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.
Perfection, or near perfection, must be a heavy burden. How do Carl Schultz and his team at Hartenberg Estate handle it? Such a diverse range of wines, all made to such high standards – it’s all enough to make a French vigneron kick a hole in a vat of 1928 Armagnac.
Hartenberg makes a mean Merlot. Stupendous Shiraz. Riveting Riesling. Cracking Cabernet. But my heart was won over, again, recently by the Chardonnay. Not the iconic Eleanor, but the straight-up Hartenberg Chardonnay from the very classy 2009 vintage.
This came courtesy of a good offer from my sales agent at the Wade Bales Wine Society at a price that made me wonder if this stuff hadn’t fallen from the back of some truck. But I bought a case, most of which has been sent down the hatch, leaving me half-a-bottle from which to contemplate.
The wine is clear and attractive with a lovely greenness to the golden robe, as usually worn by a classic Chardonnay south of the Beaune region in Burgundy. A chunky firm attack on the palate leads to an armada of ripe fruit, from stewed quince, grated Packham pear, kumquat and Key Lime Pie. This is all supported by a zesty acidity, giving the wine more life and verve than a Mavericks’ dancer on Free Russia Day.
Unlike said dancer, the Hartenberg Chardonnay only has a bit of wood, not enough to mask the life in the wine but just the right amount to provide a silky, buttery mouth-feel and a lingering finish.
Despite the calls to duty asking us to embrace Chenin Blanc as the National South African White Grape and the reactionary colourful spats generated by the Sauvignon Blanc fraternity, there is only one real South African white wine worth taking to an international gun-fight, and he be Chardonnay.