Visiting one of South Africa's most interesting wine regions, Hemel-en-Aarde, part 5


Kevin Grant (above) has worked in Hemel-en-Aarde for 19 years, and prior to setting out on his own he was winemaker at Hamilton Russell. Ataraxia was founded in 2004, when Kevin Grant and some partners bought 50 hectares of vineyard land just beneath the imposing Babylons Toren mountain.

Kevin is in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, but he doesn't like the way that the Hemel-en-Aarde has been split into three appellations. 'It's relatively divisive,' he says. 'We are keen to articulate the differences of the areas but at the same time articulating the similarity of the wines.'

It's colder here on the ridge. His highest vineyards are at 398 m, and the chapel-like wine lounge (his tasting room) is at 368 m. At Hamilton Russell, the highest vineyards are at 198 m, and every 100 m corresponds roughly to a 1 degree drop in temperature.

Currently 24 hectares are planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but there are plans to plant 12 more. Production is 15-20000 cases each year, and Kevin makes the wines himself – he doesn't have a winemaker. The focus is to become self-sufficient in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He doesn't have any sandy soils so he hasn't planted Sauvignon Blanc. He supplements his own vineyards by ferreting out small parcels, and using the Western Cape designation on the label he can use the extreme vineyards past Ceres, for example.

He routinely acidifies because he is looking for edginess and nervousness in his wines, but it is always at juice stage: the timing matters. Potassium levels are high at 1000-3000 ppm, and once you get past 1000, he says that acidity is never stable. Knowing how much potassium you have allows you to work out how much acidity you will lose. In cooler years you have higher malic acid, and malolactic fermentation also causes a loss of acidity.

He custom orders barrels for each block, choosing the right cooper and toasting level depending on the grapes. He says he's learning the personality of each block, and which oak to match it with.

It's still early days for Pinot Noir here. ‘I realised that I couldn't buy good Pinot Noir so I had to wait for my own Pinot Noir to come on stream,’ says Kevin. ‘One factor you can't get from young vines is texture:  we are in the painful process of working through the early vintages when we are not ready to show it.’ 2011 and 2012 were both declassified and released with the term ‘declassified’ stamped on the label. Kevin is very positive about 2013, which is from 7 year old vines. He keeps the vines yield free for the first 4 years because of the shallowness of the soils.


Ataraxia Chardonnay 2012 Walker Bay, South Africa
Fine, rich and toasty with attractive pear, apple, white peach and spice notes. Fine, expressive with keen acidity and lovely crystalline fruit characters. Precise. 94/100

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2011 Western Cape, South Africa
Complex and taut. Nutty and spicy with lovely richness and some grapefruit freshness. Very fine and expressive, combining richness and freshness. 93/100

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2010 Western Cape, South Africa
Amazingly lively pear, peach and spice notes. So stylish with notes of nuts, citrus and toast. Richly textured yet fresh and taut, finishing with hints of grapefruit. Lovely vibrant fruit. 95/100

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2009 Western Cape, South Africa
Really exotic, with nutty, slightly sherried peach, meal and spice characters. The palate shows notes of grapefruit and tangerine. Showing a bit of development. 92/100

Ataraxia Chardonnay 2008 Western Cape, South Africa
Very fine and toasty with notes of citrus, melon and peach. Lovely depth of fruit here, and toast, peach and spice characters fill out the palate. 93/100

Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Western Cape, South Africa
This comes from Elgin. Very fine aromatic grapefruit and tangerine notes. Taut and pure with some passionfruit exoticism. A supple, pretty wine. 92/100

Ataraxia 'Declassified' Pinot Noir 2011 Western Cape, South Africa
Cherry, spice, undergowth, cola nose. The palate is supple and spicy with some elegance and undergrowth notes. Quite savoury with lovely sweet red cherry and plum fruit with some grippy tannins and a mineral, savoury edge. 88/100

Visiting Hemel-en-Aarde

Bouchard Finlayson
Newton Johnson
Hamilton Russell
Restless River

Wines tasted 03/13  
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