I last visited Creation more than two years ago, when I wrote a story about the Hermanus Wine Route, which had been launched in 2011. Since then a number of changes have taken place, new chef Warwick Taylor offering even more heavenly food to match the heavenly Creation wines, living up to promise made in the Tasting Menu heading: ‘Original, distinctive flavours. Exceptional, harmonious matches’!
The road to travel to Creation was never in great condition, having been a gravel road 7 km before the entrance to the wine estate. They were very excited when the Western Cape province announced the tarring of the road to Caledon, and 3 km of the untarred section had been tarred when the construction contractor went bankrupt, a huge frustration for Creation. A number of months have gone by while the province appointed a new contractor, and work has finally commenced again, it taking ten months for the road to be completed, owner JC Martin estimated. The road currently is in a worse condition than it was on our last visit, in terms of its surface, with more accidents on the road, and having a stop/go system in place. Co-owner Carolyn Martin said she is placing pressure on the Western Cape Minister of Transport and Public Works Robin Carlisle to get things moving. Creation will have to possibly change its entrance once the tarring is complete. Despite the poor condition of the road, it was a surprise to see the car park at Creation completely full, Carolyn’s marketing of their wines and the Tasting Room being so excellent that tourists as well as Johannesburg and Pretoria locals come anyway.
I thought I had arrived without being recognised, but Carolyn had seen me (I was sitting with my back to the desk) and she called JC to come and say hello. JC was busy in the cellar with the preparation for the start of the harvest the following day, but made time to chat, reflecting how good they are in connecting with their customers (we stock their Whale Pod range) and visitors. JC said that the harvest is only 3 – 4 days later than last year after the wet winter, and that they have some botrytis, which his staff is picking out. He expected the harvest to take a little longer this year, being 3 – 4 weeks, depending on the weather. He shook his head, almost in disbelief, about their success at the tasting room, being full every day, and not just on weekend days, having done 90 covers on the Monday two days before, and over 100 per day over weekends, I was told by Chef Warwick. In December they had 500 – 600 visitors per day, having to set up tasting tables in the cellar too! JC told me that he will be spending more time at Creation in future, with about a third of his time going to Overhex Wines, where he is involved in the blending of their wines. He said it gets tough sometimes in being available, everybody wanting to see him. He attends events featuring their wines, in Cape Town and overseas in the main, while Carolyn does the Johannesburg ones. Despite being so busy, he said that he is 40 and is inspired to do even more. His assistant winemaker Werner du Plessis is in his third year at Creation, and he knows exactly how JC likes things done, so that allows JC to do other things. They have just installed new red wine maturation tanks, being able to take 300 tons of fruit, which will go to making 300000 bottles of wine.
JC is happy with where they are going on the food pairing with their wines, new Chef Warwick having raised the bar. The emphasis is on the wine first and foremost, and Chef Warwick has devised a menu that brings out the best in each of the Creation wines. The menu layout does not allow one to easily see the food items, being smaller in type size than the wines. As a starter I ordered a fresh, summery, beautifully plated Salad of prawns on pastry triangles, an avocado mousse, a mayonaisse of citrus and vanilla, topped with pea shoots, and interesting cuts of cucumber added as decoration (R75). The salad is paired with Creation Chardonnay 2013 (at R34 a glass). Other starter options are a pineapple and basil gazpacho with scallops (the only non-local ingredient on the menu, Chef Warwick said), cauliflower purée, capers, and raisins at R95 (paired with Creation Sauvignon Blanc 2013); Sweet corn, ginger and apricot spring roll with an Asian salad and dipping sauce at R65 (paired with Creation Viognier 2013 at R24); a beetroot, goat’s milk cheese panna cotta, and a lentil salsa at R65 (paired with Creation Pinot Noir 2012 at R69 a glass); and a Cauliflower and gorgonzola soup, sourdough herbed croûtes, and freshly baked bread at R45 (paired with Creation Merlot 2011 at R41 per glass). One can also order an Antipasti platter at R125 per person, or at R220 shared. A platter of Wine Pairing Canapés is also available, at R125 per person, presenting tasting portions of each starter and main course with the matching Creation wine, eight in total. I photographed the platter served at a neighbouring table. One can do a Secret Pairing too, at R250 per person, with four surprise starters paired with four Creation wines. A wine and chocolate pairing costs R75 per person.
There are three main courses: the highly recommended Rare roast loin of springbok, served with Hemel-en-Aarde valley mushrooms, spring greens, fondant potato, smoked marrow, and a Bordeaux-style blend reduction at R125, paired with a Creation blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot 2012 at R37 per glass; I insisted on having the excellent Braised pork belly, with a five spice wonton with potato mash, roast onion, spinach, and a prune and Darjeeling purée, at R125, paired with Creation Syrah 2012 at R41 per glass; and Roast duck breast and confit leg with buchu, and a Syrah, Grenache and shallot jus, at R135, paired with the Creation Syrah Grenache 2012 at R37 per glass. I wasn’t intending to drink any wine at all, given the road back to Hermanus, and work to be done later that evening. But the Martins do not take no for an answer easily, and Carolyn brought a lovely glass of chilled (at 13°C for their reds) 2013 Pinot Noir, from the barrel.
There are two dessert options, an unusual honey and rosemary scented Créme Brûlee served with a baked almond stick and bee pollen, which Chef Warwick called ‘angel dust‘, with its unusual appearance and taste, and filled with vitamins, which Chef Warwick persuaded me to try. He told me that he had the dessert bowl made by a local potter, allowing a greater surface to be crispy. The Raspberry Schnapps Cake is Swiss in origin, and is served with Turkish Delight. Both desserts cost R50. There is a cheese platter at R90 too.
There are a number of staff who check on one’s well-being. Natasha was the most charming, speaking German (and Italian too), twisting my arm to have more to eat and drink! Chef Warwick impressed with his gentle and kind nature, coming to chat after the bulk of service had been done. He had intended to take over Paradiso in Hermanus, but had been misled by the previous owner. He was at Arabella at Kleinmond for six years, and worked at a Relais & Chateaux property in Jersey, then having one Michelin star. He trained with Chef Garth Stroebel at the Mount Nelson early in his career.
Suppliers are listed on the menu, and 80% are close by: Adamskloof Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Camphill Bakery, apples from Cordale Farms, pork from Glen Oaks Pig Farm, fruit and vegetables from Little Oaks Farm in Villiersdorp, mushrooms from Nouvelle farm, and cured meats from Richard Bosman. Chef Warwick is assisted by Chef Eleanor Niehaus, the two having worked together for many years. The menu has been tweaked twice in the past six months, and will be done in future as new ingredients become available seasonally.
Creation’s pay-off line on its menu is ‘Creating Wines with Distinction‘. We propose that it be amended t0 ‘Creating Wines and Food with Distinction‘, having greatly raised the bar of food quality in Hermanus (together with near-neighbour The Restaurant at Newton Johnson), which is generally at a very low level. I was very impressed with JC making time to chat in a very busy day for him and unrequested, and that Carolyn came to chat too. The Martins run a most impressive winery and tasting room, and Chef Warwick deserves recognition, even though he was at great pains to emphasise that they run a Tasting Room and not a Restaurant. Their customers may beg to differ! Impressive too is the free Hot Spot wifi service, which pops up and is usable without password, given the poor cellphone reception on the area. When I asked for the bill, Carolyn insisted that it had been taken care of!
Creation Wines, Hemel-en-Aarde Road, Hermanus. Tel (028) 212-1107. www.creationwines.com Twitter: @CreationWines Monday – Sunday, 10h00 – 18h00. Free wifi.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage