Part 6 of Stellenbosch Visio‘s exclusive discovery of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’s vinous treasures…
Heaven became a place on South African soil for Malawian-born winemaker Kevin Grant when he started making wine in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Kevin may be one of the new wave of winemakers, but there is something classical, even elemental, to his approach. The entire Ataraxia estate expresses this philosophy, from the vines rooted in some of the most ancient soils in the world to the small, white wine lounge with the simplicity of a village chapel and its exquisite mountain and valley views. The Greek name Ataraxia that Kevin chose for his wine range fittingly evokes emotional tranquillity, a serene state of mind.
The mundane and the ordinary would not be part of the vernacular on the estate. That is what Kevin and his wife Hanli decided right from the start when, in 2004, they and some friends bought a farm of arresting beauty on rolling foothills beneath a towering peak in the Babylonstoren mountain range.
Since then this 47ha property, aptly named The Skyfields Farm, has been transformed into what became the Ataraxia wine label. Kevin was no novice winemaker. An alumnus of Elsenburg, he had already been responsible for 10 highly successful vintages of the Hamilton Russell estate. Over the years, his respect for the soil grew to the extent that he no longer considers himself a winemaker. “I’m a terroiriste and a soil farmer,” he told Stellenbosch Visio. “I once read something that struck a chord and has shaped my approach to winemaking ever since: ‘The purer the voice of the soil, the more interesting the wine.’”
Kevin sees it as a huge privilege to be cultivating some of the most ancient soils on Earth. The 14 soil types on Ataraxia are derived from deposits of Table Mountain sandstone, Cape granite and Bokkeveld shale that date back more than one billion years. All the Ataraxia vineyards are planted on elevated south-facing slopes and the wines they produce, Kevin stresses, are a pure expression of the soil in which they grow. His patch of land, he says, gives his wines a specific ‘address’. He also resolutely sticks to only four wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Serenity, a red blend.
For him the Ataraxia Chardonnay is the queen of all wines. “Life without Chardonnay is like not being able to breathe!” Then there’s the other varietal he reveres, the temperamental Pinot Noir. The grapes flourish on the stony, clay-rich soils derived from Bokkeveld shale and, high up in the cold valley air, are the very last to be picked in Hemel-en-Aarde.
An unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Cinsault and Pinotage goes into the making of Ataraxia Serenity, a wine that is said to whisper about its origins in radical sites while imparting its stylish tranquillity.