Hamilton Russell: Day Zero isn’t going to happen

The dreaded ‘Day Zero’ in Cape Town, when taps in the city will run dry, isn’t going to happen this year according to winemaker Anthony Hamilton Russell.

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to London, Hamilton Russell was keen to stress that a lot of the reports in the media about the current drought in the Western Cape have been exaggerated.

“There have been a lot of erroneous, scaremongering reports about the drought. We had more rain in Hemel-en-Aarde than in London last year. Conditions are getting wetter and cooler for us.

“We had 100mm less rainfall than in 2016, but water isn’t an issue for us. The issue has been about how to effectively capture and store water in Cape Town,” he said.

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell at their estate in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley north of Hermanus

“The Swartland is inland and is as dry as hell in the summer, so the region has been more affected by the drought, but things aren’t as bad as the hype is making out – Day Zero isn’t going to happen,” he added.

To avoid Day Zero’s arrival, which had been pushed back from April to July and is now unlikely to happen this year, Cape Town residents have been told to have 90-second showers and have been limited to using 50 litres of water per person per day.

On the subject of vintage variation, which is becoming more extreme around the world due to increasingly erratic weather conditions, Hamilton Russell believes it is something to be celebrated.

“Vintages are like people ­– even the difficult ones have something of value in them. The role of the winemaker is to find the good in each year and bring the best out of the vintage.

“We do get vintage variation and we want to reflect it in the vines as we see it as a positive thing. We want the story of the year to come through in the wines and to reflect what nature has delivered without human error,” he said.

During a lunch to launch the 2015 vintage of Ashbourne Pinotage, Hamilton Russell explained his decision to stay true to a pure vision of only producing one Pinot Noir and one Chardonnay at his 52-hectare estate in Hemel-en-Aarde.

“When I took over from my father we made 11 different wines from eight grapes and I moved us towards just working with Pinot and Chardonnay.

“The Swartland is looking at us with envy due to how focused we are on just two varieties. You get beautiful subtle differences with both varieties in the three sub-appellations of Hemel-en-Aarde.

Hamilton Russell’s vineyards near the coast

“Our Pinots and Chardonnays are more pristine and pure now. We’re not trying to be too impactful with the wines but we don’t want to sacrifice complexity either,” he told db.

“We’re not aiming for a specific style, it’s an accident of nature that our vineyards are planted on soils with a high clay content so we end up making Burgundian style wines.

“We get an unusual expression of both for the New World and our wines are often confused with Burgundy,” he added.

But while his wines are often mistaken for Burgundy at blind tastings, this isn’t what Hamilton Russell wants to be remembered for.

“I would hate for my legacy to be that I made ‘budget Burgundy’ but there’s a limit to what people are willing to pay for a New World Chardonnay.

“We make 8,000 cases of our Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, which is a lot for a £30 South African wine.

“Generic Burgundy is more expensive than us so our wines offer incredible value for the quality,” he said.

“We could bottle individual barrels and charge an obscene amount for it but we don’t want to as it goes against our philosophy. We’ll also never bottle a second wine as long as we’re in business.

“I’m interested in making wines of relevance on a large enough scale that they can be enjoyed in key cities all over the world, from London to Tokyo,” he added.

2 Responses to “Hamilton Russell: Day Zero isn’t going to happen”

  1. Perhaps some people in Cape Town would like to start importing Broadbent Rainwater?

  2. Imogen says:

    This is such an incredibly narrow view of the extent of the drought across the Western Cape. The Hemel en Aarde is one small area of it. What else explains farmers leaving healthy young blocks of vines to die as they know there is no foreseeable way they will be able to get water on them – which I have seen. Or farmers taking out 40% of the fruit in a vineyard at veraison to ensure the rest survives? Surely the almost empty dams and the countless empty barrels in many cellars this vintage are testament to the drought? Day zero might not be happening but this does not make any difference to the severity of what much of the Western Cape (but perhaps not all) is dealing with. Rant over.

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