Tucked away into the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley that leads down to Walker Bay and the historic fishing and renowned whale-watching town of Hermanus is Bouchard Finlayson. Built in 1989, this wine estate is centuries younger than the vast majority of its Cape contemporaries but its award-winning range of delicious wines goes to show that you don’t need to have an original Cape Dutch manor house or cellars draped in cobwebs to produce truly great vino.
Touring the grounds and cellar
We arrived at Bouchard Finlayson on a spectacular autumn day in the southwestern Cape with only the gentlest of breezes stirring. From the vantage point of the estate’s reception, we drank in rolling vistas of hills lushly carpeted with vineyards and, on the 100 or so hectares of land that isn’t cultivated, thriving fynbos vegetation of which Bouchard Finlayson is actually a conservancy. Above us, an azure sky yawned with almost artistic smears of crystalline high-level clouds. The Hemel-en-Aarde valley (“sky and Earth”) is one of those places whose name perfectly captures the reality.
With eyeballs and hearts drunk on the beauty of our surroundings, we embarked upon a tour of Bouchard Finlayson, which is owned by the Red Carnation Hotels’ Tollman Family and falls under the leadership of Victoria Tollman, founder Peter Finlayson, and winemaker Chris Albrecht. The tour was conducted by Chris Albrecht himself, a decorated, well-travelled, and experienced winemaker who has also been described as an “injection of new blood with experience in old-world winemaking.
We walked the pristine and (for us parched Capetonians) blissfully green grounds of the estate before descending into the bowels of the cellars, where the alchemy of transforming the recently harvested and pressed grape juice into wine was underway. Our exploration of the farm’s operations was accompanied by Chris’ riveted tales of oenology and organic chemistry, which awoke my inner science geek and enhanced my anticipation for the finished product.
The proof is in the pudding
Tour concluded, we made our way to the absolutely stunning and richly appointed tasting room, at the centre of which was an enormous harvest table heavily laden with glassware, bottles of wine, and food platters, featuring fresh bread, local bresaola, Colby and Gruberg cheeses from Stanford and Kleinrivier respectively, olive oil produced at Bouchard Finlayson, and a few other nibbles. Karen Davison, the estate’s PR and marketing manager, and winemaker Chris hosted the tasting and guided us through Bouchard Finlayson’s collection of wines.
First, a little background: Bouchard Finlayson is the collaborative brainchild and endeavour of celebrated French winemaker Paul Bouchard and local winemaker Peter Finlayson (hence the name). The latter, Peter Finlayson, is not only the first winemaker to set up shop in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley but he also most notably pioneered the success of Pinot Noir in South Africa, putting the Walker Bay region firmly on the wine-lovers map. As such, Bouchard Finlayson’s repertoire of reds is largely a celebration of this unusual cultivar, as well as a vast array of other Italian and French cultivars.
We began our tasting with the whites, of course, sampling the estate’s symphonic Sauvignon Blanc and regal range of Chardonnays: the flagship Missionvale Chardonnay, Crocodile’s Lair or Kaaimansgat Chardonnay, and the Sans Barrique Chardonnay. I could probably choose a favourite amongst the three, but only under threat of bodily harm. We then moved onto the reds: Bouchard Finlayson’s highly decorated flagship Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2016 and the Hannibal 2016, the latter being a powerful red blend of Sangiovese, Pinot noir, Nebbiolo, Mourvedré, Barbera, and Shiraz.
We concluded with a tasting of the Tête de Cuveé Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2013, a revelation of a wine whose spicy bouquet delivered a punch like a heavyweight boxer and had the indecency to follow it up with a complex and seductive flavour profile of raspberry, flowers, vanilla, and truffle. Delicious.
Seafood dinner on the beach
One could be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t get better than tasting great wine in a gorgeous setting while munching on a delicious assortment of local foods but, just this once, it actually does. The team at Bouchard Finlayson bundled us up into a van and shuttled us over to a sandy, boulder-strewn cove where a table with more food and wine (some older vintages of the wines we had tasted too) had been set up for us.
Our perfect day at Bouchard Finlayson evolved into the perfect evening on the beach, and we wasted no time in filling our glasses with the estate’s Blanc de Mer (a dry white blend of Weisser Rhiesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc). Against the stunning backdrop of a setting sun, we sipped on this deliciously fragrant, easy-drinking wine while eagerly watching our seafood dinner being made: a heaped plate of Cajun-spiced calamari and the most exquisite risotto-style seafood paella, featuring crayfish meat, white fish, and slivers of sustainably farmed abalone.
Bouchard Finlayson is a testament to the fact that the age of a wine farm is no sure indicator of the quality of its wines. With ingredients such as old world experience, new world innovation, winemaking talent, intelligent experimentation, the natural beauty of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and a terroir and climate that is conducive to viticulture, Bouchard Finlayson is the ultimate recipe for truly exceptional experiences and prized memories.
This, the home of Pinot Noir, is now also the home for a little piece of our hearts.
Plan a day (or weekend) trip to the area and be sure to stop over at Bouchard Finlayson to indulge your senses in more ways than one.
Phone: 028 312 3515