It was with great excitement that the Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ team kicked off their 40th harvest last week with the first picking of their Pinot noir grapes. For the estate’s milestone 2020 vintage, the team has been joined by an experienced international group of four interns who hail respectively from France, Italy, Germany and the US.

The Hamilton Russell Vineyards 2020 harvest team are ready for action: In front, from left are Makhadi Maku, Italian harvest intern Andrea Menchetti, German harvest intern Christoph Fischer, vineyard manager Colin Jonkers, viticulturist Johan Montgomery and proprietor Anthony Hamilton Russell. Behind them, from left are cellar hand Ricardo Bruintjies, assistant winemaker Saul Siegelaar, French harvest intern Aurelien Juan, American harvest intern Tim Kane from Oregon, winemaker Emul Ross and Olive Hamilton Russell.

The 45-year-old history of this world-renowned wine estate dates back to 1975, when Johannesburg businessman, Tim Hamilton Russell, purchased the 170 ha Hemel-en-Aarde Valley property after an extensive search for the most southerly site on which to make South Africa’s top cool-climate wines from a selection of noble varieties. The first vines were planted in 1976 and the first wines from Hamilton Russell Vineyards were made in 1981 – 40 vintages ago.

From humble, pioneering beginnings, this trailblazing estate is now an internationally-acclaimed producer, with their wines available in more than 55 countries. All the wines are grown, made, matured, bottled and labelled by the Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ team on the Hamilton Russell Vineyards Estate.

Hamilton Russell winemaker Emul Ross (right) and Makhadi Maku, who has worked every harvest at Hamilton Russell since 1986 and will be retiring at the end of the month, tipping the first batch of Pinot noir grapes that were harvested last week.

Since taking over as proprietor of the estate in 1991, Tim’s son, Anthony Hamilton Russell, has focused on producing highly individual, terroir-driven and site-specific Pinot noir and Chardonnay, which are widely regarded as among the finest from the New World.

“This will be my 30th year on Hamilton Russell Vineyards and I couldn’t be more proud of the way the wine industry has developed in our area,” says Anthony. “When I started we were the only producer selling wine. There are now 22 producers and growing, and Hemel-en-Aarde has captured the attention of the fine wine world. We will be doing everything to ensure our 2020 wines enhance the reputation of Hemel-en-Aarde as fine wine country even further.”

Andrew (‘Boetie’) van den Berg has lived and worked on the Hamilton Russell Estate for 40 years and now trains the younger farm workers.

Committed to working only with grapes from their terroir, Anthony says, “We are not so much using Hamilton Russell Vineyards to make Pinot noir and Chardonnay as we are using Pinot noir and Chardonnay to express the beauty and personality of Hamilton Russell Vineyards.”

Viticulturist Johan Montgomery says the recent fluctuations in weather conditions mean that his team has to be hyper-vigilant and manage the vineyards on a day-to-day basis. “Patience is the name of the game, as you never know what nature is going to throw at you,” he says. “The main thing is not to panic and to be philosophical about the challenges that come your way. There are some things you can control and some you can’t.”

And that is what makes every harvest such a crucial time for wine producers. There is an air of excitement, anticipation, and also some tension, as the teams have to make the important decision of choosing the precise time when the grapes are optimally ripe for the picking.

Determining that perfect moment is one of the most vital steps in the journey from vine to bottle. Here’s wishing all our wine producers a prosperous and successful journey!

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