Some very modern things are happening in an ancient valley called Hemel-en-Aarde [Heaven and Earth] near Hermanus. The eponymous Peter Finlayson is a quiet deep man of the earth for whom wine is all consuming. From humble beginnings and bucket loads of foresight and quiet confidence a short number of years ago, Bouchard Finlayson Vineyards now produces in a state-of-the-art cellar the Pinot Noir preferred by a majority of South Africans according to a recent survey. And its not too far behind with its range of Chardonnays, now being served in First Class on British Airways, and other wines either.
The vineyard is to be found 120km south east of Cape Town in the maritime wine region of Walker Bay – the valley is particularly affected by cooling breezes of the South Atlantic, cooling the vineyards at night as the warmth of the day rises. Soils are a mixture of stony gravel and fine clay shale. Following the same traditions of respected French growers, vines are planted closely and similar trellising methods are used.
Peter has an ability to create what is for me a unique mouthfeel in all his wines, a soft, gentle but present acidity accompanied by a fullness of flavour. He says “each new wine is like a new child, displaying uniqueness, offering promise, evoking a range of emotions, without any guarantees.”
Once he has let go of his ‘children’ they get some rave reviews. The Tête de Cuvée Galpin Peak Pinot Noir is a limited edition ‘only made from exceptional vintages’ and typifies Peter’s Pinot Noir style. Aromatic nose with breezes of truffles and brilliant berry fruit. The Galpin Peak Pinot Noir is the trailblazer that shows year on year that the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is certainly ‘home’ to the Pinot Noir grape. The Hannibal named after the Carthaginian general, who conquered Italy over the Alps from France on African elephants, almost describes the wine itself. Sangiovese [blood of Jove] is blended with Pinot Noir and splashes of Mourvedre and two other grapes of Italian origin Nebbiolo and Barbera and the whole is best described by Peter, its thoroughly African winemaker, as ‘an orchestra of flavours performed from notes of different Italian and French cultivars.’
The 3 Chardonnays, Peter’s ‘most malleable of all white grapes’, consist of the flagship Missionvale, made from domain grapes, specially selected for fruit maturity and is 100% barrel-fermented and matured. The Kaaimansgat or Crocodile’s Lair is harvested from a non-irrigated vineyard 700m above sea level that continually and consistently produces small berries – a higher ratio of skin to juice. Mineral and citrus flavours are in perfect balance with Peter’s gentle brushstroke of oak, casks from top French coopers. The Sans Barrique, untrammelled by oak shows the richness, length and breadth of the Chardonnay grape.
The Sauvignon Blanc is a great wine for the sea-fresh fish Peter is so fond of cooking – he taught me how to cook fish ‘take it off just before it’s cooked and it will be perfect when it gets to the table’. Delicious, delicate ripe tropical fruits and a freshness so suited to buttery fish grilled over coals. Similarly the Blanc de Mer, aromatic white fleshed peaches and gentle rose perfume, is a perfect partner to seafood or simply to drink on its own.
Time spent in Hermanus would be ill spent if it did not include a visit to Bouchard Finlayson Vineyards – and a taste of truly great wines.
Walker Bay Winemaking Region
Winemaker: Peter Finlayson – Member of the Cape Winemakers Guild
Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus
P.O. Box. 303, Hermanus 7200, Western Cape, South Africa
Turn onto the R320 just west of Hermanus, at the Sandbaai turnoff