One of the many pleasures of visiting the winery on Hemelrand farm on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, turning off just before the road’s shocking condition gets intolerable, is seeing the camaraderie of the two winegrowers who’ve been renting space there. Chris Alheit (leaving aside his winemaking partner and wife Suzaan, as she is usually too exhaustedly coping with two babies to be present) and Peter-Allan Finlayson are not only fixtures at the vibrantly exciting edge of Cape winemaking in their rather different fields, but they’re also old friends. “Butch” and “Fin” they are to each other, from schooldays, and clearly very close.
So it was on my visit there last month. But I learned then that the days of the shared space – though not of the friendship – were numbered. Partly it was clear that the place was getting too small for two labels that are growing apace (to the greater glory of Cape wine, let it be said). Chris Alheit was almost embarrassed at showing the huge increase in the number of barrels containing components for his brilliant Alheit Family Vineyards Cartology blend and his single-vineyard wines – there are going to be a few more of the latter from the 2014 vintage, I’m glad to say – and they were all tasting very promising, though a few were still slowly bubbling away as they dragged out their fermentations, aided by little warming gadgets to keep the yeasty enthusiasm going.
Peter-Allan’s Crystallum label is also expanding, as he adds to his range of single-vineyard pinot noirs. There was Cuvée Cinéma in addition to the Peter Max blend, then with 2012 he introduced Bona Fide, from a different site in the Hemel-en-Aarde. A fourth pinot has now been vinified from a young vineyard next to the famous Kaaimansgat chardonnay vineyard in the extraordinary and unique Elandskloof valley near Villiersdorp. And there’s might be another on the way soon, I gather – but nosy journalists don’t always get told everything.
Even though a nosy journalist can keep his mouth shut and his typing fingers under control when asked to. As I’ve been in relation Peter-Allan’s other bit of news, another reason why his days at Hemelrand were numbered. But now it’s become official. He is about to take on responsibility for the wines at Gabriëlskloof, not all that far distant, in the Bot River ward. His own barrels will fit in the capacious cellar there. There’s a close family connection which gives the appointment a lot of sense – Peter-Allan’s wife, Nicolene, is in charge of marketing there, and the daughter of Bernhard Heyns, the leading partner in the property.
Gabriëlskloof was established in 2002, with a maiden bottling in 2007. It’s made some good wines already – my favourite being the elegant and lively semillon-sauvignon blend, Magdalena – but I’d think that with Peter-Allan at the winemaking head (and, dare I say, with the influence of Chris Alheit lurking?) the wines are going to get rather more “natural”, less manipulated, and more interesting. Let’s hope so, anyway.
The new winemaker officially starts on 1 July. In his email, he appended an exclamation mark to the date, and added: “Terrified”. Well, it’ll do him good to have to make something other than pinot and chardonnay…. (And I should add that I have no doubt he’ll do it extremely well.)