Hard work pays off

© Cape Times Friday 19th July 2013

“Wine doesn’t like change, especially not with people.” That’s the opinion of Carl Schultz, now celebrating his twentieth year making wine at Hartenberg Wine Estate. Some cynics might think “well, he would say that wouldn’t he?” but Carl is not a person who says things without thinking them through. Hartenberg director, James Browne likens him to Haut Brion winemaking legend, Jean-Bernard Delmas and quotes David Peppercorn MW’s opinion, relating it to Carl “He is careful but confident in his opinions and judgements, is unflappable and has a steely determination to succeed.” A recent tasting at the farm revealed two decades of steady, but sure, hard work, continuous improvement and now an assured familiarity with his vineyards and wines that many a winemaker starting out in his or her career would do well to aspire to.

Hartenberg isn’t one of your flashy wine estates with modern artworks lining the driveway, a headline chef offering award-winning cuisine or a spangly tasting ‘experience’ proffered by soulless robots with name badges. If truth be told, it isn’t the most picturesque farm to visit, with its long speed-bumped drive and unimposing entrance – down the steps and with no signage to speak of. But this is a farm that has never forgotten that first and foremost it is there to make wine, and over the last twenty years, that and that alone has been Carl’s focus. When he first arrived at the estate in 1993, Hartenberg made 17 different wines from a wide variety of grapes. Since then, Carl has refined that down to a mere eight varieties, the ones which suit Hartenberg best, building a cellar and replanting the entire farm on the way.

Right from the beginning, it was clear that Hartenberg’s best variety was Shiraz. Carl reckons it normally takes a winemaker 2-3 years to work out which vineyards are special, but in the case of the Gravel Hill vineyard, the quality of the fruit and resulting wine was outstanding from the start. The flagship Gravel Hill Shiraz (current vintage 2008, R672 cellar door) is the pinnacle of a quartet of shirazes at Hartenberg, which starts with the everyday, good value drinking of the Doorkeeper Shiraz as well as the estate Shiraz (R73.50 & R130 respectively). Gravel Hill is picked over a period of 2-3 weeks because Carl says he is long past the days of wanting homogeneity in a vineyard, instead appreciating the differences caused by aspect and soil-type. He reacts to these differences accordingly, picking at exactly the right time for each small block “If you get the picking decision absolutely right, most of your winemaking challenges are sorted.” The result is a wine of longevity, power, elegance and grace as our vertical tasting going back to 1997 confirmed.

Sticking with the same winemaker, eschewing glamorous additions to the farm, making more than a third of your wines using the same variety – these are all deeply unfashionable tenets in the fast-paced wine world, where most people are always on the look-out for the next big thing or the newest kid on the block. If you want flash-in-the-pan, then go elsewhere, because that’s not Hartenberg’s thing. Good wine needs time and thought, it’s not just something which can be whisked out of thin air and put in a bottle in an instant. When you drink a glass of Hartenberg Shiraz, you’re drinking something momentous, the product of a lifetime’s work, energy and toil. These are wines to last and as Carl says, “I have no doubt that when my life is said and done, the wine will continue on its merry way without me.” It probably will, but I’m sure it will be glad to have known him and spent twenty years with him on its way.