A divine Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde
Anthony Hamilton Russell has just entered his 29th year at the helm of his family estate in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Taking the reins from his father in 1991, he narrowed the focus to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and set about mapping the 52-hectare property to maximize its potential. Along the way, two sibling labels, Southern Right and Asbourne, were added to explore different grape varieties and neighbouring properties as Hamilton Russell’s property extended along the slope in the region whose name means “Heaven and Earth” in Afrikaans.
Later this year, the Hamilton Russell name will expand beyond the confines of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. A new line of Pinot Noir — Hamilton Russell Oregon — will launch with a price point of $85 US per bottle
The proprietor explains he’s always had a desire to work with Pinot Noir in other regions. If he had looked in Burgundy, he would likely only been able to work with grapes from lesser climats. “In Oregon, we had access to the very best of sites we were interested in.” Hamilton Russell cellarmaster Emul Ross headed to Oregon to produce the new wines, working out of the Jackson Family Wines Cellar in McMinnville. The debut release includes two offerings, from the Ribbon Ridge and Eola-Amity appellations respectively.
The Oregon project isn’t to say Hamilton Russell’s fortunes are fading at home. Quite the contrary. The estate has just released one of its most successful Pinot Noirs to date. The 2018 Pinot Noir is off-the-charts, with a ripe core of fruit framed by attractive mineral-rich and spice notes that add interest and complexity.
The 2,438 case production of the 2018 Pinot is the lowest since 2011. The quality, however, is truly impressive. Wet and cool weather in November and December affected flowering and fruit set, with reduced yields as a result. A warmer than average February, combined with very low yields and small berries yielded a riper more opulent expression of Pinot in 2018 compared to more elegant and polished 2017 vintage.
The Hamilton Russell house style centres on French oak barrels from François Frères, with a high percentage of “untoasted” barrels. The finished wine in 2018 was aged for 10 months in barrel and reflects a blend of 35 percent new wood, with 47 percent second fill and 18 percent third fill barrels. The goal is to let the fruit expresses itself without any interference.
Hamilton Russell explained he thought the 2018 wine fit nicely into the Hemel-en-Aarde's classic profile, which he describes as "Burgundian with a taste of South African sunshine." It's a terrific, age-worthy Pinot Noir that comes highly recommended.
About the Author
Christopher Waters has been writing about wine for two decades. He is the wine and spirits columnist at The Globe and Mail, education director of IWEG Drinks Academy and a WSET certified instructor at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, Brock University.
For 21 years, he was the editor/co-founder of Canada's largest circulation wine publication, VINES, and author of the nationally syndicated column, Waters & Wine.
An internationally recognized wine judge, Christopher represents Canada for the Six Nations Wine Challenge and served as head judge and organizer of the InterVin International Wine Awards from 2009-2019. He was awarded the Business Citizen of the Year at the 2011 Niagara Grape and Wine Festival and was received the VQA Promoters Award for Education, also in 2011.
Christopher has been organizing and conducting unforgettable corporate and private fine wine events for 20+ years. He has developed and conducted masterclasses and seminars and moderated panels for organizations, such as The Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, Wines of British Columbia, Wines of Chile, Wines of Germany and Wines of South Africa.