Words: Richard Holmes | Images: Supplied
Chenin Blanc is undoubtedly the flag bearer for white wine in South Africa. From the up-and-coming cellars of the Breedekloof to the big names and old vines of the Swartland, Chenin Blanc is the flavour of the month. Such is its loyal following it’s even earned itself International #DrinkChenin Day, celebrated by Chenin-lovers on 15 June each year.
Although Chenin Blanc traces its roots to the Anjou region of France in the 9th-century, it’s a grape that has become synonymous with the Loire region of central France. Chenin has been planted in South Africa since the earliest days of the Cape colony, and for centuries was known locally as Steen. Though it’s been the foundation of the local brandy industry for more than a century, in the past decade Chenin has transformed from a bulk wine ‘burnt’ into brandewyn to a premium varietal prized at home and abroad.
While winemakers from the Swartland and Stellenbosch have so far claimed most of the Chenin limelight, Hemel-en-Aarde winery Creation is showing the versatility of the cultivar with the release of the valley’s first Chenin Blanc. Famous for his Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Creation winemaker Jean-Claude (JC) Martin hadn’t considered Chenin Blanc until fruit from a single one-hectare block of vineyards in the upper Hemel-en-Aarde area fell into his lap in the 2017 harvest.
“We had great fun experimenting with this batch which was partly fermented with wild yeast,” says Martin, who worked carefully to capture the unique cool-climate character of the vineyard.
After pressing the wine was vinified in oak barrels, spending eight months on the “lees”, the dead yeasts cells left behind after fermentation that add complexity and texture to the wine. In the glass, the results are impressive, but with just 5,000 bottles available in this maiden vintage you’ll need to visit the cellar to get your hands on a bottle or two.
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