They say love is at the root of everything and nowhere is that more true than with the story of Creation Wines and the people behind the brand – husband and wife team Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin. The success story is seated not just in their love for each other, but in their love of wine and the wine industry.
Together they have created a winery from scratch; from buying land on a lofty ridge in South Africa, just 9km from the Atlantic Ocean, to planting vines, building a cellar and tasting room and developing their wine style. Now, 16 years after they began their labour of love, there are 14 different Creation Wines in the portfolio and many awards under their belt. Creation Wines is well and truly a success.
Jean-Claude (JC) was 14 when he worked his first harvest on his family’s vineyards on the banks of Lake Bienne in Switzerland. Carolyn – who had developed a career in design and marketing – has her own wine lineage. She was born and bred in the Cape Winelands, a member of the pioneering wine family Finlayson. When they married in 1999 JC and Carolyn lived in Switzerland but a visit to South Africa in 2002 changed everything. Carolyn explains: “We visited Hermanus and stayed with my uncle Peter Finlayson, who showed us the land. Peter was the first winemaker to plant chardonnay and pinot noir in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. JC comes from three generations of winemaking in Switzerland also specialising in chardonnay and pinot noir.”
Because of that background, JC was drawn by the prospect of growing quality grapes at 300m above sea level. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is within the Walker Bay region, a maritime-influenced district known for elegant chardonnay and pinot noir wine.
Together – and with the help of family – the Martins decided to establish the winery on virgin land, with no infrastructure. It was certainly a challenge which has paid off.
Carolyn explains the essence of their name: “The name Creation is not only a tribute to the riches Mother Nature has bestowed upon our farm, it is also a reference to the soils which had never been planted to vine before, and last, but not least, it is a promise of constant renewal. “There are few places in the world where one can plant such a variety of cultivars and that is due to our cool climate at Creation. We can prune and harvest these cultivars in a relaxed way without extreme weather conditions.” JC’s winemaking philosophy is based on “enhancing the beauty of nature”. He says: “When you are harvesting top quality fruit it is not necessary to manipulate the wine. Rather guide it gently through the winemaking process so as to preserve the sense of place. “Winemaking is a delicate art requiring restraint to capture the inherent nuances.”
When I told a handful of wine chums that I was reviewing Creation Wines, the view from all quarters was “amazing wines”. I have to agree.
Here’s my thoughts on eight Creation Wines. I also asked Carolyn, who has pioneered wine and food pairing options for visitors to their estate, for her reflections on each wine.
Ah, this is creme fraiche with an excitement of peach and apricot. The stone fruit aromas are so enticing; fresh, fresh, fresh as if there’s a bowl of newly-picked golden fruits right in front of you. There’s a frisson of spice – perhaps a dash of five-spice – which tickles the senses. The palate is inviting, as those same fresh fruits add more layers to your enjoyment. They’re not all encompassing but elegant and totally in balance with a good acidity. Together they create a delicious integrated wine with a flavour which persists..
Carolyn says: Very beautiful aromatics of white peaches and cream, delicious natural acidity and a great apero wine as well as perfect with Asian food with a little spice.
This wine has a fleck of green within its lemony depths and a nose dip brings a flash of hedgerow and grass. It’s keen and bright, like a wet hedgerow, glistening and fresh on a spring morning within a snap of sharp, flinty spring sunlight. But what’s this? Ah yes, succulent and juicy tropical passion fruit adds a richness on the nose. The palate is balanced by crisp citrus and tropical notes, with a vibrant acidity and a long fruity finish.
Carolyn says: Fab with sushi and sashimi as it is grown on clay. It has a good mid palate and can withstand soya, ginger and wasabi. In fact, a beautiful pairing with these foods.
There’s a subtle caress of vanilla on this wine’s aroma, but it is the fruit that makes a statement. Sauvignon blanc and semillon is a traditional Bordeaux blend and here the fruit opens up in layers, with ripe tropical fruit leading from the front. Citrus is persistent, giddy and excitable in the background. There’s a sense of place, of elegance, of an understated “knowing” richness which comes from 30% new oak and some lees contact. Oh, hang on, I’ve just picked up a twist of lime and a dash of salt – it’s certainly a wine of contrasts.
Carolyn says: It has all the aromatics of SB and then some fresh Atlantic seabreeze characteristics from Semillon. Great with seafood and oysters, asparagus, artichokes.
This is a perfection of chardonnay with limited new oak which has taken on the soul of lightly toasted pineapple, butter and vanilla. It has been created with a delicacy of touch which encourages those oaky nuances to sing, but a chorus line of zingy citrus and ripe notes of quince and pear are in fuller voice on the palate and combine in unison. The acidity hits the perfect pitch and together this is a wine in perfect harmony.
Carolyn says: Fresh notes and characteristics of the superb quality of the grapes. Fab food pairing wine, the queen of whites, very elegant.
This is a deep, deep red colour but not quite full-bodied as I can just about see the base of the glass when I look down into the wine. The aromas are potent. I’m sitting here now, the glass is over there and I’m over here (trust me) and the fruit cloud of blackberry and plum are reaching me. A nose-dip into the glass reveals a sweeter vein of strawberry and a veritable spark of pepper. Black olives weave their way into this aroma bomb, together with herbs (perhaps a flirt with mint). In the mouth the pepper dazzles, the fruit plays its part, the tannins are integrated and the acidity is cleansing.
Carolyn says: A perfect match of two cultivars for me the yin and yang of blends. The cool climate produces aromatic wine with lovely, fruit, spice and umami. Since the wine has a good natural acidity it is a great food wine.
Raspberry is ripe in this glass of pinot noir, with black pepper spice tingling and tempting. The fruit aromas cradle a gentler note of violets and redcurrant, with just a nod to something earthier. This isn’t a pinot noir which is shy and retiring, it is a pinot noir which is proud, fruitily fulsome and confident but still retains the essence of an elegant pinot noir. In the mouth, the wine is as silky and velvety as a puppy’s ear (if you know what I mean) with soft tannins and red fruit flavours and spice. Those notes are decidedly determined to stay as a memory long after your last sip.
Carolyn says: A cooler growing season with little rainfall, this resulted in a longer hang time between flowering and picking. It gave us very elegant flavour profiles/acidity and is a beautifully balanced product.
I don’t know what to say, other than amazing. Sometimes its wrong to taste test a wine solo, especially one such as this. As we had a little something to celebrate, I poured a taster each for me and my daughter (don’t fret, she’s old enough you know). What followed was this stream of adjectives. Summer pudding; damsons; cake; vanilla. Oh there were many more. It is a wonderful wine rich with red and black fruits, softened with that vanilla and sparked with black pepper and clove. There’s also a nuance of violets on the nose and together all those aromas (before I’d even tasted) had my mouth watering. Soft tannins, a long finish and good acidity seals the deal.
Carolyn says: 16 was a slightly warmer drier year, we picked the grapes a week earlier and could maintain a good natural acidity, berry size was slightly smaller. This gave us a good flavour concentration and a well structured elegant pinot noir.
This sparkling wine has a wonderful nose of rich, ripe apples and conference pear, embraced by caramel and a rumour of baking spice. There’s subtlety too, as a swirl of the glass releases a secret of flowers but then vanilla, brioche and dried fruits confidently nudge the floral notes to one side and take centre stage. The wine is brut nature, which means no added sugar was added after disgorgement (when the lees is removed from the bottle after the second fermentation). Sugar isn’t needed though, as a bright crisp acidity and those wonderful rich fruits coat the mouth and excite the palate.
Carolyn says: This is 80/20 chardonnay and pinot noir with three years in the bottle before disgorgement. A wonderful palate cleanser and natural MCC (method cap classique, same as traditional way of making champagne). It’s a great way to start and end the day!