To say that there are interesting wine properties in the Hemel-en-Aarde region outside of Hermanus is akin to stating that Saville Row has a couple of passable tailors or that one or two decent blues bars exist in Kansas City. This splendid appellation, divided into Valley, Upper and Ridge, is a sliver of geographical excellence created for growing distinctive grapes from which great wines have been made, and are continuing to be made. With a lot still to come, you should know.
Since my relationship with the valley began a few decades back, the farm that was Sumaridge captured the imagination from the onset. There was a visceral rawness in its exposure to the ocean and the sometimes brutal air flows from the north-west. Decomposed gravel and shale soils, hardy and poor, are a part of the contributors to the Hemel-en-Aarde vinous DNA, although the property I got to know as Sumaridge finds an intense clay component in its earth giving the wines from there, for me, a distinctive edge.
As the great Jan Boland Coetzee says: “There is a definite correlation between great wines and the clay component of the soils where those vineyards stand.”
To cut to the chase, Sumaridge is no more. Well, in name, that is. Under new ownership, including the Belgian couple Céline Haspeslagh and Frederik Herten, the 180ha property was recently opened under the name Hasher Family Estate. New name. New labels. A youthful new ethos showing eagerness, commitment and vision. But the same great patch of earth in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde which, as I and many others know, has the potential to become one of the regional and South African superstars.
Since purchasing the estate last year, the Belgian owners have not let mussels grow under their feet. 16ha of vines have been ripped-out, with new plantings beckoning come spring, leaving the current spread of vines at 19ha. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, of course, will be the focus. But during the recent launch, the exuberant Frederik Herten was quick to state that Hasher will continue the play with Pinotage, one of the wines that stood out under the previous owners.
Besides the direct approach to vineyard rejuvenation, Hasher got straight down to it, releasing three wines this year – a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Hereby announcing that the Hasher label is good-to-go and the farm is open for business, the writing of the new chapter in the history of this place having begun in all earnest.
Marimist is the name of the Hasher Chardonnay, referring to the maritime mists creeping into the valley, and the first release is from the 2020 vintage. 85% of the wine was fermented in wood (20%) new, and the barrel regime continued for nine months.
With the Hemel-en-Aarde’s reputation for magnificence in Chardonnay, I would say that the Hasher entrance into this lofty realm was done with confidence and an easy grace. First release, and able to comfortably stand alongside the best Chardonnays in the valley, adding to the reputation of South African Chardonnay excellence.
Hasher Chardonnay comes with a breezy expansiveness, the wine being wide and open and all-encompassing, without being broad or loud. Current varietal styles tend to chase a steely raciness before the fruit profile is reached. In this wine, it is cool fruit and white flowers from the attack on the palate, with a desirable degree of vivacious freshness and excitement evident from the wine’s beginning to its end. This is what malolactic fermentation brings to Chardonnay, showing a pristine structure in pH, acid and sugar, prying open the fruit’s mysterious hidden layers to let the sun in.
The sea, five kilometres away from Hasher Estate, helps build structure and balance. Yet it is the sun that gives this Chardonnay its delightful array of flavours, its enticing life-affirming taste.
Ernest is the name of Hasher Estate Pinot Noir, with the maiden release being from vintage 2021. And if it comes to introducing one’s first Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde, one could have done a lot worse than selecting the comet 2021 vintage, which was as cool as a Steve McQueen monologue, yet not quite that short.
Ernest got 11 months in barrel, of which one-third of the component was new oak. Clay soils, northerly slopes, a cool vintage….a degree of new wood would have been required to temper the feral strains found in the just-fermented 2021 Pinot Noir. And the one-third component was on-song.
Yes, the wine is young, obviously. But not too young to show the Hasher property’s potential for creating Pinot Noir expressing the unique properties of the site, traits that were evident since Pinot Noir began to be made there.
The Ernest Pinot Noir 2021 is broody and dark in colour, and the aromas are heady and full – no berry-perfume or Pinot perfumed silk-nightgown here. For this is tough clay soil terroir speaking, dense and rocky.
Having made its presence known through the aroma, imposing yet pure and cultured, the Pinot Noir enters onto the palate with the sensation of fine Egyptian cotton being ripped to reveal a dense concoction of flavours ranging from exotic to untamed wilderness. A blue-berry crunchiness gives way to the satisfying succulence of ripe summer plum, while fine powdery tannins carry hints of cedar, cut fresh porcini and just the slightest edge of fresh game, bright and bloody.
In the mouth, the wine lies in broad pools of wonder and joy, while a symphony reverberates through the soul, a profound wave of something echoing that here are splendid things to come.
A great song stays the same.
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