Hamilton Russell was founded in 1975 by Tim Hamilton Russell, who pioneered the concept of cool-climate viticulture in South Africa's Western Cape when he purchased a 420 acre property at Walker Bay in the spectacular Hemel-en -Aarde ('Heaven on Earth' in Afrikaans) Valley - South Africa's southernmost wine region. The vineyards are situated on an elevated bench which has a splendid sense of isolation and remoteness, seemingly suspended in time as well as space. Despite not being visible from the vineyards (22 ha of pinot noir, 30ha of chardonnay) the ocean is just 3km away, and its cooling influence is omnipresent. The soil - low vigour, stony, clay-rich Bokkeveld Shale - is shockingly reminiscent of the great terroirs of the Cote d'Or: no surprise that the Burgundian grapes thrive in it.
After over 30 years of dedication to the Burgundian ideals of balance and elegance, Hamilton Russell 's wines have become global benchmarks; not just for pinot noir and chardonnay, but as exemplary cool-climate wines that effortlessly combine New World vitality and Old World finesse. Hamilton Russell is universally acknowledged to be one of greatest wine producers in South Africa.
Today the estate is run by Tim's son Anthony Hamilton Russell, who looks and sounds very much as if he had been educated at Eton and Oxford, which as it happens, he was. Anthony is profoundly intellectual, insightful, and deeply passionate about the place where he feels blessed to be able to live and work. He seems to know everything about the geography, geology, ecology and history of the Western Cape, and has a wonderful way of sharing the wonder of what he knows about his property - that it has been inhabited by humans for 200,000 years (he has discovered the Middle Stone Age tools to prove it); that the Portuguese where there on their first voyage to South Africa in 1498 (he can show you the cross they carved in stone on a clifftop high above the sea); that the Fynbos ecosystem is amongst the most diverse on earth (9,000 plant species, of which 6,200 are endemic. The UK has 2,200 species). In short, he loves the place, and is totally dedicated to making wines that express its uniqueness.
With the 2015 vintage Hamilton Russell will introduce its 4th winemaker Emul Ross. The winemaking job at Hamilton Russell has over the years been a brilliant career move. All three of the previous winemaker’s have moved on to start their own wineries: the illustrious Peter Finlayson (now proprietor of Bouchard Finlayson); Kevin Grant (now making pinot and chard of his own at Ataraxia) and Hannes Storm who recently founded Storm Wines. The resolutely understated style of the wines - always refined, subtle and stylish - disguises somewhat the relentless spirit of experimentation and innovation that defines them. It is intriguing to contemplate that perhaps the biggest risk that Hamilton Russell has taken is to be too sophisticated to be given credit for sophistication.
Having worked for decades improving the selection of vines, focusing on locating the very best microterroirs and endlessly refining the application of yeasts, lees, and oak, Anthony is now shifting his focus to the life of the soil and sustainable farming practices, and instituting elements of biodynamic farming. He is also introducing clay amphora for fermentation and aging -what could be more fitting for someone so fascinated by history - and astonishingly, underwater aging of wines, with barrels submerged in shark cages!
In the world of wine, 'what goes around comes around'. As what is old becomes new, it is immensely satisfying to observe that a beautiful estate on the fringe of Africa is literally and figuratively on the cutting edge....and how pleasing is it to be able to imagine a brave new world of wine that is neither Old nor New?