Going down a Storm

Going down a Storm
After 12 vintages in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – ‘Heaven-and-Earth’ in Afrikaans – working intimately with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Hannes Storm discovered two tiny parcels of land with particularly exceptional terroirs and decided to go it alone. Storm’s maiden vintage was 2012 and, after spending 18 months in bottle, the wines were released for the first time in August 2014.

We first tasted the Storm wines two years ago and they leapt out immediately as the most striking, precise and enticing Pinot Noirs we’ve yet seen from South Africa. Offered at the same price as a good Bourgogne or a lesser-village wine (if you’re lucky!), these are affordable, characterful alternatives to Burgundy with their own identities.

Storm handcrafts his Vrede Pinot Noir and Vrede Chardonnay from low-vigour, stony, clay-rich Bokkeveld (‘Buck Veld’) shale soil in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, his Ignis Pinot Noir from decomposed granite, stony soils in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and his Ridge Pinot Noir, in the even higher Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, also on decomposed granite and stony-clay soils. Storm Wines is the only producer with Pinot Noirs from each of the three appellations in the Hemel-en-Aarde. Winemaking is traditional, opting for around 15% whole bunch fermentation and ageing in no more than 25% new top-quality French barriques, the remainder in used oak. Storm’s personal involvement in the planting and management of the three vineyards ensures that the fruit that goes in to bottle is of absolute pristine health.

Vrede is located in the lower part of the valley at 125m and benefits from water-retaining clay soils and early ripening – a boon in the recent drought years. Planted with Dijon clones, it offers up silky, caressing fruit with a beautiful floral edge. Ignis is from the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, the largest appellation, at approximately 225m elevation. Planted close to the river on poorer, more marginal soils, it produces wines of a more feminine nature with a lighter body, but more fragrancy, minerality and persistence. Finally, Ridge comes from a site with a similar soil composition as Ignis, but is located at 300m of elevation and is east facing so only gets morning sun. Picking here can take place a full three weeks later than in Vrede. Longer hang time and higher elevation lends a spicier, more structured edge to the wine. Nevertheless it is still the wine with the lowest pH of the Pinots. The temperate climate of the Hemel-en-Aarde and Storm’s precise winemaking lends itself well to Chardonnay; in this case the 2018 Vrede Chardonnay is a zingy pink grapefruit and limey incarnation, as opposed to the richer yellow-fruited examples found elsewhere in South Africa.

Small production, careful viticulture, minimal intervention in the cellar and a constant nod to the Old World produces wines with distinctive personality and character.