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Our Latest Crush: Hamilton Russell, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa

Home - Hamilton Russell Vineyards

We’ve had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of Winemakers/Proprietors over the years. Ardent views are expected, most are cordial and insightful but on occasion, some people stand out as giants amongst men: Anthony Hamilton Russell is one such being (and it’s not just to do with his stature!). His gentle, courteous and considered manner is always a joy to encounter. When you have an in-depth conversation with Anthony, his sense of responsibility to his estates: the soil, the people and the local community, you understand that this is a man who has deeply deliberated over every decision ensuring ecological and cultural protection and advancement of these sacred sites.

His father, Tim, founded the first winery in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in 1975, specifically chosen for its southerly location with the aim of producing South Africa’s top cool climate wines. In 1981, Anthony took over the running of the estate, buying out the silent partners in 1984 to take total control, where he narrowed the grape selection to purely Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced entirely from their estate. His aim was to produce wines which genuinely express their terroir at a premium level, something he has successfully achieved for over three decades. Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have been the trailblazers for this region and indeed, the ambassadors for South African wine on the global stage.

In 1994 Anthony founded Southern Right on neighbouring land to the west as an entirely separate estate to focus on plantings of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage. He knew the soil was better suited to these varieties and wanted to demonstrate their distinctive cool-climate maritime influence on the fruit, named in honour of the visiting mammals to Walker Bay a mere 3 km away. These wines offer freshness, complexity and are utterly joyful.

Anthony was convinced that a serious, age-worthy, distinctly South African Pinotage was possible and deserved it’s place in the record books. When the property on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell vineyards became available, he knew the extremely iron-rich and clay-rich stony soil would be the prime location for producing such a wine. Named after his Great, Great Grandfather, Ashbourne Estate was founded in 1996 with its first release in 2001. Five years later Sandstone was released: a first for South Africa – a Sauvignon Blanc dominated blend fermented in amphorae for additional complexity. 

It’s rare to meet pioneers these days, but that’s exactly who Anthony is. Complacency isn’t in his vocabulary. Of the 170 hectare Hamilton Russell estate, only 52 hectares are vineyards, with much of the rest being Cape fynbos: encouraging biodiversity throughout and allowing bees to produce plenty of honey. They are a WWF Conservation Champions demonstrating their commitment to regenerative farming practices and conserving endangered ecosystems. Anthony identified a native yeast to their estate which together with an organic yeast they have been able to make commercially available. Hamilton Russell have been practicing ‘sustainability’ for far longer than the buzz word it has become. Tim co-founded the Cape Winelands commitment, rejecting apartheid and adopting improvement farming employment practices. Anthony together with his wife Olive, continue to commit to social, ecological and economic sustainability for their team and community, which includes a pre-school on their estate.

The Hamilton Russell ‘stable’ of vineyards demonstrate how varieties planted in the right soil surpass the notion of producing grape juice, and demonstrate the intrinsic link between man, earth and Mother Nature to produce wines which transcend into something extraordinary. Anthony and Olive have made it their life’s work ensure this honourable guardianship will be their legacy and when you taste their wines, you understand why the appellation means heaven on earth.

Hamilton-Russell-profile

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (2021)

A tight, mineral wine with classic Hamilton Russell Vineyards length and complexity. Prominent pear and lime fruit aromas and flavours are brought beautifully into focus by a tight line of bright natural acid and a long, dry minerality. White Burgundy lovers seeking value should look to Hamilton Russell Chardonnay. Oozing with elegance, textured mouthfeel and intensity, you could be forgiven for placing this at first thought amongst the premier cru’s white from the Côte de Beaune. However this Chardonnay remains true to its roots with a strong personality of both place and vintage. The wine is bright, showing natural vibrant acidity with marked dry minerality. Combining structural length and complexity, this elegant, classically styled Chardonnay offers consistency in a market plagued by variable vintage quality.

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (2021)

Produced from low-vigour vines in stony, clay-rich soil with a cool maritime mesoclimate, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir naturally yields a tiny quantity of well under 35 hl/ha. Their philosophy of expressing terroir in their wines give rise to a certain tightness, tannin line and elevated length to balance the richness and generosity of the Pinot Noir. It is not overtly fruity, soft and “sweet” but favours hints of that alluring savoury “primal” character along with a dark, spicy, complex primary fruit perfume. Consistently demonstrating depth and elegance, the velvety tannins aid the capacity for ageing over several decades, if you can resist this tucking into this outstanding Pinot Noir!

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (2021)

Free by design of excessively dramatic varietal fruit, the focus of the wine is on bright, hard minerality, salinity and vibrant natural acidity, coated by a full and gentle viscosity derived from a unique wild yeasts and the method of vinification, not from high alcohol. This is an innovative white blend that captures the most beautiful possible expression of the sandstone-derived soils in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This small production of Sauvignon Clanc, Chardonnay and Semillon is the result of many years of research into the best possible expression of the quartzitic sandstone derived soils and our cool, maritime expression. Complexity and character are built through fermentation and ageing in ceramic eggs and amphorae, and carefully blended. The goal is to produce an appellation and soil driven wine with marked classical styling and the resulting wine certainly delivers this with enoromous energy and poise.

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (2018)

in 1996, Anthony Hamilton-Russell established Ashbourne and pioneered Pinotage plantings in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Knowing the farm immediataly neighbouring Hamilton-Russell possed clay-rich and sandstone soils, the site was perfect for the early ripening variety which performs seriously well in cool climates. He purchased the farm and has produced the outstanding Ashbourne Pinotage ever since 2001.

Combining elegance, depth, concentration and a multitude of fruit complexity with sanguine flavours, this is a wine unlike anything else: intense, rich and savoury with a beautiful underlying minerality. The unmistakeable element is the quality: highly polished and very fine. Over the years this refined, complex, age-worthy wine has been confused in blind tastings with top wines from the Piedmont, Bordeaux, the Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone and even Northern Spain. It has become known for a high level of individuality and classic styling and has played a leading role in the Pinotage renaissance underway in South Africa. Having spent 17 months in oak, which is judiciously integrated, It can be enjoyed immediately but will also age gracefully over the next few decades.

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (2022)

Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that favours origin expression, individuality, minerality and palate complexity ahead of pure, pungent varietal aroma. A significant percentage of fruit from iron and clay-rich soil has added a mid-palate structural component and additional overall complexity to this wine. The sandstone soils have contributed their typical bright, tensile character and a marked minerality.

Made in a way ensuring the personality of site and soil is not over-ridden by the forceful character of the variety. This lively full bodied Sauvignon Blanc offers the balance of “Old World” minerality and length, with hints of “New World” fruit characters (lime, grapefruit, passion fruit, white peach) and a long, satisfying finish. No wonder it has been listed as one of South Africa’s best wine values more than 5 times in the Wine Spectator!

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (2021)

Produced from South Africa’s signature variety (a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault) Southern Right is re-defining Pinotage with this intense classically styled, clay-grown wine, packed with complex berry fruit, beautiful tannins and subtle spice. Full ripeness and the longer hang-time afforded by cooler sites, combined with the complex, more classic fruit aromas and structure resulting from clay-rich soil, make this wine a highly individual expression of South Africa’s unique grape variety.

Whilst many Pinotage’s tend to offer higher alcohol levels, phenolic ripeness was reached at lower alcohol than usual for the 2020 Southern Right Pinotage and is a mere 13.11% abv but without compromising on the concentration, colour and structure of the wine. Accessible already but with the capacity for ageing another decade, expect a palate with layers of red and bramble fruit, laced with minerality, dried fig, spice and a herbaceaous hint with chewy tannins that yearn to be paired with spicy meat dishes. Absolutely worth exploring if you have never tried before.

Previous Crush: Domaine des Tourelles

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