The core of the now phenomenal reputation of The Gravel Hill Shiraz is locked into the site’s unique geology. On the surface, there appears to be very little soil. Instead a 40 cm thick covering of brown ferrous stone is undermined by a fine clay layer, stretching down a few metres.
As the winter rains dissipate and the soil dries out, the subsoil clay cracks, and water filters through the gravel and collects in the clay fissures, serving as the vines’ water reservoir. As the summer heat wanes and the winter rain arrives, the clay swells, pruning the roots buried inside it, thereby limiting the vigour of the vines.
Over the past thirty years, from a poor parcel of dry, gravelly soil, a veritable giant in the wine world has grown. Hartenberg was one of the first South African estates to separately vinify grapes from a particular terroir. Wine from the small and highly unusual “gravel hill” was first bottled in 1978 under the “Montagne” label. Winemaker Carl Schultz arrived at the farm in 1993 and soon agreed that “The Gravel Hill” site was special, with wine from its grapes different to that from other parts of Hartenberg. The opportunity to showcase the site on its own arose after Carl was invited to join the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) a couple of years later. As a condition of membership, he had to produce a small quantity of wine for sale at the annual CWG Auction. Consequently, the 1995 vintage from the site was named and bottled for the first time as The Gravel Hill Shiraz. It was sold at the 1997 auction – the first of fourteen vintages to be sold at the CWG auction. Before becoming commercially available, accolades for the Gravel Hill already include the wine earning the highest price for any Shiraz at the 2007 CWG Auction and the second highest price for any wine at the auction ever. It is also the wine that has been auctioned at the CWG longest.