting the underground cellar, the largest privately owned of its kind in South Africa, but that just gives me an excuse to return. This I shall. I recommend that you also do so. Oh, and bring a friend or two for lunch at the same time.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2017 Riesling (dry) -R120*
2017 Occasional Riesling (off dry) – R120*
2016 Estate Chardonnay – R140
2016 The Eleanor Chardonnay – R375
2016 Estate Merlot – R200
2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon – R200
2016 Estate Shiraz – R200
2016 The Stork Shiraz – R700
2006 Gravel Hill Shiraz – R1300 FAVOURITE WINE
HAZENDAL WINE ESTATE
Saturday 29 June 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4.5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 4/5
Call me silly but somehow I get Hazendal and Hartenberg muddled up. I have tasted their wines at festivals and award evenings but never visited either estate. Both wineries are on the Bottleray Road to the North West of Stellenbosch together with Mooiplaas, Kaapzicht, Groenland, Bellevue, Goede Hoop, Fort Simon and many more, some not open to the public without appointment. The mystery deepens for Hazendal as the 2019 Platter’s Wine Guide does not list or rate any wine for the winery as it was recently closed for extensive renovation. My tasting plan for today was to visit both wine estates, with Fort Simon between, to put my confusion to rest.
The approach to the Bottleray Road wine region from Cape Town is through dwindling, untidy suburbs so it is always a pleasure to reach the undulating winelands with their gentle slopes. Hazendal is the first estate reached from Brackenfell. Security at the entrance gate was extra tight – my UK driving licence being barely adequate – but I successfully gained entry. I had not been before so I had no idea what to expect and so I was pleasantly surprised when the tree-lined approach, with young vines and olives beside, crossed a small brook to a large grassed area surrounded by impressive historic Cape Dutch buildings with their whitewash walls, characteristic gables and thatch roofs. My eye was immediately drawn to the Jonkerhuis after parking at the rear. Built in 1781, it is believed that the building was constructed by Joost van As who was the son of Willem van As who bought the farm in 1729 and who was responsible for introducing the Cape Dutch style of architecture to Hazendal.
The Jonkerhuis housed slaves after the Homestead was built in 1790 but is now home to the Marvol Gallery. I now realised why there was the heavy security on entry when I saw the armed guard at the entrance with chest GoPro looking like a member of an American SWAT tactical team (photographs strictly not allowed). The Gallery houses works of Russian and South African art from owner Dr Voloshin’s private collection, who bought Hazendal in 1994. The rotating collection contained a display of modern-day Fabergé eggs. Made for Tsar Alexander III in 1885 for his wife, the eggs became symbols of splendour, power and wealth of the Romanov Dynasty and the Russian Empire. Production ceased after the 1918 Bolshevik Revolution when the factory was nationalised and the Fabergé family fled Russia. The trademark has since changed hands many times with most of the impressive, gilt and detailed eggs with inlaid previous and semi-precious stones at Hazendal, including 1 of only 2 ‘Mandela’ eggs, made under licence by the Victor Mayer jewellery company. The collection was impressive – as well as celebrating the history, relationship and art between Russia and South Africa – and well worth seeing if you visit Hazendal. As if to remind, the sign outside leading me to the Tasting Building had directions in Cyrillic as well as Roman lettering.
The Tasting Room and adjoining Avant-Garde Restaurant were equally impressive. Tall ceilings and modern décor bring a contemporary and rich touch to contrast the historic building. A number of diners were enjoying an extravagant Russian tea ‘brunch’ in the plush dining room, with large, exotic marine fish tank and bar at one end and the cellar with stainless steel tanks worthy of an art installation itself visible through glass panelling to the side. The Tasting Lounge, aptly housed in the original 1870 wine cellar, was grandiose and luxuriant as if for a Tsar with its signature shiny black, gold and copper coloured theme reminiscent of a Russian Orthodox Christian icon painting, babushka doll, or even the Fabergé eggs themselves. Tastings are either in the open lounge with welcome winter open log fire or around a bar beneath a cleverly designed mezzanine private room above. I chose to taste at the bar though the raised bar stools were not the most comfortable. Brent was my eager, polite and attentive host who remembered me from my tasting visit to Ken Forrester more than 2 years ago.
Tasting options include the 3 wines of the Christoffel Hazenwinkel Range (R35), 3 wines from the premium Hazendal Range (R65), or both (R90). I was fortunate to be able to sample the wines from across both ranges together with the Scarlet Sails MCC, usually not for tasting. The grapes are planted on 13 hectares of the 145 hectare property and include a wide range of common and less common cultivars (Carignan, Carménère, Albarinho, Marsanne and Roussanne being the less widely planted varieties) to suit the varied granite-based, red, yellow and brown soils amid the terroir at 150 metres to 400 metres above sea level. Besides being the most popular novel by the Russian author Grin, Scarlet Sails is a spectacular firework celebration during the White Nights Festival in St Petersburg, Russia. This is reflected in the elegant wine label with ship made with gold, bronze and copper coloured sails.
The very pale blush coloured MCC is aged for longer on the lees than most in South Africa (48 months for the 2015 vintage, 58 months for the 2014 vintage) to give distinct yeasty brioche notes on the nose. It was good to sample and compare both vintages. I rated them equally though they were not the same. The grapey nose, smooth moussante mouthfeel and fresh green apple and citrus flavours were similar. The 2014 vintage, containing 10% more Pinot Noir, was more subtle and elegant with a fuller body greater depth and length. The younger, 2013 wine showed a lighter but sweeter character with good acidity and grip on the palate.
The Christoffel Hazenwinkel Range includes easy drinking wines with the name being a tribute to the farm’s first owner who changed production from grain and cattle to vines to make Hazendal one of the first independent winemakers in the region. He was also a German settler and messenger to Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel who granted him 60 hectares of land. South African white blends are usually a nod to white Bordeaux wines and made from Sauvignon Blanc with added Sémillon for extra body, moderated acidity, complexity and softer texture. The White Blend was thus unusual in being a mix of 4 common white cultivars – the Cremello at Cavalli and Laurens Campher White Blend at Muratie excepted – in broadly similar overall proportion. The wine benefitted with a fresh and complex nose of honeyed, floral and herbaceous apple and citrus aromas. The apparent sweetness of aroma hid a dry wine on the palate that was more rounded and with more body than a Sauvignon Blanc.
Hazendal translates from Dutch to mean ‘the valley of the hares’ and the painting of a hare in Regency styled clothing features on the wrap around labels of the Hazenwinkel wines. The Blanc de Noir made from Shiraz was medium pink in colour, much deeper than many a Rosé, from 6 hours skin contact before pressing. I was again fortunate to be able to taste from 2 vintages of this popular wine. The 2018 vintage showed a good intensity of raspberry and wild strawberry aromas – avoiding the temptation for customary sweet candy notes – and was better for it. This helped for a dry, clean, refreshing wine with good acidity and average length. I preferred, just, the older 2017 wine due to its more honey, perfumed and subtler aromas.
My favourite wine was the Bordeaux-styled Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc that, again unusual for the style, was mostly Sémillon (67%). The wine, like those in the Hazendal Range, came in distinct Italian-imported, prosecco-shaped bottle. Why do anything the same as elsewhere? I liked the layered nose of guava, preach, nectarine and pear notes that overlaid those of more herbaceous and grassy green pepper. This made for an interesting wine with vanilla, oaked flavours (9 months in French and Hungarian 500 litre barrels) that emerged with extra complexity on the palate to give a rounding and balance.
The bush vine Chenin Blanc could only have been a Chenin Blanc due to its distinct white honey, tropical fruit salad, guava, litchi and vanilla aromas. These followed through to a flavoursome palate in which fruit, acidity and sweetness balanced. Oak flavours again come to the fore on the palate but freshness was retained by blending back 30% from stainless steel tanks. The same vinification and oaking techniques were used for the Chardonnay, the final white wine and penultimate wine of the tasting. Green and yellow apple aromas mingled with distinct vanilla and acacia (Hungarian oak) notes for a fresh and floral nose. The wine was youthful and fresh on the palate with a subtle oaking to show off the fruit flavours. This is an excellent wine for those of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement or for those who do not enjoy the more traditional or heavier oaked Chardonnay.
The sole red wine of the tasting (Hazendal has plans to produce more red wines) was the Red Blend from the Christoffel Hazenwinkel Range served with hare’s ear-shaped palate cleanser. This was another unusual blend. Besides being a less common Cape Blend (a Bordeaux-styled wine containing Pinotage) the Red Blend contained Pinot Noir. The wine was just full bodied and most likely less filtered than the white wines due to its slight opacity. Spiciness from each of the cultivars made for another interesting wine with the Pinotage contributing sweet banana notes to those of dark plum, red cherry, cinnamon and white pepper. Additional spiciness on the palate balanced the fruit flavours and fine, integrated tannins with a good finish for a well-priced red blend.
Hazendal, much like Cavalli, Waterford and Waterkloof, is a statement wine estate. Not only is there a signature restaurant but also other activities to tempt the wine drinker and family. There is the Marvol Gallery, Wonderdal children’s Edutainment Centre, family BMX Park, the Babushka Deli, Russian Tea experiences and Babushka picnics. The plus for Hazendal is that the quality of the wines has not suffered with owner and management attention being focused on the vinitourism activities as at Meerendal and Spier. The extensive restoration and redevelopment that was completed in 2018 cleverly combines 300 year old history and architecture with modern, contemporary living and adventure. New meets old but so too does South Africa meet Russia in seamless, integrated fashion. The avant-garde brand, even down to the unusual wine blends, wine labels and bottle shape, cleverly ties everything together to balance rather than clash. The Bacchus (Roman God of Wine) bronze logo, in use since 1831 to signify a commitment to produce fine, quality wines, is as relevant today as over the past 180 years. I thoroughly recommend a visit (noting winter closure of many activities until early August) and especially if you prefer white wines. Hazendal will embrace you whether Capetonian or from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or the Wine Lands, or the rest of South Africa or visitor from overseas. Make a trip to the valley of the hares …
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Scarlet Sails MCC (54% Pinot Noir, 46% Chardonnay) – R360
2014 Scarlet Sails MCC (64% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay) – R360
2018 Christoffel Hazenwinkel White Blend (34% Chenin Blanc, 29% Sémillon, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Chardonnay) – R120
2017 Hazendal Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc (67% Sémillon, 33% Sauvignon Blanc) – R295 FAVOURITE WINE
2017 Hazendal Chenin Blanc – R285
2017 Hazendal Chardonnay – R285
2018 Christoffel Hazenwinkel Blanc de Noir (100% Shiraz) – R120
2017 Christoffel Hazenwinkel Blanc de Noir (100% Shiraz) – R120
2017 Christoffel Hazenwinkel Red Blend (59% Shiraz, 26% Pinotage, 15% Pinot Noir) – R120