Q & A with winemaker Jean-Claude Martin at Creation Vineyards

1. You are a Swiss-born winemaker and could work anywhere in the world, provided they make wine. Why have you chosen South Africa? There is still so much to discover in South Africa, there is plenty of hidden potential. The difference between the Old World and New World is that everything is tried and perfected in the Old World and here we have potential for site specific vineyards, incredible unspoilt viticultural geology with particular micro- and meso-climates like undiscovered gems. (I’m thinking particularly of cool climate areas in South Africa.)

2. Why did you choose to open your vineyard in the Hemel-en-Aarde Region? We strongly believe that it is one of the most exciting places to grow vineyards in South Africa. On the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge where Creation is situated we have 450-million-year-old decomposed Bokkeveld shale and clay loam soils. These soils, in combination with the cooling southeasterly and southwesterly breezes from the Atlantic Ocean, Benguela Current and the altitude of around 290 m above sea level, allow for physiological grape maturation without any acidification during the winemaking process. This is a blessing for creating well-balanced, elegant wines and for ageing wines.

3. What is South Africa’s calling card(s) for you? Relatively stable weather conditions resulting in quality harvests on an annual basis. The freedom to produce cultivars without a restriction from government bodies – only from nature. The incredible beauty of the coastlines of South Africa such as Walker Bay.

4. What has been the most challenging thing for you to overcome following your move to South Africa? Convincing my South African wife to return to her roots. Getting a work permit. To be recognised as a Swiss who can light a fire and braai!

5. And what has been the biggest/best highlight so far? To plant a farm that is still 100% leaf roll virus free after 12 years.

6. What do you do to relax? Play squash, go for a run on cliff paths and watching whales play in the bay.

7. Where is your favourite place on the estate to think and contemplate? In the barrel cellar where there is no cell phone reception; unfortunately there is now reception in the vineyards!

8. What are the most important attributes you need to become a winemaker? Be humble, nature is bigger than you and you are part of the universe. Learn to be a viticulturist; you need to understand and work with nature. Being aware of and connected to your sensory perception and knowing that your palate connects with that of wine appreciators, connoisseurs and professionals. Understanding what elegance and finesse are in a wine. Having a good perceptual memory from benchmarking.

9. Your daughter is now starting to make her own wine. What advice will you give her if she wants to continue on this career path? To have the freedom and opportunity to experience and learn from the top producers in the world and thereafter to implement her own style of viticulture and winemaking in an exciting place.

10. List three things you think about during a busy vintage? The vintage should never be busy; to keep focussed you need a calm environment. You need to organise and plan upfront so that there are not too many surprises. Make sure you have enough diesel so you can feed the generator (a very practical South African thought!).

11. You have a very strong sustainability programme in place. How does this affect the way you think about and produce your wines? It is important to protect our natural heritage and our environment, so we have to treat our soil with respect; it’s one of our biggest capitals. Sustainability is the best way to achieve optimal grapes – the key source to exceptional wines. Besides this we are a predator friendly farm and make sure we are a protected gateway for the endangered mountain leopards of the region.

12. Where next for Creation Wines? What can we expect to see happen with Creation over the next 5-10 years? We are starting to understand our terroir and in combination with older vineyards we see the potential for developing better and better quality through incremental and continuous improvements. Producing site specific, quality driven wines that certainly put South Africa on the world map as a top producer.

13. How important is food in the context of your wines? There is no other beverage in the world that has as much culture as wine. Celebrating wine culture at its best includes great company, fine wines and fine food. A thoughtful combination will elevate one’s experience and this is something that we are mindful of at Creation. This is what we do every day, looking for those epiphany moments. In order to produce great food wines, one needs refreshing natural acidity to clean the palate between mouthfuls of food, elegant fruit and the judicious use of oak. Sly chameleon wines elevate the experience of fine wine and fine food pairing.

14. Your wines have won some fantastic awards. What do these awards mean to you and the team? We recognise the daily effort that is spent by the team the whole year through to produce such distinctive wines. That said, the most rewarding aspect of our business is our clients purchasing our wines – the highest recognition of our effort and quality.

15. Which other wine producers on the global stage do you most admire and why? Elio Altare in Barolo handles to perfection an exceptionally difficult cultivar such a Nebbiolo. Daniel Gantenbein in Grisons converting an unremarkable light structured Pinot Noir region into a high end competitive region against Burgundy. Stephan Neipperg from Châteux Canon La Gaffeliere producing honest Merlot driven Bordeaux-style blends in St Emillion. David Nieuwoudt from the Cederberg for frontier winemaking at its best. Domaine Coche-Dury, one of my favourite Chardonnay producers in Burgundy. Perrot-Minot in Morey-St-Denis for Pinot Noir an inspiration amongst many others.

You can buy the range of wines made by JC and his team at Creation Vineyards at SA Wines Online here.

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