As we drove into Franschhoek and towards our first stop, a photo opportunity at Dieu Donne Vineyards , we were already filled with anticipation for what the day ahead had in store for us!
We had already scheduled a stop over at the world renowned Hamilton Russell vineyard in Hemel-en-Harde and lunch at Bientang’s Cave and had a black tie dinner scheduled for that evening but neither of us could have predicted what an awesome and incredible day we would experience before we slumped into our beds that evening.
As we headed out over the Franschhoek Pass towards Elgin we encountered our first Cape wildlife in the form of a troop of baboons on the road side. Our driver Tim told us that we wouldn’t be stopping for any photos as these clever primates can wreck major damage on cars and instinctively always go for the car door handles if any unsuspecting tourist is foolish enough to stop!
As we passed through Elgin we took a pitstop at one of the most iconic farm shops in the area, Peregrine Farm Stall . This place is a food mecca, with bakery, cafe and a selection of local fresh produce. They also sell freshly squeezed apple juice from the orchards that surround the Farm Stall.OMG! This was probably the best apple juice that I’ve ever tasted. 100% pure juice, no sugar and no preservatives as the label says! and yet so sweet from that Cape sunshine!
Nicely refreshed we headed out towards the seaside town of Hermanus and the start of the famous R320 Walker Bay wine trail. On route we got our second wildlife sighting as a mongoose scuttled about 70 yards in front of us from one side of the verge to the other!
Our first stop on the R320 was Hamilton Russell.
In my opinion one of the finest vineyards in South Africa and what a location too!
As we entered the tasting room our host offered us a table by the lake at the rear and I suddenly felt like I had died and gone to Heaven!Of the seven wines we tasted the real stand out ones were as follows
2009 Ashbourne Sandstone : A blend of 88% Sauvignon Blanc which spends three months in stainless steel tanks and 12% Chardonnay fermented in clay amphoras. The stoneware amphoras are lined with clay from the Hamilton Russell estate and it’s the clay that yields a combined fruitiness and earthiness which are the baseline unusual characteristics of this wine. It is then bottled for 5 years and released. With a nose of toasted nuts and a taste that makes it food friendly with layers of texture, good minerality and a long savoury finish, this became one of my Top 5 of the tour wines!2009: Red Blend. 86% Pinotage and 3.5% each of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The individual varietals are fermented in wooden barrels for 14 months before being blended and then spending another four years in bottle before release. A rich Bordeaux style blend albeit with a heavy Pinotage weighting, this one oozes blackcurrants and raspberries! A great partner to any rare meats! Tasting both of these again just yesterday at the Cape Wine and Food festival I was taken back to sitting by the lake where I first tasted these two beauties.
2014 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay: Barrel fermented for eight and a half months in French oak of which 26% is new oak, the majority 2nd fill and a small proportion of third fill, this wine has a mellow buttery taste which is young and fresh with a nice minerality, while both citrusy and fresh. It has the potential to continue to age in the bottle for a further 8-10 years. Serving temperature around 12C.
One of the great factoids about this wine is that in 1996 when her majesty Queen Elizabeth II hosted a banquet in honour of Nelson Mandela at Buckingham Palace this was the wine she choose to serve! You can’t get a higher endorsement than that!
2014 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir: This is fermented in French oak for ten months. About 45% is new wood which brings a smokiness to the wine to soften the tannins, the balance is made up with both second and third fill. This wine has great ageing potential of about 15-20 years, has a nose of strawberries and cherries and although could be drunk now will really benefit from being laid down for at least five years.
Whilst at Hamilton Russell we met a delightful lady and her father who told us that we really should visit Creation Wines further on up the valley. This turned out to be one of the best recommendation of our visit! Knowing that we had a lunch reservation at 12pm we rang Bientangs Cave and pushed back our reservation to 1pm and headed north up the R320!