Tarah Darge overlooking the valley
Tarah Darge overlooking the valley
Image: Supplied

Vineyard viruses is not a topic winemakers readily jump into – but it’s how I begin my conversation with co-owner and marketing extraordinaire of Creation Wines, Carolyn Martin. It is estimated that a mere 30% of South African vineyards are virus-free, a sad state of affairs that is likely to affect our grape security, she animatedly explains. Good thing then that Creation Wines is doing their bit to remedy the problem – having established South Africa’s first virus-free mother block in the last 20 years, from which they share cuttings across the country.

Arriving just moments before, after a misty drive through the verdant hills of the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, I immediately understand Creation Wines popularity with local and international visitors.

Ushered to our seat inside the restaurant and tasting room - with front row views of the towering Babylonstoren mountains and dramatic valley and vineyards that meet below - the cosy fire and bustling chatter invites a languid stay. A good thing too, as a simple tasting includes up to ten wines.

Not that there’s any need to taste on an empty stomach. Creation’s pairings are leagues above the standard cheeseboard and charcuterie fare of their peers (though they do offer those victuals if you like). In fact, their menu details no less than eight different pairing options from which to choose!

Opting for the eight course tapas pairing menu – the one that saw Creation cinch their fourth Klink Award in the ‘Great Pairings’ category for 2017 - we begin with a taste of their just-released Elation MCC. These are served with freshly baked Mosbolletjies infused with Pinot Noir. The delightful brioche-like buns (a local favourite) and beautifully crisp bubbles set the tone for a culinary journey that allowed us to discover both their highly accolated wines, as well as the regional produce they’re artfully paired with.

Each unique wine is served in its varietal-specific, Riedel glass - an insistence as vital as the flavours of the foods so carefully selected for the pairings. To demonstrate the adverse effects of not getting this right, Carolyn invites us to bite into celery while sipping their Sauvignon Blanc, before tasting Chardonnay from a Viognier glass. So wrong! Even to a ‘still in training’ palate, the differences in flavours are remarkable, the influence of glasses quite astonishing.

Science gives way to total gastronomic delight by about the third course, during which we delighted in the Bocconcini dish, having polished off the Pickled Hake, a Viognier and their outstanding Chardonnays – one of their flagship varietals.

We’ve just started on the Pinot Noir when a burly Swiss man enters the room, a rope hanging around his neck (stacking French oak barriques by hand is a precisely measured art). He promptly joins our table and pours a helping of the wine de jour into, of all things, a white wine glass! As the co-owner, viticulturist and cellar master, Jean-Claude Martin is allowed to break the rules, you see. As our table moves through the glorious reds, the light Pinots giving way to Syrahs and Grenaches, JC explains how he chooses the grapes for his sought-after Art of Creation reserves; hand-selecting pockets from a single vineyard to produce around only 600 bottles of the finest wine on the estate – and shoring up a stack of Veritas and international awards in the process.

And all this in the short time since 2002 - when JC and Carolyn first established the vineyards on what had been pasture land. It’s hard to believe. Except, when you meet the force majeure that is this pioneering duo, it becomes a little less so.

Between mouthfuls of a chocolate ganache dessert so dreamy I still dwell on it, we discuss what’s next for the team. For JC, it’s all about the exciting emergence of great SA Pinot Noir in the international market – a demand he sees growing as our reputation for world-class, inventive wine expands.

A little closer to home, Carolyn expounds on Creation’s involvement in the Pebbles Hemel-en-Aarde Education Project, established to aid early childhood development and education for the children living in the Cape Winelands. As if on cue, the new 22-seater school bus trundles up the hill, dropping off a couple of excited little ones that might otherwise have journeyed from school to home on foot.

While wine farms a little further flung from the usual Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions must work a little harder to attract visitors, Creation is one you certainly should make the scenic drive out for – their little enclave of Hemel-en-Aarde heaven a hub of the finest food and wine pairings you’ll find in the Cape. creationwines.com

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