Creation, one of the leading wineries from South Africa’s cool-climate Hemel-en-Aarde region


High up in the Hemel-en-Arde region lies one of South Africa’s top wine estates – one that has flown under the radar a bit, too. Under the watchful eye of JC Martin, a winemaker who hails from Switzerland, and his wife Carolyn (who’s family have been winemakers in South Africa for many generations: she was born on the Hartenberg farm), Creation makes great wines from 65 hectares of their own vineyards, and runs a top-notch cellar door and restaurant.

JC Martin, owner/winemaker Creation

Creation have done a lot of work keeping the vineyard virus-free. ‘The vines are 20 years old and they are still virus free, which is fantastic,’ says JC. ‘We can see it now with the Pinot Noir. We knew from Europe that it is the key for quality, but after 20 years now we can see how the Pinot is getting better and better. This is vineyard age. In other farms with virus they are pulling the vines out after 15 or 20 years maximum. There are two key points. First of all it is the quality aspects: the vines don’t need to be 80 years old, but a solid 20 years plus helps. Then there is the commercial side: if you have to pull the vineyards out after 20 years, it is a long wait until they are back in production. I don’t think it’s really viable.’

‘For us the main focus is quality. The estate vineyards are now 20 years old, and when the kids carry on they will take over the farm as an old vine project: everything will be 35 years plus.’ The kids in question are Glenn and Emma, and both are interested in wine. ‘Glenn is last year studying in Stellenbosch and Emma is doing a marketing/business degree,’ says JC.

‘They have figured out it is a fantastic industry. Glenn is friends with Eben’s kids Marcus and Zander and they travel together. There’s a cool crowd of youngsters.’

‘Now this farm is 40 hectares, and ten years ago we bought the neighbouring farm which is another 25 hectares,’ he says. ‘This adds up to 400 tons of production, and then we make two small projects where we get some grapes from Eben Sadie’s new farm where we make an old vine Chenin Blanc, and then I have a small Chenin project from this valley, which I think is the only proper Chenin Blanc block in the valley.’

Are most people taking the same view, that to make quality wine you need virus-free vines? ‘Most of the people come to terms with it. They assume virus is not a great thing, but there’s a process they have to go through [to stay virus free], and to implement it you have to be quite strict. To turn it around and get a farm virus free takes a lot of effort. Vergelegen have done it, but unfortunately it came at a heavy price: you have to go in, tear out, replant. From a sustainably point of view you want to sooner than later start to plan to be on top of the virus. It’s interesting that now all the shoots are getting transported to nurseries.’

The cuttings from Creation are taken away by Vititec, who are the mother block holder. ‘For me it is a fantastic exchange: I have a monitoring mechanism for free. They come four times a year and check the whole farm. For example, we have the only virus-free block in South Africa. They want to be so sure they check every plant under the microscope. When it becomes a normal mother block they just make a visual check four times a year. They mark the plants if there is virus. On the whole farm they are picking up three or four vines out of hundreds of thousands. It is quite a surprise. A lot of people told us it would not work and we would get virus. The thing is, you have to start from a virgin piece of land, virus free, and you have to monitor.’   

The have made a new cellar with some concrete eggs and are getting some concrete tanks. ‘I still like the foudres: I quite like working with wood,’ says JC. ‘At the moment we are assessing the whole farm. Every block we aren’t sure is the right cultivar we are ripping up and replanting.’ They’ve taken out Merlot for Chardonnay, and Petit Verdot to Pinot Noir, and will take out a Merlot block and will replace this with Pinot Noir. ‘It’s costly, but both kids want to be in the business.’

Hemel-en-Arde is well suited to making fine wines. ‘Climatically this is one of the most rewarding places to make wine. There’s no pressure to pick, and the acid stays.’

Soil is heavy clay and there are no heatwaves, so they thought Merlot would work. ‘It was OK, but it didn’t excite us. But at least we tried. We have a 2 ha block of Cabernet that’s now 20 years old and is virus free and it makes a lovely wine. I cannot pull out that vineyard, it looks so good. But the Merlot will disappear.’

The restaurant is also a major attraction, and draws many people to the cellar door. On offer, a multicourse tasting menu with a particular theme: this was the return to nature Ayurvedic menu, and it was superbly done.


Creation Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2021
80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon. Barrel fermented with 10% new oak. No malolactic. Beautifully expressive with pure citrus, a touch of pear and passionfruit, and nice structure. There’s just a touch of oak here, and lovely freshness with a fine tapering finish. This has real potential for ageing. 93/100

Creation Viognier Roussanne 2021
60% Viognier, 40% Roussanne, with a tiny bit of Grenache Blanc. No malolactic. Concrete eggs, small foudres, old oak. This is fresh but textural with some ripe pear and apricot, as well as some peach. But there’s also lovely citrus character (mandarin and lemon) with good acidity. It has some flesh as you’d expect from these varieties, but also brightness. Really interesting mid-palate flourish here. 93/100

‘With Viognier the flavour builds up at the end, but if it’s grown in too warm a climate then by the time you get the flavour, it’s too alcoholic,’ says JC.

Chardonnay is the main grape on this farm. In Chardonnay they make 80 000 bottles, with 60 000 the estate wine. Chardonnay is all 100% malolactic. JC has begun picking a bit earlier to yield fresher Chardonnays over the last few years, and they’ve stopped battonage. The Chardonnay is inoculated, using a neutral Champagne yeast. The wild yeasts, they found the fermentation went sluggish at the end: ‘you lose a bit of the purity of the wine,’ says JC. ‘Inoculation with a good yeast doesn’t make a wine bad.’ Red wines are all spontaneously fermented. JC goes straight to barrel with the Chardonnay without settling: he likes working with dirty juice. ‘When the grapes are in good condition, why would you want to throw anything away?’

‘With Pinot Noir, when you have old vineyards you can pick earlier and still have flavour. With the young vineyards you have to pick a little later. We were on the later picks at one stage, and this is something we’ve had to learn.’

‘For us whole bunch is the way to go,’ he says, referring to Pinot Noir fermentation. ‘Initially we were scared because we thought we’d bring the green element in, and this isn’t the case. But for us it brings the freshness back in, and it avoids green contributions. I did trials with 100% whole bunch and the result wasn’t the most convincing. It might also be a vintage thing. Overall, though, when we decide to start with 50% we might go to 60, when we start at 70 we might go to 80.’

‘Whole bunch gives an energy to the wine. The destemmed Syrah, for example, has too much fruit.’

Creation Chardonnay 2021
10% new oak, all small French. No battonage. Nice concentration with some richness, but also freshnes, showing some hazelnut and spice with pear and white peach, finishing fresh with some citrus. There’s a slight breadiness in the background, and it has a really nice poise. 93/100

Creation Reserve Chardonnay 2021
Single block, 20 years old, 30% new oak (blond toast). Complex, fine and quite pure with a mineral, spicy edge to the pear, peach and citrus fruit. Lovely freshness and poise here: it’s quite mineral and fine. 94/100

Creation Art Chardonnay 2021
Single block, the first Chardonnay planted on the farm. Yields 6 tons/ha. Don’t have to press too hard and get a decent amount out. 30% new oak. This is vivid, expressive and powerful with lovely toast-laden citrus fruit, and some fine spices. There’s some peachy richness, but it’s citrus that drives things here. This is forward and delicious but beautifully poised: such concentration and weight. 95/100

Creation Art Chardonnay 2020
Concentrated and taut with compact, linear fruit. The vintage has yielded a very tight expression of Chardonnay with lots of citrus drive and just a hint of nutty, peacy richness. Has a long, finely spiced finish. Expect this dense, unfurled Chardonnay to come into its own over time. Sensational stuff. 96/100

Creation Glenn’s Chardonnay 2020
Out the Art Block they did a batch of wild yeast, and a few of them had a bit of matchstick reduction and they didn’t want to blend it away. Three barrels made. This is a beautifully expressive wine with matchstick and mineral notes, with fine acidity and bold citrus characters. Lots of spicy detail here with great acidity. This is really interesting, and it would be fascinating to taste this blind. 95/100

Creation Pinot Noir 2021
8 vineyard blocks, 10-30% whole bunch, 10% new oak. Aromatic, supple and very pure with lovely fresh cherry and raspberry fruit, showing some lovely supple detail and sappy notes. This is a really expressive, pure Pinot showing great balance. Shows a slight savoury flourish, too. 93/100

Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2021
Single block, 16 years old, 50% whole bunch, 30% new oak. 115 clone for this and the Art. ‘It’s the workhorse. It’s the most quality driven clone but it’s a compact clone that can get bunch rot. There’s enough wind to dry the bunches so we have no botrytis on the farm. This is structured and compact with lovely floral cherry and berry fruit and also a bit of bite. Nice spiciness here with lovely fruit expression and also some structure. Very fine. 94/100

‘I believe Pinot Noir likes new oak,’ says JC. ‘It’s a low tannin cultivar and a bit of wood tannin helps to structure the wine. With Syrah we don’t need to give new wood, there are already enough tannins.’

Creation Art Pinot Noir 2021
3000 bottles made a year, the oldest block of Pinot. 80% whole bunch, 30% new oak. Have some crushed grapes on the top. Wild ferment. Concentrated, intense, with lovely sweet cherry and raspberry fruit, with good acidity and some spicy oak in the background. Very sophisticated with good structure and weight, combining sweet fruit with nice tannins and acidity. Finishes with a bit of spice. A lovely wine with masses of potential. 95/100

Creation Art Pinot Noir 2020
60% whole bunch. 30% new oak. Compact, supple and fresh with amazing cherry and raspberry purity, and some good structure. This is very expressive and concentrated with a linear personality. Has a sense of purity and finesse, with a slight green hint in the background. Lovely stuff. 94/100

Creation Art Pinot Noir 2019
70% whole bunch. There’s a lovely savoury, spicy quality to this wine, with some good structure. Has cherry and berry fruits with a touch of plum and some dried herbs. Lovely complexity with nice density and just a touch of evolution. This is really good. 95/100

Creation Syrah Reserve 2021 (from foudre)
This was 10 months in barrels then it goes to foudre. 20 year old vineyard, 4 tons, 80% whole bunch. This is fresh and intense with amazing vivid black cherry fruit with some pepper and spice. Lots of intensity and concentration, floral characters, good structure and good acidity. There’s freshness and structure here with lovely purity. Has a lot of natural acidity that frames the structure really well. 94-96/100

Older notes:

Creation Elation Brut Nature MCC 2012 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
80%Chardonnay, 20% Pinot, Brut Nature, 2 years on lees. Very fresh and tart with bright, herb tinged lemony fruit and a bit of subtle toastiness. Has some apple character, too. Very attractive. 88/100

Creation Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
There’s lovey taut fruit here with herbs, lemons, some wax and pith. Nice grapefruit freshness on the finish. Lovely fruit character here, but also has some nice savouriness. Very stylish. 91/100

Creation Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Tight, nutty and citrussy with lovely lean, mineral-tinged lemony fruit. Has presence and acidity here. Linear and stony with nice precision. 91/100

Creation Estate Chardonnay 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Very fine and expressive with clean, subtly bready, toasty citrus and pear fruit, with a bit of peachy richness. Refined and delicious with some ripeness. 91/100

Creation Reserve Chardonnay 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
No press juices. Fine, delicate and refined with lovely mineral and spice notes as well as pear and citrus fruits. This is sophisticated with attractive fruit and good acidity. 93/100

Creation Art of Chardonnay 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
10-12 barrels. Taut and refined with lovely acidity and dense citrus and pear fruit. Really expressive and detailed with great acidity. Lovely wine. Really well integrated wood. Such a lovely wine. 95/100

Creation Estate Pinot Noir 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Clean, pure, floral and fine with nice direct, supple, sweet cherry fruit. Very red fruits in character with nice purity and some structure. Youthful and quite delicious. 91/100

Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
There’s some herb and undergrowth detail lurking in the background of the floral red fruits. Nice grip here with lovely focused fruit and a silky texture. Nice purity here with lovely finesse. 92/100

Creation Art of Pinot Noir 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
There’s wonderful balance here: it has fine cherries and plums with a nice spiciness. Structured and refined with spice and a hint of tar. Lovely precision and structure here: a serious effort. 95/100

Creation Syrah 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Concentrated, fresh and with lovely floral black cherry and spice notes. There’s some peppery freshness as well as lovely lush sweet fruit. Real finesse here. 93/100

Creation Syrah Grenache 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Bright and fresh with lovely well defined black cherry and plum fruit. Lovely clean, pure, fresh black fruits here. Very convincing. 93/100

Creation Sumac Grenache 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
There’s richness here as well as some fresh peppery red and black fruits. Good structure and a hint of cedary oak in the background. Polished and fine. 92/100

Creation Reserve Merlot 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South AfricaLovely fresh black fruits here with some blackcurrant and some cherry. Fresh and supple with a chalky, gravelly edge. Ripe but fresh and really convincing. 92/100

Creation Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot 2015 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Generous and fine with sweet, textured, gravelly, spicy blackcurrant fruit. Fine and floral with nice freshness alongside the ripe fruit. Quite lovely with a hint of seriousness. Lovely. 94/100

Creation Viognier 2016 Hemel-en-Arde, South Africa
Bright, fresh, pure and floral with nice lemony acidity keeping things bright. Very pretty and juicy with some pear and peach notes, but with citrus freshness driving things. 91/100