Wines of Creation

An Evening with Jean-Claude Martin

In South African Wine
on 21 Sep 16

Last week I had the immense pleasure of joining the Blue Crane Imports gang for dinner with Jean-Claude Martin, winemaker at Creation Wines in Walker Bay.

Creation Viognier

Martin and his wife Carolyn Martin own the winery together. I tasted a few wonderful Creation wines while I was in South Africa, but never the full range; we're working with the excellent sauvignon blanc/sémillon in the shop right now and its mineral notes and little kick of poblano are a huge hit with my sauv drinkers. Walker Bay is one of my favorite South African regions for hauntingly complex white wines, and that was before I tasted Jean-Claude Martin's viognier.

Viognier and I have a rough history. I almost never choose single-varietal viognier for my own consumption; it's a tricky grape that doesn't reach its full flavor intensity (which, even at its best, is the super-floral potpourri aromatic thing that just isn't what I look for in a white wine for my own use) until about 14% ABV a lot of the time, at which point it's usually missing the acidity I crave. With maybe one exception, I've never had one I really loved.

But I really loved Creation's. Its mineral intensity and delicate structure made the aromatics seem welcome, not heavy-handed, with a finish that just goes on and on for days. Like many of my favorite South African winemakers and winery owners, Martin is very old-world in his thinking (he's from Switzerland), and it shows in the elegance and restraint his wines display. "Our competition is the old world," he told us at dinner at Taus Authentic, where his wines married happily with oysters, charcuterie, and duck breast. "When you look at Burgundy, they haven't jumped on fashion trends; they stick to the place and that's what we try to do at the end of the day."

Creation Chardonnay is also pretty incredible, with the same fierce acidity that runs through all the wines complementing a lush surge of tropical fruit and maybe a little green gooseberry. It's fermented in oak that yields a subtle vanilla note, not at all heavy. On acidity, a hallmark of his wines along with that Walker Bay minerality, Martin says, "To add tartaric is a marriage that can never work." And with his terroir, it seems wholly unnecessary.

We also tasted through merlot, syrah/grenache, and pinot noir; while they were all delicious, the merlot really stole my heart, as South African merlot tends to do. Chocolate, berries, pepper, maybe a touch of eucalyptus? Delightful, especially with my impeccably prepared duck breast.

I'm quite lucky to have had the chance to experience these wines in the perfect environment: with excellent food and Jean-Claude Martin's thoughtful analysis. But they shine in a variety of settings, and I encourage anyone who, like me, has fallen in love with cool South Africa to seek them out.

Julia Burke reviews South African wine and writes about social justice, the South African wine industry, and her own adventures in winemaking.