Anthony Hamilton Russell knows how to share.
The owner and founder of South Africa’s Southern Right named the winery after the whales that visit nearby Walker Bay. Their yearly presence inspired him to donate a portion of each bottle sold to southern right whale conservation.
He’s made an effort to ensure that the mammals with which he shares Walker Bay, a body of water that is a huge influence on his vineyards, have a future.
“You have to imagine a property surrounded by a nature reserve, overlooking the cold South Atlantic Ocean only 1.5 miles away to the south, with nothing between it and Antarctica other than a thin strip of the coastal resort village of Hermanus,” Hamilton Russell said. “The southern tip of the African continent is just a little to the east. Each year, up to as many as 80 southern right whales move into Walker Bay, some to mate and some to calve.
“They usually start arriving from their Antarctic feeding grounds in May, and mostly depart by December,” he said. “September and October are peak whale-watching months, and they can be seen in the bay from the top of the Southern Right property, or from the cliff path in the town below.”
The Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2021 ($17.99), with flavors of pineapple, mango, fresh-cut herbs and a whiff of ocean breeze, has pretty fruit flavors, but also has plenty of depth and dimensions with crisp acidity and a beautiful mouthfeel.
Because Walker Bay is so close, it impacts the conditions on the fruit in the vineyard during the growing season. Grapes have time to ripen slowly, and even though they get plenty of sunshine, sunburn is not an issue.
“The close proximity of the cool South Atlantic Walker Bay to many of the vineyards means significantly lower maximum temperatures, and grapes with high natural acidity and low pH,” Hamilton Russell said. “We get more sunshine hours in the optimal range for vine function than areas with more diurnal fluctuation. Not too cold in the early morning and not too hot in the middle of the day.”
While sauvignon blanc has gained a reputation for instant gratification, Hamilton Russell urged discretion when reaching for the cork. As far as drinkability windows, Hamilton Russell said sauvignon blanc can improve with age.
Due to its high acidity and low pH, Hamilton Russell has opened sauvignon blanc over 25 years old, and enjoyed the experience. At less than $20 per bottle, and with a portion of the proceeds going to a good cause, it’s an opportunity to buy several bottles and gradually open them over a few years.
“At home, we try to drink Southern Right with at least five years of age on it whenever we can,” Hamilton Russell said. “We do enjoy the energy and tension of good young sauvignon blanc, but we know there is even more enjoyment to come. We find that the aromas on older wines become more complex, less uni-dimension fruity and more saline. The palate develops additional texture, as well. In short, the wine becomes more an expression of site and soil, and less just an expression of the grape variety.”
With Southern Right, there’s a great wine and an even better cause in which to give.
• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at email@example.com.