Winemaker and viticulturist Wikus Pretorius (shown right during ‘punching down’ the cap of floating skins in a vat of Syrah), met me outside the winery nestled beneath the Helderberg mountain next door to Rust en Vrede estate. This is the home of both Haskell and their second brand, Dombeya wines. Wikus explained that the owner of the two estates, Preston Haskell, a property developer from Florida, took over the operation and vineyards in 2005, keeping Dombeya as the ‘foundation brand’ with Haskell as an ultra premium label. The first wines under the Haskell label were released in 2007.
Wikus gained experience in California, France, Corsica and Australia before returning to South Africa and as we walked the vineyards it became clear that he is both excited and totally engaged in fully understanding and improving each of their vineyard plots. “Haskell is all about single vineyard expression and small batch selection,” he told me. Wines under the Haskell label are released “Only if the vintage is up to scratch,” he continued, “So there was no Haskell in 2009 for example – to show that we are serious about what we are doing.”
Standing in the vineyards, Wikus pointed out the direction that fog clouds regularly travel over the estate, helping to cool the vineyards. Fifteen hectares are planted, almost all with red wine grapes, but there are some older blocks of Chardonnay. “Every 20 yards you find a different soil structure,” he says, and it is expressing those differences that is key to the Haskell programme. “We are really trying to tap into single vineyard sites and the past five years have been all about the vineyards.” As we stand looking at the site of their extensive composting programme (the picture illustrating the organic life in the rich mulch), he explains that he is using only organic and biodynamic practices in the top Pillars vineyard, “but at this stage that’s all about trying to improve the wines; we’re not looking for certification.”