Franchhoek is a tiny town in a lovely wine growing valley. There are galleries, restaurants, gift shops, coffee houses along the one main street. Scattered around are many wine estates. There is a wine train that people take to the wine tastings. We have something better planned for us.
Mervyn picked us up at 9:00 and we headed out of the valley on the “elephant trail” across the hills. The drive south was again beautiful. There was some road work happening, so we were a bit late for our first tasting at Newton Johnson Vineyards. Carmello was lovely, knew our time constraint and managed a good and informative tasting in record time. The valley is a perfect place to live. From their tasting room, glass enclosed on a large terrace, you can see the sea in two directions. The climate seems to be perfect, average 26 degrees, with a slight breeze off the ocean most days. There are no water restrictions here. Carmello called time, saying she hated to rush us, but we shouldn’t be late for our lunch, that we would enjoy it, that Anthony loved long lunches, so we tidied up and headed off.
Hamilton Russell was very close, so we arrived pretty much on time. We joined a group already tasting their first wine in the tasting room. A French couple who ran a wine store, a gay couple from Pittsburgh, 4 Dutchmen, 6 Germans on a wine tour. Other than the wine tour group, the others had some wine industry connection.
We went downstairs into the cellar for the tasting. Hamilton Russell makes very few wines as, when Anthony took over the property he decided to specialize on a small number of things that he thought were well suited to the terroir. A pinot noir, a chardonnay, and a pinotage. We tasted 2015, 2016, 2017 pinots. It is generally agreed and accepted that 2015 is a spectacular year for south African wines. Anthony thinks that 2009 was better, although he prefers 2008 wines, and that down the line, people will think that other vintages surpassed 2015. I liked the 2016 a lot, and the 2017 was also really good even as young as it was. Anthony prefers corks to screw caps, and pays a 50% premium for corks which are certified not to contain the thing that causes bottles to be corked.. He agrees that screw caps work well, and has tasted older vintages in screw caps and feels they age well but really doesn’t like the aesthetics of screw caps.
He has been involved in the wine industry for over 30 years. They have expanded their holdings and have, placed some of their land in a conservancy so allow free movement of animals to larger conservancy areas. He has a school for local poor Africans, and recently has their first university graduate.
We headed up the hill for lunch. We got a ride with the guys from Pittsburgh. The house is spectacular. Set up on a hill, overlooking the valley and the hills in the distance. We headed through the massive entry hall to a covered outdoor patio. Here, Olive had preferred fresh warm gougeres, pita bread with their olive oil—grown right outside the house, and some cheese, to go with the wines that were waiting for us. We mingled and chatted, and had a thoroughly good time. I sussed out a bit of the house, and after most of the other guests had left Anthony showed me around the drawing room and the kitchen. He is a collector. He is waiting right now for some oyster shells which are enroute. He keeps an oyster shell from every type of oyster he eats, labels them and has them framed. Olive has a collection of rolling pins. There is art all over every wall together with framed tarantulas, scorpions, stuffed tortoises, a picture of Mussolini with a bandage on his nose – a result of Anthony’s great aunt attack on him, for which she languished and died in prison, etc, etc. Every inch of walls is covered.
Olive is a gourmet cook and cookbook author – her first one is sold out, and she is working on the next. She prepared a delicious meal – chicken and mushroom pie, salads of various kinds. It was all quite lovely. The larger groups left and we had some very lively conversations with the small group remaining. Anthony at one point said, after Robin complained that wine at home was expensive, “I don’t feel sorry for you, you who have free education and free medical care”. All in a charming way. But it is interesting that the price of Hamilton Russell wines in Vancouver is not all that different from what Anthony says is his retail price. He did say that he adjusted prices by location to try to keep them reasonable in each market.