Hamilton Russell Vineyards is a world-renowned wine estate in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus that owns the Tesselaarsdal wine label. The valley is perfectly suited for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay cultivars.
The estate specialises in producing highly individual, terroir driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the finest in the New World. Tiny yields and intense worldwide demand keep the wine in very short supply. Drum roll, please for the winemaker, Emul Ross, who was selected as one of our “21 faces of summer”.
So, Emul, how did you get started in wine?
After school I decided to study for a B.Sc. (Agriculture) degree at Stellenbosch University. This allowed me to potentially branch out in various directions, but winemaking always had me interested. As a family, we always had wine on the table with dinner and the variety, similarities and differences always intrigued me. I am now the first winemaker in the family.
And what has surprised you about being a winemaker?
I’m surprised by how global wine is as a product and how close-knit the industry is.
Your most memorable wine moments?
Becoming winemaker for Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a world-renowned estate, has probably been my biggest achievement to date.
What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?
I would like to make the perfect wine! If there is such a thing…
In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why?
I have worked with many great South African winemakers and they have all contributed to a certain degree, but meeting Aubert de Villaine and tasting his wines was very special. He produces some of the most sought after, expensive wines in the world, yet he is humble and approachable. We need more of that in the industry!
Plus, every great winemaker has an even greater family behind them. We generally travel a lot and sometimes work very long hours. Without supportive family and colleagues this would be more of a labour than a love.
And your fave wine to pair with your fave meal?
I love pairing lightly wooded chardonnay with fresh crayfish or yellowtail cooked on the fire. For more wooded chardonnays, few things beat a good old Sunday chicken roast. We tend to overthink food pairings in South Africa. The food should be flavourful, but simple. A comfortable chair for the wine to sit on, rather than a whole lounge suite with entertainment systems and flashing lights.
Your biggest wine challenge?
As winemakers we only have one chance (vintage) in a year to try new things and improve. We need to have a very good idea of what we want to do before harvest and then adjust according the specific vintage.
Speaking of vintage wines, how do you know that you have a good vintage?
For me great wine is all about balance and texture. Aromatics change and develop over time, but balance needs to be there from the start.
Do you have any “guilty pleasures” when it comes to wine?
Aged Chardonnay with mature hard cheese like Comte of even vintage cheddar. I have friend who believes in aged chardonnay and cigars, but I don’t smoke. It does smell like a good match, though!
Any funny wine memories to share?
When I was working at Chamonix, before moving to Hamilton Russell Vineyards, I once had a very posh guest at a wine tasting who heavily criticised the wines and then asked me why we added Sauvignon (Blanc) to the Cabernet. She was tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon!
More about Tesselaarsdal Wines
Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2019
Matured for nine and a half months, this Pinot noir presents hints of red and black berries, rose and an intriguing herbal note on the nose. It also has good definition and structure with juicy fruit, bright acidity and fine tannins and the taste is nicely rounded off with a savoury finish. This well-defined wine goes for cellar price at R525 per bottle (including VAT).
Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020
A bright, tight and pure Chardonnay with lifted primary fruit character and notes of citrus blossom, sweet lemon grass and lees spice with a fine dusty minerality, introduce a long, gentle palate, again very expressive but also deliciously classical and restrained. This is a graceful and age-worthy wine with an almost crystalline purity. Buy this wine online at cellar price R250 per bottle (including VAT).