Western Cape, South Africa
Hamilton Russell was the first wine estate planted in Walker Bay, founded by Tim Hamilton Russell in 1975 and since that time has carved out a reputation for producing wines that straddle the old and new worlds. Only two varieties are grown: there are 22 Ha of Pinot Noir vines, and 30 Ha of Chardonnay. This contrasts with the usual new world model of growing perhaps 10 different varieties, with no attempt to concentrate on the varieties that best suit the terroir available. In addition, recent vineyard improvement (the old Champagne clones of Pinot Noir have gradually been replaced with better vines) is paying off with an increase in quality of the Pinot Noir. They’ve now expanded to include a second label – Southern Right – to produce a varietal Pinotage, and a Chenin-based white.
Tim Hamilton Russell was chairman of one of South Africa's leading advertising companies when he purchased a run down property in 1975 that was to become one of the finest wine farms in the country. In an industry not renowned for its progressive politics, he was a passionate advocate of minimum wages for black workers and was a prime mover in the abolition of the Dop system of paying wages in wine.
The estate is located only 3 kilometres from the Atlantic ocean and the cool breezes that come in off the ocean make this the coolest region for wine production in South Africa. Hamilton Russell wines are now only made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,grown on low vigour, stony, clay-rich Bokkeveld shale slopes. Present proprietor Anthony Hamilton Russell and winemaker Kevin Grant produced exemplary wines that are restrained yet complex and, most importantly, express their respective origins and terroirs. Hannes Storm who worked with Kevin Grant before and worked at Sumaridge for a season has taken over the Hamilton Russell cellar.
When Anthony Hamilton-Russell returned in the early 1990s from a stint at Wharton Business School by way of the illustrious Elon College in Great Britain, he had big plans for his father's vineyard, which he purchased in 1994. His first task was to help make South African wines known around the world—a country-wide initiative that is still underway—and, more importantly, to put the wines of Hamilton-Russell on the map.
"At the time, no one knew what we had here in South Africa, whether it was desert or jungle," Anthony explained. "And they looked at our wines as we might look at Chinese wines today—although there’s some good stuff there!"
Rather than trying to recreate wines from such mainstays as France and Italy, Anthony decided the main focus of Hamilton-Russell Vineyards would be to produce a wine that had a real sense of place, vintages that drew directly from Walker Bay's native terroir. He scaled back production at the vineyard to only two wines, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay, and prides his vintages as having "individuality and expression of origin."
Testing soil from across its 52 hectares, Hamilton-Russell Vineyards pinpointed the particular portions of the estate that produce the best cultivar and today only these particular sections grow Hamilton-Russell grapes. To reinforce this sense of place, the wine bottles are made locally. Anthony is even experimenting with drying his own oak right in the vineyard. The wood will then be shipped back to France and fashioned into barrels. Hamilton-Russell strongly believes in the power of wood, "If you cut corners on your barrels, you will ultimately diminish the quality of the wine."
Not surprisingly, quality is another big sticking point for Anthony Hamilton-Russell, who admits "the reason we became an estate was so that we could do stupid things financially in the name of quality." Following that line of thinking, Hamilton-Russell does not believe in reserve wines. "If you have a reserve, what does that say about the quality of your other wines? Why should you produce a lesser quality grape or a lesser vintage?"
See Southern Right wines we sell