Explore wineries on the Hermanus wine route in South Africa's Western Cape with Angela Lloyd's top picks...
Hemel-en-Aarde wineries to visit
One of the joys of the valley is that the wineries lie within close proximity – little more than 20km separates them, and all are accessed from the road linking Hermanus and the wheatland town of Caledon.
The winery buildings themselves are attractive yet modest in conception, allowing the natural beauty of the area to shine and lending a laid-back feeling.
In as little as two days, you can comfortably and enjoyably glean a good idea of the wines produced and the differences between those from the three wards of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and Hemel-en- Aarde Ridge.
Website www.hermanuswineroute.com is a useful source of tourist information.
Hamilton-Russell Vineyards grew in reputation from its first vintage in 1981. Peter Finlayson, its first winemaker, also recognised the valley’s potential for the Burgundian duo, and this was confirmed when the 1986 Pinot Noir won a local competition at which Paul Bouchard (of Bouchard Aîné) was a judge.
From the centre of Hermanus to Hamilton Russell Vineyards is roughly 8km, and it‘s best to set off after rush hour. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that established Hemel-en-Aarde’s reputation are a good launching pad for the day. Also excellent are the estate’s peppery extra virgin olive oil and fynbos honey.
A few bends further up the valley finds La Vierge, where Gerhard Smith, with several years’ experience in New Zealand’s Wairarapa region, brings Pinot expertise to the four versions he produces. These can be enjoyed on the verandah with spectacular views of the nearby mountains and sea.
In 1989, Finlayson assembled a group of shareholders, later to include Bouchard himself, to start Bouchard Finlayson, on a site just above his former employer.
While pristine fynbos with indigenous vegetation covers most of the property (guided walks with a botanist are offered), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the focus in the vineyards, though like others, Finlayson ventured beyond: his Hannibal blend, featuring Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera, offers an intriguing diversion.
Before wending your way slowly down the valley, stop to taste Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia Wines in his eye-catching Wine Lounge: an art-filled chapel built in keeping with the vernacular Overberg style.
Alongside Bouchard and Grant, Hannes Storm is another Burgundy enthusiast to start his own winery after being schooled in Hemel-en-Aarde’s possibilities at Hamilton-Russell. Open by appointment only.
Others have arrived in the valley, setting up their own cellars: Newton Johnson was soon acknowledged, both locally and internationally, in particular for its Pinot Noir, but also for quality across its range.
Founder and Pinot devotee Dave Johnson, with wife Felicity (née Newton), bought their current property in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in 2000, establishing the vineyards the following year.
Johnson chose a higher altitude site in the belief that it offers greater maritime influence and more complex soil profiles.
Sea-foragers, the Newton Johnsons found a perfect seafood partner in Albariño, producing a South African first in 2013.
Craig and Anne Wessels have shown Cabernet Sauvignon can be a success at Restless River, as well as the excellent Chardonnay they’ve made for some years.
Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin, high up on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge at Creation, have ventured into Rhône territory with fresh, elegant Viognier, Syrah and Grenache.
Chris and Suzaan Alheit’s Alheit Vineyards (open by special arrangement only) new Hemelrand Vine Garden, a field blend of Roussanne, Chenin, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Muscat de Frontignan, is destined to become as acclaimed as their Chenins from other parts of the Cape.
When to go
Today it is a thriving tourist resort, hosting annual events such as Hermanus Fynarts Festival, 10 days of music, wine and art – many famous South African artists lived and worked here – and a whale festival held annually during spring when the much-loved southern right whales return to Walker Bay to give birth.
With so many diverse pursuits and wines located in such beautiful surroundings, visitors to Hermanus and Hemel-en-Aarde are spoiled for choice.
Read Angela Lloyd’s full travel guide to Hamel-en-Aarde in teh November 2017 issue of Decanter magazine, on sale now. Subscribe to Decanter here.
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