Bouchard Finlayson in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

Part 5 of Stellenbosch Visio‘s exclusive discovery of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley’s vinous treasures…

Renowned for its ancient soils of Bokkeveld shale and maritime climate – at the southern tip of Africa lies Bouchard Finlayson.

Situated next to Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson was founded in 1989 by winemaking legend Peter Finlayson, who was the first winemaker at the neighbouring farm. Peter, a dead-ringer for a more elegantly preserved Ernest Hemingway, still oversees all aspects of this prestigious winery, with Chris Albrecht having the task of creating a broad range of wines under the mentor’s watchful eye.

And these wines are brilliant. It has been said of Peter that he knows the lie of the land in the valley like the palm of his hand: the soil, the rainfall patterns, the bracing wind blowing in from the ocean. “Terroir is indeed the key to our success in Hemel-en Aarde,” he maintains.

The 125ha property has only 22ha under vine, with the rest of the estate left wild as a conservancy of indigenous fynbos flora. The winery began as a collaboration between Paul Bouchard, the celebrated Burgundian winemaker, and the developing genius of Peter Finlayson. Together they broke the soil, planted the vines and built the cellar that would become world renowned as Bouchard Finlayson. This blend of old and new world can be found in everything, from the mix of steel and concrete tanks to the modern and classical art on the walls, right through to the wines themselves. 

Peter, as the first winemaker in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, is renowned for pioneering South African Pinot Noir, as well as putting the Walker Bay wine region on the map. His dedication to making the finest wines is illustrated across the range of Bouchard Finlayson products.

Chris Albrecht, winemaker at Bouchard Finlayson dedicated to the pursuit of “unattainable perfection”; and Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2018, grown on the slopes of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, possesses an intriguingly perfumed dark-cherry and wild-berry accent, deftly balanced, with elegant tannins and a lengthy finish.

The giants, naturally, are the two offerings of Pinot Noir: Tête de Cuvée and Galpin Peak, which reflect the hardy tightness of the soils in seemingly austere backbones that in their youth can appear tight and abrupt. Tête de Cuvée is a barrel selection from vintages identified as stellar, the wines being polished with a heart-breaking velvety plushness to embrace the dollops of dense dark fruit. That magical note of mushrooms and forest floor, so sought after by Pinot-philes, arrives as the wine draws from the benefit of bottle-age. Galpin Peak is fresher, with crunchy red fruit and firmer tannins that guide this Pinot Noir into a realm of utmost deliciousness. Its presence lies as much in purity as it does in power.

On the Chardonnay side, Bouchard Finlayson Missionvale is another fantastic example of what this region can do with the noble white princess of Burgundy. There’s lots of flowers and honeysuckle going around here, with a coaxing butteriness just gently suppressing the taut minerality.

There is also a brute of a wine called Hannibal, which brings together Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Nebbiolo, Mourvèdre and Barbera in a truly unique-tasting blended red craftwork. This and more can be found in a well-run tasting-room that complements the class of the wines.

Peter Finlayson: founder, cellar-master and wine legend. 

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