Hillcrest duo hit on perfect recipe for success

ARTIST AND MUSE: Hillcrest winemaker Arno Smith with his faithful hound and good-luck charm, Saartjie
AmoSmith ARTIST AND MUSE: Hillcrest winemaker Arno Smith with his faithful hound and good-luck charm, Saartjie
Image: supplied

A Jack Russell with a taste for Semillon and a winemaker who divides his love between his dog and Cabernet Franc come together in the story of the Saartjie range of wines from Hillcrest in Durbanville.

Winemaker Arno Smith and his Jack Russell, Saartjie, are inseparable and you’re unlikely to find Arno in vineyard or cellar without the perky little hound close by. The Saartie range, the middle of Hillcrest’s three ranges, was inspired by Saartjie’s taste for semillon, the only grape she will pick up and eat on her and Arno’s regular walks through the vineyards.

Like all the single vineyard wines in the Saartjie range, the 2018 Semillon is rated 4* in Platter’s and is a really intriguing wine (R145). Served closer to room temperature than freezing cold, the wine opens up into lovely floral and fruit layers rather than too much of the paraffin-waxiness characteristic of semillon.

Six months in old oak is “kind” to the wine, says marketing manager Elize Bothma, giving it subtle smokiness on the nose, and together with all wild fermentation, puts the focus on the fruit — honeysuckle, melon, a touch of sultana, the nectar tones balanced with a great zip of acidity.

Saartjie must be a good-luck charm, as Arno’s first 300 bottles of the semillon sold out within 60 days, while the 2017 cabernet franc landed a top-6 spot in last year’s Cab Franc Challenge.

“When I decided to become a winemaker, I vowed to produce wines that could be enjoyed by a diverse group of wine lovers. I wanted my hand-crafted art to bring people together and to be the reason for happiness around the dinner table.

“So, to receive a mail to inform you that you have won an award … It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world!” says Arno.

Aptly so, because cab franc is his favourite wine to make and the winner has all the grape’s typical characteristics of a richly aromatic, leafy, slightly chalky nose and complex flavours blending floral, earthiness and spicy sandalwood. It’s fresh and delicious and likely to age rather well. At R165, you could easily call this a bargain.

Hillcrest is a boutique estate, producing only about 6,000 cases a year, its sloping vineyards cooled by the Atlantic breezes that sweep up to Durbanville, and it is the only farm in Durbanville with Malmesbury shale (or “hornfels”) soils, which give the wines a distinctive mineral flintiness and freshness.

The soil lends its name to the estate’s 4.5* Bordeaux-style blend, Hornfels 2014 (R310),  another intriguing wine. It is not as big as some in that style, very fresh, with a fragrant, savoury nose, the blend driven by cab franc and petit verdot. Together with a substantial cabernet sauvignon component and a dash of merlot, each component is aged individually in new barrels for nine months — “each building its individual character on its own” — and then matured a further nine months after blending, “to build the character of the blend”, says Elize.

The distinctive Hillcrest flintiness underpins concentrated, complex dark fruit, the wine elegant and fresh with a distinctive finish. It’s fairly approachable now, but give it another five to 10 years for something likely to be seriously impressive.

Hillcrest’s entry level range offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, fresh and ripe with a nice touch of richness, a freshly tropical Sauvignon Blanc, and the juicy, easy-drinking Red Shale 2017 red blend — all great quality for under R100.

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