Chamonix Estate in Franschhoek finds itself on top of the wine world after being named the Best Scoring wine at this year’s Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards for its Chamonix Chardonnay 2018. This wine not only won the Grand Prix Trophy for Best Scoring Wine, but also the Chardonnay Trophy for achieving the highest score from the 109 Chardonnays entered into this leading South African wine competition. With over 1 500 entries, Michelangelo continues to be the country’s largest and most comprehensive wine show.
Stefan van Rooyen, CEO of Chamonix Estate, says winning this award is one of the highlights in the history of Chamonix, whose status as a leading wine producer was driven by the vision of its late owner Chris Hellinger, who bought the farm in 1991. “This Michelangelo accolade is the first major award Chamonix has won since Mr Hellinger passed-away in 2018, and it is ironic that this winning Chardonnay was made from his last vintage on the farm,” says Van Rooyen. “We are extremely proud to accept the trophies for Best Scoring Wine and Best Chardonnay from Michelangelo on Mr Hellinger’s behalf. It was his vision of making great wine, especially Chardonnay, on this very special piece of mountain farmland which he turned into a wine estate. Chamonix would not be making wine of this quality, nor getting this kind of recognition, if it were not for his foresight.”
According to Neil Bruwer, Chamonix’s cellarmaster, both Michelangelo awards came as a huge surprise of which he and his team are unashamedly overjoyed. “With the amount of top-quality entries the Michelangelo Awards attract each year, one enters to see how your wines compare to those of your peers. And if a Gold Medal or, perhaps a Platinum Award, comes your way, you consider it a job well done,” he says. “But to be named the top Chardonnay out of over 100 entries at a time when South Africa is making such brilliant wines from this grape is the kind of accolade one can only dream of. About being adjudged the Michelangelo’s overall Top Scoring Wine, well, I can’t comment at this stage. It still has to sink in.
“But what I can say, is that this award as top-scorer is terrific for South African Chardonnay, underscoring the belief of many winemakers – including myself – that as a whole the Cape is making some of the best Chardonnays in the world, a fact finding purchase among the international wine community. The adage goes that, due to the reputation of this Burgundian cultivar, a country making good Chardonnay must be a great wine nation. We hope the top score for Chardonnay at the Michelangelo Awards goes some way to validate South Africa’s reputation.”
Grapes for the Chamonix Chardonnay are selected from vineyards situated at between 380m and 400m above sea-level growing in sandy loam soils that are threaded with runs of clay and lime. For optimum expression and general intensity of Chardonnay character, vineyard planting is quite dense at between 4 500 and 5 000 vines per hectare, ensuring the vines compete for sustenance and thus bear fruit of concentrated and distinctive profile.
“No white variety shows soil, aspect and climate such as Chardonnay,” says Bruwer. “So, in the cellar we watch-over the wine with sets of eagle-eyes, but just to ensure that the natural processes run smoothly. The grapes are soft-crushed and the must fermented in French oak for between 15 to 25 days, depending on what the batches of grapes look like. The wine then spends 12 months in barrel, some 20% new, with regular lees stirring.”
Bruwer says he and the Chamonix team are busy celebrating these accolades with a few bottles of Chardonnay, but will have to take it easy. “Wine awards play a major role in attracting interest from the consumer, and we will ensure there is enough of the awarded wine for the market,” he says.