MWs celebrate Heaven and Earth ahead of International Chardonnay Day

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ANDY HOWARD was one of 42 Masters of Wine (MWs) who visited Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde late last year, and he was so inspired that he wrote an article for the March 2024 issue of Decanter magazine, entitled ‘Hemel-en-Aarde: A Chardonnay Paradise’.

“In just a few decades, this arrestingly beautiful part of South Africa’s south has risen to join the elite of regions reputed as top-quality sources of the world’s best-loved white grape,” he wrote. “Not only are they compelling in their citrus freshness and minerality, the Chardonnays of the Hemel-en-Aarde deliver those extra details that make them stand apart, such as power, intensity, ageability, fragrance, refined oak and salinity.”

Howard awarded a 95-point rating for the Creation the Art of Chardonnay 2022, describing it as “pristine, with a very cool feel on the palate. Chassagne-like, showing hints of smokiness, vibrant acidity and a powerful saline character that add up to a complex, pithy, concentrated wine that will age beautifully. Sourced from a single vineyard at 264m, a combination of five clones from three different rootstocks; hand harvested, 50% spontaneous fermentation with 70% second-fill and 30% new-fill oak, 10 months on lees.”

Enjoy it on International Chardonnay Day, Thursday 23 May 2024. Only 3 920 bottles were produced in 2022, each individually numbered and retailing for R970 ex-cellar.

In his article, Howard touched on some of the features unique to the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, the ward where Creation is situated, right at the top of the valley, on the slopes of Babylonstoren Mountain, with seams of 550-million-year-old quartz sparkling through 450-million-year-old decomposed Bokkeveld shale. The vineyard elevation ranges from 240 to 398m above sea level, which is significant because the average ambient temperature drops by 0.6°C for every 100m ascended.

What’s more, throughout the growing season, there’s a thermal vortex of mist that rises up from the Atlantic Ocean, 7.5km away, moving along the Ridge and up the mountain to create a giant fan of whirling clouds. This contributes to a cool average temperature, with a night index that is 12°C lower than at midday, delaying ripening by up to two weeks compared to nearby areas.

“It’s absolutely ideal for an early-budding variety like Chardonnay, locking in the quality and enabling us to produce wines of great elegance and finesse,” said Creation cellar master Jean-Claude Martin (pictured below).

It’s difficult to disagree,” wrote Howard, and he wasn’t the only MW convinced after their visit. “I hadn’t realised the impact of the wind,” said Mary Gorman-McAdams, a New York-based wine consultant, judge, educator, speaker and business strategist.You can also see the cloud cover in the morning, and feel the temperature drop. It’s not just talk; it’s real. You kind of wonder why these wines are not more recognised for the quality that you taste in them and actually see in the vineyard.”

Ireland’s first female MW, Jane Boyce, whose 40-year wine career has included buying and selling wine, training restaurant staff, compiling wine lists and writing about wine, is in agreement. “Surrounded by the beauty of nature here, you can see how healthy the vineyards are. This is like an unpainted canvas. How wonderful to be able to take nature at its best and paint your picture on it,” she said.

Appropriate words indeed for Creation, where science is used to understand nature better – and then turn it into art, as epitomised by the Creation Art of Chardonnay.

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