Every winemaker has a confidant, someone they talk ‘shop’ with, that person alongside them that advises on whether the grapes are ready for the picking when to harvest, what winemaking techniques to employ. That someone who walks the vineyards with them. Just to keep them company. For Arno Smith, this is Saartjie. And she is a Jack Russell. She is his right-hand man, and he remembers the very first time he laid eyes on her as a puppy. The connection was instant. How fitting then, that he dedicated his single vineyard range to her.
When Arno is asked about the origin of her name, his face lights up. There are two stories. The first, named for a first-grade reading book from school, Boet and Saartjie. The second, Saartjie is an old family name. A Great aunt of his – a fierce old lady – who also cautiously observed and assessed from a distance, and then when needed to intervene or to stand her ground, she would make herself known and silence all the wrong say- or doers. Just like Saartjie does.
She has become very well known among the people of the valley as well as the estate’s loyal supporters. People visiting the restaurant often bring their dogs with to have regular playdates with the ‘friendly Saartjie’.
Saartjie never leaves Arno’s side, she’s a pro Quad bike driver and a master in picking the best grapes and even makes better wine than he can. Saartjie even eats grapes, early in the mornings when Arno samples the vineyards to establish which grapes must be harvested next. Saartjie loves nothing more than to run alongside him waiting for a grape to fall out of his hands so that she can quickly scoop it up. Her favourite seems to be the Semillon grapes.
So in 2016, Arno decided to experiment by making a Semillon, which is mostly used in blends, and more commonly with Sauvignon Blanc. He harvested a ton of Semillon grapes and fermented these in old French oak barrels, using a technique called wild fermentation. This simply means that no commercial yeast was added to help with the fermentation process, therefore allowing the process to take place naturally. After fermentation, the wine was matured in French oak barrels for a further six months with added neutral French oak staves to ensure a fuller rounder mouth feel.
The result was a Semillon with rich aromas of honey, toffee, vanilla and citrus flavours which carry through on to the palate, for a lingering finish.
The Semillon is dedicated to Saartjie so that her name will be forever remembered. And that while drinking the Saartjie Semillon, be reminded that there’s no better friend than a four-legged one. The response from colleagues to the Saartjie label and the Semillon was overwhelming, which led to Arno taking his experimental phase up a notch.
Hillcrest is known for producing Bordeaux cultivar wines. In 2004 three essential cultivars were planted, namely Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. What started off as experimental and testing the waters to see how their consumers would respond to these cultivars, resulted in stand-alone wines, and ultimately the Saartjie Single Vineyard Selection range. Together with the Semillon, the range comprises the following:
A beautiful Cabernet Franc with a chalky nose, and hints of wild blossoms and spicy notes. Firm structure, soft tannins with flavours of blackcurrant and herbs, resulting in a long finish.
A crowd favourite, the Malbec shows an impressive depth of colour. Complex nose of blackberries, plum and black cherry flavours. A lively, well-balanced wine with accessible supple tannins.
Completing the range is the serious Petit Verdot with an intense dark colour, and aromas of cassis, lively fruit and liquorice on the nose. The wine has a dense palate with impressive tannin structure and a persistent finish.
The reds are a 2016 vintage, while the Semillon is a 2017 vintage. Available only from the estate the wines are available to purchase at R125 each.
For more information visit www.hillcrestfarm.co.za.