It’s a beautiful late autumn day and it is mission Haskell Vineyards. Helderberg, Stellenbosch. Days like today you understand why the Americans call the season ‘fall’ – I felt like falling on the ground and rolling in the leaves it was so perfect. It started perfect and got better, all thanks to the generosity of an Aussie and some fantastic food and even better wine. Mission Haskell was by invitation of the guys from Spit or Swallow (www.spitorswallow.co.za) and turned into good fun for all involved.
The resident Aussie is Grant Dodd. A former pro golfer, current TV commentator and full time knowledgeable wine lover the man did not just entertain but also taught us a fair bit about wine. Having himself learned his wine from the Aussie wine legend Len Evans, Grant had a fair bit he could impart. Being the Haskell Vineyards CEO the man has the keys to the castle, and he treated us to a fantastic afternoon. I even managed to not tell a sheep joke.
Haskell Vineyards is situated right at the very end of the Annandale road. Two labels are produced: the premium Dombeya range and the super premium Haskell range. The Dombeya range is sold at sub R100 a bottle for the entire range, with bang for your buck being the buzz words. The range consists of a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (sold out ex cellar), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (not tasted), Shiraz and a Bordeaux style blend called the Samara. The wines are all beautifully structured, restrained and perfectly balanced, without the fruit bomb, jammy character so prevalent in other wines at that price point. A conscious decision was made by the owners to keep the Dombeya range sub R100, but don’t let the price fool you – these wines are incredible and worth twice what you pay for them. The wines also seem to have longevity. Having previously tasted the 2005 Chardonnay, I do recall that in 2008 it still appeared extremely fresh. The tannin and fruit on the reds also suggest some lying down will not hurt the wines.
The super premium Haskell range consists of 3 wines – 2 single vineyard Shiraz’s and a Bordeaux style blend. At around R400, they’re not cheap, but boy are they worth the money! We only tasted the Pillars Shiraz and promptly purchased some. It has everything you expect from a super premium wine: power, length, varietal character and complexity. The wine is liquid velvet with lovely dark fruit, fine tannins and the expected spice. I reckon the vintage – 2007 – can be laid down for at least 15 years. No way my bottle will last that long. Another vineyard site was identified by the Haskell team, recently planted and looking good for future Shiraz production. The soil is so rocky that 180 tonnes of rock had to be removed before planting could begin and for the trellising metal poles as opposed to wood had to be used. Future vine stress is looking good.
Haskell’s tasting room was opened very recently, and along with that a restaurant came about. The restaurant is called the Long Table, and they generously hosted us for lunch. I did not get a chance to analyse the menu, but the quick glance I gave it suggested very reasonable prices.
A degustation menu of sorts was presented to us. We helped ourselves to starters of Caesar salad, beef Carpaccio and wild mushroom ravioli with truffle cream. The surprises didn’t stop, as Grant had 2 bottles wrapped in paper for us to taste. Tasting French wine blind is a real treat, and Domaine de Chevalier and Chateaux Lango Barton did not disappoint.
The main course consisted of free range duck, impala medallions, roast veg and a potato bake. It sounds simple, but was prepared beautifully and paired perfectly with the Haskell Pillars Shiraz. The lunch experience ended with lemon tart, fresh fruit and a selection of cheeses. A lot more decadent than expected, especially after the 1953 KWV Muscadel came out.
The Haskell experience was truly phenomenal. We look forward to going back real soon and get our grubby little mitts on some more of their wine and food. Thanks Grant for a kick ass day.