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At last count there were close on 600 wineries dotted around South Africa’s Western Cape winelands. While not all of them offer an estate tasting experience, competition between wine producers for feet through the door has never been fiercer.
While the cellars of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek can count on plenty of passing traffic thanks to their proximity to Cape Town, wineries further afield have to work even harder to entice locals and tourists to the far-flung corners of the Cape winelands.
So perhaps little surprise that Creation Wines was named the South African winner of the ‘Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences’ category in the Great Wine Capitals’ Best of Wine Tourism Awards 2016.
Two hours’ drive from Cape Town, along a coastline that throngs with Southern Right whales in late-winter and spring, the road bends inland towards the Hemel-en-Aarde [Heaven and Earth] valley. And you’d be hard-pressed to think of a finer name for this gorgeous corner of the Cape, where mountains clad in indigenous vegetation soar above a patchwork of orchards, farmland and vineyards. And at the northern end of the valley, Creation Wines awaits.
The estate was the ‘creation’ of Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin, who in 2002 transformed pasturelands into perfect rows of trellised vineyards. Today, those vineyards are laid out for visitors to admire from the stylish tasting room. If the weather’s fine the terrace tables are your best bet; if it’s not, bag a seat by the crackling fireplace.
It’s not a place to rush through though, for the highly-capable staff lay on a tasting that puts others in the shade. No stiff bar counters and tiny tasting glasses here, rather spacious wooden tables and varietal-specific glasses by Riedel. Settle in and take your time, for even the ‘standard’ tasting walks you through the 10 wines produced on the estate. The region is famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and they are certainly the standouts here, but don’t miss the vibrant Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah/Viognier blend. A Méthode Cap Classique (Méthode Champenoise) sparkling wine is due for release later this year too.
An innovative tasting for children featuring fruit juices
Crucially, the tasting room staff are more than mere pourers: they can happily talk you through the impact of the cool-climate terroir, or the oaking regime of each wine. I discover later that they are all trained to level 2 on the respected Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) program, and it shows.
Creation also cleverly fuses food and wine with their ‘tapas pairing’ menu that sees eight small plates matched to specific wines: think creamy cauliflower and gorgonzola soup with the Merlot, or duck breast and goat’s milk cheese paired with a Pinot. It’s a delicious way to discover the wines as well as local produce from the region.
The menu doesn’t stop there though: chocolate-and-wine pairings (all the rage in the Cape at the moment) pair four wines with bespoke chocolates, while the ‘secret pairing’ pits your palate against five estate wines tasted blind. Kids are catered for too, with a special menu and ‘surprise’ pairing using fruit juices, as well as a dedicated playroom filled with toys and games.
It seems no detail is too small at Creation Wines, where the guest experience has been thoroughly thought through, and perfected at every turn. It’s been just 14 years since the genesis of the Jean-Claude and Carolyn’s dream, but their remarkable visitor offering makes them a worthy winner of this year’s Innovation award. And well worth the scenic drive from Cape Town.