Then on the last day, on our way out of the area and onwards to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s food and wine capital, we dropped by Creation Wines, a young but well-regarded winery in the hills of the Hermel-en-Aarde valley above the picturesque town of Hermanus.
We came just in time for lunch and headed straight for the restaurant.
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A SUMMER AFTERNOON
IN A SOUTH AFRICAN VINEYARD
The vineyards of Creation Wines and the low hills around it are visible from the restaurant, which is a very large room filled with the sculptures and mix media work of local artists.
It was just past noon on a summery Tuesday, and the restaurant was surprisingly full of locals who had driven up the lovely Babylon Toren Mountain from the neighboring towns for a spot of lunch with wines.
BURGUNDY ON MY MIND
Many wineries in South Africa operate excellent restaurants as a logical venue to showcase their wines and entice more visitors.
Here are three of my other favourites, and these are also considered among the best restaurants in South Africa:
And in this part of the Western Cape, Creation Wines has become well-known for its unusual wine- and-food pairings.
In fact, it’s probably the best known among the wineries along the Overberg coast general area.
“This reminds me of Burgundy,” I was just saying of the views around me, as Creation Wines owner Carolyn Martin bounded up to greet us with warm smiles and infectious energy, bearing bottles of her pride and joy.
PRETTY AS A PICTURE
“Welcome,” was all she said, as she set her bottles down on one side of an artfully arranged table, already laden with delicious things to eat.
In the very middle was a large wooden slab with hors d’oeuvres arranged like a methodical abstract painting waiting patiently to be admired.
Her husband Jean Claude makes the wines himself, working long hours to oversee every aspect of planting and harvesting; and then to coordinate the delicate balance of nature and technique needed to produce award-winning wines.
However, the wine-and-food pairings, which include a tasting of specially-made chocolate at the end, are Carolyn’s handiwork – a collaboration of local produce with her chefs, but largely the result of her own keen nose and sense of taste.
FOUR HOURS OF FOOD AND WINE
The six-course tasting menu, which we enjoyed with Carolyn over four hours, began with a full complement of interesting starters.
A tasty pineapple and basil gazpacho with scallops was paired with an aromatic and slightly acidic sauvignon blanc, while a heavenly cauliflower and gorgonzola soup was paired with a fruity and spicy merlot.
They have a wonderful chef, although Carolyn is very much hands-on with the creatives of the meal.
For a main course, Carolyn recommended the rare roast loin of springbok with a Bordeaux-style blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot grapes. The alternative was a braised pork belly with a Darjeeling puree, served with a glass of aromatic syrah.
“I grew up on a farm near Stellenbosch,” she explained, “and this farm had every kind of food. I also had a grandmother who loved cooking, and this helped me develop an awareness of food very early on.”
Jean Claude and Carolyn, whose father was one of the Cape’s foremost wine pioneers, started Creation Wines from scratch just over ten years ago, out of land that was once a sheep farm.
In this short period, they have established themselves as wine producers who have successfully married virgin land and virus- free grape varieties with Swiss techniques, European state-of-the-art technology and lots of chutzpah.
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The picturesque hills and valleys of the Hemel-an-Aarde ridge all around us, with neat rows of vines as far as the eye can manage, today yield over ten different grapes.
And so far, seven Creation Wines have received the prestigious Robert Parker rating of at least 90 points.
The wines we tasted that day were all delicious, and we especially enjoyed their varieties of pinot noir.
However, the most precious wine probably came at the end, in the form of a parting gift to take back with us to Asia.
We received one of 300 bottles from a single-barrel limited release called the 2012 Emma’s Barrel Pinot Noir, made by Emma, the Martins’ daughter, under the watchful eye of her father.
This was a real collectors’ item.
MAYBE THE YOUNGEST WINEMAKER
IN THE WORLD
Eleven-year-old Emma, who reportedly loves spending time in the vineyards
and accompanying her father in the cellars, is probably one of the youngest winemakers in the world.
Already she is showing much promise in continuing the legacy of Creation Wines, and the spirit of innovation and creativity that her adventurous parents so evidently value.