Creation Wines are certainly one of the few South African wineries producing Chardonnay expressions that can be considered ‘next level’ when tasted alongside top international benchmarks from France, New Zealand, Australia or California.
Originally from Switzerland, owner JC Martin together with his South African wife Carolyn (nee Finlayson), bought their original 22 hectares of virgin land in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge and completed their cellar in time for their 2007 harvest.
Their Walker Bay estate now encompasses 50 hectares planted with over 11 varieties, but focuses mainly on producing premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Imagine a dramatic amphitheatre of undulating hills and valleys overlooked by a towering mountain peak, the glittering waters of the Atlantic only a few kilometres away.
Welcome to Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, where a lofty altitude combines with ancient soils and unique climatic conditions to enable the production of healthy, well-balanced grapes.
WATCH: From Vine to Wine. Experience Creation
Creation Wines is situated at the top end of Hemel-en-Aarde, on the slopes of Babylonstoren Mountain, which is 63 m higher than Table Mountain.
The elevation varies from about 240 to 398 m above sea level with the mountain at about 1 149 m. This ward is home to the highest vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde region.
The significance of this is that for every 100 m one ascends above sea level, the average ambient temperature drops by 0.6° C. This is called the ‘lapse rate’ – an influence on the cooler growing conditions on the Ridge.
When it comes to white wine, Chardonnay is Creation Wines’ cellarmaster Jean-Claude (JC) Martin’s first love.
“There are many reasons for this, but if I have to sum it up: Chardonnay has charisma – such a compelling and charming presence! Among the reasons Chardonnay does so well at Creation Wines, are our soils.
With Chardonnay one recognises the architecture of the geology in the wine. Striking aspects of our terroir are the 550-million-year-old seams of quartz and 450-million-year-old decomposed Bokkeveld shale.”
Chardonnay is an early budding variety and at Creation it enjoys an even and slow growing season. Short spells of intense heat can lead to excessive sugar accumulation; however the cooling influences of the Atlantic Ocean delay ripening by up to two weeks compared to nearby areas.
The vineyards are planted within 7.5 to 10 km from the ocean and during the growth period a glorious thermal vortex of ocean mists rises along the Ridge and up the mountain, creating a giant fan of whirling clouds.
This contributes to a cool average temperature and a night index 12° C lower than at midday, allowing for the development of intense flavour profiles.
While establishing his career in Switzerland, JC honed his skills on Chardonnay, constantly benchmarking his wines with those from nearby Burgundy. When in 2003 he established the first vines at Creation Wines, it was the first virus-free mother block to be planted in South Africa post-1994.
For Chardonnay, he selected Burgundian clones 95 and 96 which yield small bunches with good natural acidity.
There are presently four award-winning Chardonnays in the Creation portfolio:
Creation Wines the Art of Chardonnay: Single-site specific and barrel selection – individually numbered bottles. Seams of quartz sparkle in this vineyard; a wine with steely tension, yet elegantly refined.
Creation Wines Reserve Chardonnay: A single-vineyard wine. Vibrant grapefruit and fragrant apple with a hint of honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Creation Wines Glenn’s Chardonnay: Glenn Martin is the fourth generation winemaker in the Martin and Finlayson families. This natural ferment wine was made from specially selected, clone 96 Chardonnay grapes.
Creation Wines Chardonnay: Glorious layers of sun-kissed pear and peach enhanced by fresh minerality and hints of spice.
For more comprehensive information on these wines, please click here.
Creation Wines: Pioneers of new-world Chardonnay
Chardonnay, while not the most internationally planted white grape cultivar, is definitely one of the most widely grown grapes, produced in every country where wine is made.
Chardonnay is also one of the most recognisable cultivars and data shows that despite being influenced by trends (the era of ABC – ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ refers) it has remained consistently popular among consumers.
Big, sweet, oaky butter-bomb Chardonnays, like perms and shoulder pads, have long since been relegated to the 80s and 90s.
The spike in unoaked Chardonnay under screw cap at a lower price point in the last decade has been, to a certain extent, a knee-jerk reaction to the ABC movement but has served the purpose of changing consumer perception.
“The upshot of these observations is that wine, much like fashion, is cyclical and trends come and go as tastes change”, says Creation co-owner Carolyn Martin.
“The key though is that the consistent popularity of Chardonnay throughout all these changes points to a large proportion of cool climate Chardonnay producers who do not necessarily follow the trends.
Characteristics of these classically styled, Chardonnays include elegant fruit, fresh minerality and complexity”.
Chardonnay was first brought to South Africa illegally (a result of the strict rules imposed by the KWV monopoly at the time) by the pioneers of Chardonnay – including Danie de Wet, Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee and Peter Finlayson.
It was smuggled in because these ambitious winemakers wanted to make serious, high quality wines, and it is their legacy that we build upon today.
International wine writer and expert on South African wines, Tim Atkin, believes Chardonnay is still the greatest white grape in the world, producing a high percentage of the world’s consistently top quality wines.
Tim acknowledges areas such as Constantia and Walker Bay for changing the perception of New World Chardonnay for the better.
Reserve Chardonnay 2021
Grown in a single vineyard, the Creation Reserve Chardonnay has a presence all its own – and what a presence! Vibrant aromas of fresh grapefruit and fragrant apple mingle with a hint of honey and a sprinkling of cinnamon.
These are echoed on the oh-so-clean and pure palate where buttery nuances are beautifully balanced by the characteristic Creation minerality as a hallmark of freshness and finesse.
Click here to get your copy of WineLand Magazine (or better yet, why not subscribe?)