Footsteps of wine legends have carefully trodden the slopes of Bottelary’s winelands into undulating expanses of glorious vines. From the late Stevie Smit of Koopmanskloof, Danie Steytler at Kaapzicht and the Roos-family on Mooiplaas and the Morkels of Bellevue, to name a few. This unique part of Stellenbosch’s wineland geography is home to not only some of the region’s oldest farms and vineyards. Some of the area’s best wines are made here and supply grapes to some of the finest bespoke wine labels in this country, the terroir of gravel, clay and koffieklip exposed to the maritime air from the north-west in winter and the south-east in summer, complementing the legacy of the pioneering forefathers.
Hartenberg Estate, situated at the Stellenbosch-end of the Bottelary Road, is one of Bottelary and the country’s top wine addresses with a history going back to 1692 involving the usual line of settlers granted land by the VOC, the Dutch company that controlled the Cape from 1652 to 1795. It was, however in 1948 when Hartenberg’s road to wine glory began with the purchasing of the property by Eleanor and Dr Maurice Finlayson, a retired pathologist and a keen oenophile. Used to drinking the best of Burgundy and Bordeaux, especially at the Harlequin Restaurant in Parow, the Finlayson’s held lofty ambitions for their own 180ha Stellenbosch estate.
At the beginning of their ownership, Hartenberg was exclusively selling-off its grapes to various cellars. The Finlaysons changed that. New vineyards were planted, the old cellar was reopened and cobbled back into working-use and in 1968 the first Hartenberg wines were released under the name Montagne. The Montagne Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1960s and 1970s are still today deemed rare classics.
Besides the fine wines coming off the property, Hartenberg helped create the Finlayson legacy which is still firmly rooted in the South African wine landscape. Dr Finlayson’s sons Walter and Peter, who both made Montagne wines, today count among the elder statesmen of the local industry. In turn, their off-spring – David and Peter-Allan Finlayson – are leading the newer generation of great local winemakers.
Neatly nestled between the industry elders and the young(er) guns is Carl Schultz, one of the country’s most respected local winemakers whose solid reputation is largely founded on Hartenberg, where he has been heading-up the cellar and vineyards since 1994 and is today the estate’s director. Hartenberg is owned by the family of the late Ken Mackenzie, who bought the property in 1987 from the Gilbey’s Corporation.
Working in the industry since 1989, Carl has been a formidable part of the team laying the foundations in terms of defining the positioning and reputation of Brand SA which experienced a renaissance in 1990 with the advent of the New South Africa. At Hartenberg he developed the single vineyard site concept wines: Gravel Hill Shiraz (1995) ,Eleanor Chardonnay(1997) , Stork Shiraz (2003) and of course the Estate’s Bordeaux blend offering,The Mackenzie(2003) .
“Since I began in the industry, there have been a number of major developments, especially in terms of technology and and knowledge of vineyards and terroir,” says Carl, as mellow and laid-back son of the soil you can find. His two Jack Russell’s, compulsory accoutrements on many a Cape wine farm, lounge about alternating between sitting on their boss’s lap or sniffing at the legs of intruders.
“Efficient technology, and in this I include access to information and data, has most definitely helped improve the standard of South Africa’s wine quality,” he says. “But I think that one of the major factor contributing to getting us where we are today, is the realisation of the importance of your site, the geography of where you are growing grapes and making wine. Realising this allows one to truly focus, knowing what the terroir and environment has given you in the vineyard so that one can pay it justice with the finished wine.”
Here Hartenberg is particularly blessed. Terrific soils of stony koffieklip, gravel and clay. Exposure to the cool north-west coast of the Cape ensures the farm is among the first in Stellenbosch to get the maritime air-flow from the Atlantic lying some 30km away, whilst in the summer the prevailing South Easter arrives daily off the southern ocean. Situated in an ancient valley, a pure water source flows through the entire length of the property ending in a natural wetland comprising 65ha of the farm’s 170ha. Some 85ha are planted under vine. And it is red wine country.
“Around 80% of our total production is red wine,” says Carl, “with Shiraz constituting the bulk of that offering. “
This focus has allowed Hartenberg to offer wine-lovers five different Shiraz wines, varying CWG Auction Shiraz and the top-end Gravel Hill – one of South Africa’s greats made from a vineyard originally planted in 1978 – to an entry-level Doorkeeper label.
When Shiraz is truly good, its voluptuous silkiness and the ethereal presence of exotic spice combining with the dense purity of red-fruited wine, it is something that can only be described as gorgeous. It is this allure that has kept Hartenberg at the top of the South African Shiraz game, and it has the accolades to prove this. Gravel Hill Shiraz, the estate flagship has listed on Emirates First Class for five years and was a Tim Atkin Shiraz of the Year in 2019, as was Hartenberg’s The Stork Shiraz, the estate’s 2nd flagship Shiraz. This wine has achieved a global Top Ten ranking at the annual Syrah du Monde Competition in France on three different occasions (the only SA winery to do so), including 3rd place in 2007 and 1st place in 2012.
“We pride ourselves on being to offer the public a diverse spectrum of Shiraz,” says Carl. “From the Doorkeeper at a modest price (R100) a bottle, right up to the flagship Gravel Hill Shiraz nudging R900.”
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are two other formidable red varietal wines from Hartenberg. And on the white side, the Chardonnay counts among the very best, underscoring Stellenbosch’s ability to produce amazing wines from this blue-blooded white lady from Burgundy. As Boela Gerber, cellarmaster at Groot Constantia, the country’s oldest wine estate and a leading winemaker says: “Hartenberg is one of those labels that guarantees great wine. No matter the grape variety or the combination of grape varieties used – excellence in the finished product is a given. Carl is one very, very good winemaker on a property with incredible terroir.”
He may be known as one of the top Shiraz craftsmen, but Carl’s personal wine-love is Riesling, which he refined on arrival at Hartenberg. “I have been fortunate to travel Germany and Alsace extensively, and can happily do that for the rest of my life on account of the Rieslings they make there.” Hartenberg is one of a handful of Riesling producers left in South Africa – one of only two in the whole of Stellenbosch. Which is unfortunate, as in the hands of an aficionado, local Rieslings are classic, variety-true wines to be proud of.
Slight residual sugar highlights the wedges of citrus, guava and pear, while that brilliant Riesling acidity adds vibrance, brightness and life-affirming zeal.
And life-affirming is something wine, at least, can offer. Carl, myself and Jack Russells sit outside the Hartenberg wine-tasting venue, autumn leaves falling on an estate that is deathly silent. Like the rest of the wine industry, visitor-less due to the debilitating Covid-19 restrictions.
A man of the land who studied viticulture and oenology due to his life-long love of all things plant-like, Carl is aware of the other great calamity facing humanity. “Global warming is – in non-pandemic times – the one major factor of concern the world has to face,” he says. “The data is there for all to see, and as winemakers we feel it with each season in the vineyard. There is less rain and consistently so. When I worked on Simonsig in the early 1990s, the late Frans Malan (Simonsig’s legendary patriarch) said a farmer who irrigates the vines does so for quantity and not quality. Today practically the whole of Stellenbosch is irrigated. Obviously to different levels, due to climate change. Trying to produce a decent crop with the way the temperatures have increased and rainfall has dropped makes farming dryland almost impossible.”
An ethos of conservation and sustainability takes top priority on Hartenberg: from the planting of a variety of suitable cover-crops to ensure living soils and to conserve water, to preserving the natural habitats of the indigenous fauna and flora. Add the foot-steps of the forefathers and the current custodians, and the Bottelary Hills are, definitely, alive.
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