By Geena Whiting
Quality to some can be likened to a rainbow, logically the rainbow must have a beginning and an end but we only see the beautiful and somewhat mystical final arch and not where it begins nor where it ends. Much like rainbows, we as consumers often don’t realize that the mechanisms allowing for quality are hidden beyond the horizon, in the background or at the end of the rainbow.
Quality is also a subjective factor. In the wine industry there are many experts who through experience, education (or self-proclaimed) have positioned themselves as authorities on quality. Whether this is a positive thing or not is up to the individual to decide, but it has allowed for a more objective approach to quality. Through yearly judging and rating competitions consumers can measure wines to a standard. Some take these ratings as gospel while others continue to enjoy the brands they always have regardless of ratings.
No matter your stance on stickers, wine judges and the word of a wine master, anyone who drinks wine must know that quality begins in the vineyard.
When establishing a vineyard there are many things to look at. The market: what wine style is popular, what cultivars are being planted and sold at what rate, how the farm and brand suit the new fad style. The location of the farm: certain cultivars grow better in certain areas; will the farm be able to maintain a turnover in a hospitality setting or will it purely be for production? The terroir: different cultivars have different sensitivity to heat, water, frost, wind, hail, etc. The weather around harvest needs to be carefully considered because if the grapes ripen too early or too late this can severely affect the quality of the harvest. Other important terroir aspects to consider are the soil type predominant in the region, the rainfall (will you have to irrigate?), the aspect of the slope where the vineyard will be planted, the virus status of the soil, the need for added nutrients to help the vines grow and row direction to get ideal sun exposure for a particular cultivar.
Before Creation was established, Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin had a simple goal in mind: to make wines of amazing quality. Through their search for the perfect terroir they came across 40 hectares of virgin soil in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. Both Jean-Claude and Carolyn come from generations of wine pioneering stock and it’s because of this heritage and their own tenacity that the wines produced at Creation are the embodiment of quality.
The pursuit of quality and excellence is a never-ending ambition. However, when it comes to winemaking, having healthy, virus-free vines is an obvious step in the right direction. In this regard Creation has gone above and beyond in their pursuit of quality. The estate has the first virus-free mother block planted post-1994 and cuttings are used as a source for new plantings in South Africa. The vineyards are immaculate and vineyard management practices are executed with quality in mind. At the inaugural 2019 World’s Best Vineyards (WBV) awards Creation featured among the 50 top international wineries and was one of only three South African wineries to qualify for the list.
With no less than 11 cultivars planted one may ask how Creation can claim to concentrate on quality. I, myself doubted that one could produce a quality Roussanne Viognier (a Rhone-style blend) and a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot blend (a Bordeaux-style blend) on the same farm. One sip of each wine quickly placated any doubts I had.
When it comes to quality and the vineyard it is important to note that one can take perfect grapes and make sub-par wine. After nature has taken its course and the viticulturalist is satisfied, harvest can begin. It is then up to the winemaker and cellar team to do the grapes justice and create a great wine. Fortunately, years of experience guide the cellar team at Creation. Cellarmaster Jean-Claude has more than 20 years’ international experience: having honed his skills on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he now applies his talents to create a much wider portfolio in the cool-climate Hemel-en-Aarde. Quality over quantity is the aim of the production in the cellar and is always the deciding factor when making any decisions during harvest.
If one is curious about the pursuit of quality or would like to make this topic somewhat more tangible, a trip to Creation Wines in the Walker Bay wine region of South Africa is recommended. From the entrance way it’s clearly visible that balance, elegance, distinction and finesse have been considered in every decision down to the way the vineyards are marked. Sitting outside surrounded by art and music, whilst sipping on a glorious glass of wine and looking at the immaculate vineyards, you know that here quality begins in the vineyards and ends in your glass. You might find yourself transported to both the beginning and end of the rainbow; I look forward to seeing you there.