Friday 10 August 2018

Creative Food and Wine Pairings at Creation Wines

Producer: Creation Wines

Viognier is a specialty of Creation Wines, who were the first to grow it in Hemel-en-Aarde. This unoaked, peachy wine serves as a great aperitif.

Which do you think would be easier? Planning a visit to a winery for wine experts or for casual wine lovers? From my experience it is planning for the casual wine lover that is more challenging. For example, wine professionals usually would not mind spending hours listening to the minutiae of vineyard treatments, fermentation techniques and oak maturation. For the casual wine lover however, visuals are important and there must be activities that allow him or her to feel involved with the wine. Knowing the target audience is a key principle of marketing, and it works when planning group outings as well.

So it was after exhaustive research that I finally settled on Creation Wines in Hemel-en-Aarde as the sole winery visit during my recent South Africa trip. I had tentatively proposed more than one, but the apprehensive looks cast my way dissuaded me. Creation Wines looked to have a good balance of interesting wines, an opportunity to tour the vineyard and an attractive menu with varied options from chocolate and wine pairings to the whole six-course shebang. This was the first time that I had used TripAdvisor to check on visitor feedback, and the positive reviews provided another reassurance. Our plans changed several times, but the emails to Creation were always replied promptly and they were very obliging in accommodating us. Plus with such an evocative name (Hemel-en-Aarde means Heaven on Earth), who could resist visiting this region?

As fate would have it we encountered a traffic jam out of Cape Town and had to choose between lunch and attempting to view whales from shore at Hermanus. Stomachs rumbling, we were rewarded when after fifteen minutes a mother and her calf drifted close enough that we could view them in detail without binoculars. Once we had ticked that particular item off the list, it was straight to Creation Wines for our appointment where we prayed that the kitchen would still be open. Our hosts were kind enough to allow us to mix and match menu options and even asked us what style of wine we preferred so that they could tailor the wine pairing accordingly. The first indication of the chef’s brilliance was when the breadbasket arrived, playfully shaped like a bird’s nest with reddish-brown rolls made with Pinot Noir wine. Not even our hunger pangs could prevent us from whipping out our phones to snap a few photos. We were similarly charmed by the enormous charcuterie and cheese platter that was beautifully accented by fresh flowers.

Delicious bread from Creation Wines

A gorgeous platter of bread, fruits, cheese, meats and compote from Creation Wines. Not on the menu but available on request.

Halfway through the meal, we were joined by Carolyn Martin, one half of the dynamic duo that started Creation Wines (the other being her husband and winemaker Jean-Claude Martin). She shared how she had been communicating with Jeannie Cho Lee MW, who is based in Hong Kong, on how to incorporate fermented ingredients into the menu. Chef Francois Hugo proudly showed off the kimchi that he had obtained from Korea, which is chock-full of umami flavour. In fact, it is not easy to pair umami-rich foods with wine, as the savouriness of the dish tends to rob the wine of its fruit. However the typical Creation wine is more fruit forward and less tannic, which means that it shows great versatility and makes for wonderful food pairings.

The food and wine pairing programme is Carolyn’s brainchild, and shows that she too, knows her target audience. The dishes were light and flavourful, with fresh ingredients sourced regionally. For those who do not consume alcohol, there was even a non-alcoholic pairing option with tea and canapés, and another menu specially designed for children. Service was flawless, as a result of Carolyn’s extensive investment in developing her staff. Even the administrative personnel are given the opportunity to make their own wine just so they get a feel for the effort required. One part of the wine tasting that stood out was when the same wine was presented in two different glasses, and we could see how the shape of the glass affected the taste of the wine.

Tasting the range of Chardonnay wines in Riedel glasses

Creation Wines is a fairly new operation, having started in 2002, but I was impressed by the energy of its young owners and staff. They have gotten the formula for welcoming guests down to a T, and by engaging consumers in a personal and interactive manner demonstrate a deft understanding of how to market wine to millennials. They did not just introduce the wines, but also invited us to explore the heritage and story behind the winery. It’s a great model and one that I hope more wineries will learn from.

A member of the Creation team noticed this rock, shaped like South Africa. It's location in the vineyard is now protected.

The vineyards of Creation Wines are 100% virus-free. The leafroll virus is endemic to South Africa and affects the ripening of grapes.

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