03 February 2011

Freedom Hill

Freedom Hill is located south of Paarl on the R301 towards Franschhoek. I wanted to visit because I’d come across their name on the wrapper of Francois Naude’s 2009 Vin de Francois as supplying a barrel to that blend. Francois is a winemaker I greatly admire and he truly understands Pinotage and as he is making Pinotage for Freedom Hill then I really wanted to taste it.

Freedom Hill is on a hill with a building above mature vineyards that slope down to the road. Heavy bunches of tight small black berries hanging from vines lined the access road. Wine is not made on the premises; grapes are taken to Stellenbosch Hills winery for processing.

We were warmly greeted by Ryan Brendenkamp, co-owner of Freedom Hill restaurant, who showed us to the tasting room to another friendly welcome.

From the veranda you can look back over the road to the Drakenstein Prison complex whose green roofs show above the trees. It was from here, when it was named Victor Verster Prison, that Nelson Mandela was released and took his first free steps. And that event inspired the name on the labels.

It was a hot day, we’d waited 20 minutes at road works on the R301 so started our tasting with a crisp lively Sauvignon Blanc.

The vineyards below grow four red cultivars: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (which they sell) and Pinotage. I’d come for the latter. There were two Cape Blends, (2006 Freedom Hill 35% CS, 34% Ptage, 31% Shz & 2008 Freedom Walk 42% CS, 29% Ptage, 29% Shz)on offer and which I was keen to taste since I am looking for a Cape Blend to present at a tasting when I return home in a few weeks, and one Pinotage.

Unfortunately all three reds were warm, tired, dull and lifeless. There were signs there once had been some rich fruit after one got past the flat beginning. Then I saw, after pouring, all three bottles being vigorously pumped with those so-called vacuum wine preservers (which have a reputation for flavour-scalping)and on asking learned that the bottles had been open for three days.

The tasting room manager then did offer to open a new bottle but I’d lost heart. I bought a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage which I opened the following evening after slightly chilling it.

It was a different wine from the corpse in the tasting room. There were fresh chunky fruits and it was big, rather rough around the edges and rustic in style. Enjoyable, but not the elegant sophisticated complex masterpiece that is Francois Naude’s trademark and which I’d hoped for. Then I noted this was the 2008 vintage, the previous vintage to the one Francois had use a barrel of for Vin de Francois 2009.

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