WINEDERLUST- Unearthing heaven on earth in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

As experienced by Honey, Mom of two and side-kick of Sometimes Grumpy Husband (aka SGH)

Literally translated from Afrikaans, ‘Hemel-en-Aarde’ means ‘Heaven and Earth’ – I passed this naming off as ‘urban legend’. That was until we spent a weekend there. Now I know that SGH (Sometimes Grumpy Husband) and I literally experienced a tiny piece of Heaven just off the R320 and a little over an hour from home in Somerset West. This may explain why SGH failed to live up to his moniker this weekend… so much so, that for this blog post he shall be known as FLGH (Far Less Grumpy Husband)!

So it was that FLGH and I found ourselves (just us, no offspring) free to explore a wine region we have experienced from afar through its cooler climate wines, but have never visited. During the past year, we have broadened our wine palates and experimented with new varietals. FLGH has been experimenting with Pinot Noir and I have really started to enjoy Chardonnay. The Burgundy wine region of France is the undisputed spiritual home for these noble cultivars but we are pleased to report that the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley has grown to stake the same claim for South Africa – producing globally recognised and sought after ‘Burgundys’ year on year.

This may be a good time to mention a conversation I had with a friend the other day. She was curious about how we managed to stay upright after consuming vast quantities of wine at the various tastings we attend. Once I had finished giggling, I explained that we do not actually drink the wines as such, we taste them and make use of the spittoons provided. For a change since we were footloose and kid-free this weekend, we did actually drink some of the wines we tasted – but made sure we were #DrinkSmart and made use of Hermanus Wine Hoppers so that we didn’t have to drive anywhere. Highly recommend this option!

But let me get back to unearthing the region’s wines. By happy coincidence, our weekend happened to fall during harvest when the colours of the vines are just starting to change, and the farms are really bustling. It was fascinating to see all the family members getting involved, even the kids! Since they were the first wine producers in the valley, we felt it only right that our first stop should be Hamilton Russell Vineyards where Chantel Siegelaar oversees the tasting room. We had the rare privilege of meeting charismatic industry icon, Anthony Hamilton Russell, who took us on a tour of the vineyard and cellar and of course, Chantel worked her magic in the tasting room. She was born and raised on the property so knows more about the farm than most (her children now attend the school on the property). Her knowledge of the farm’s extensive history and terroir is only surpassed by her dedication to the Hamilton Russell brand. Our top tip on favourite wine from this vineyard, if you want to splurge, is the Chardonnay – at R600 a bottle, it’s not an everyday wine, but will definitely be a memorable one.

Having cut our Hemel-en-Aarde Valley teeth, we moved on to Bouchard Finalyson where we met SA’s original Pinot Noir pioneer and industry legend –wine maker Peter Finlayson. Peter was the first winemaker in the valley when he began as the inaugural winemaker at Hamilton Russell. He is a fascinating man and the privilege of a tasting with him was akin to being in the presence of SA wine royalty. This estate has a strong focus on biodiversity as a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Conservation Champion. Only 22 hectares of their land is under vines which means the natural indigenous Fynbos –the smallest and richest floral kingdom in the world – is being preserved and 330 species of Fynbos have been identified on the property to date. As important as the preservation of the fynbos is, passing the winemaking baton on to the next generation of winemakers is vital in ensuring the farm’s continued success. Chris Albrecht has been working alongside Peter Finlayson for 10 years and has now begun to make the wine his – a momentous leap for both Peter and Chris! Tips on favourite wines from the farm: the Pinot Noirs were hands down winners for us – I loved the 2018 Hannibal (a Sangiovese/Pinot Noir blend) and FLGH really loved the Tête de Cuvée 2017.

We had decided to make one of the two luxury self-catering ‘residences’ set on a 25-acre private estate surrounded by vineyards, orchards and fynbos at The Guardian our base for the weekend. Its central position made for quick and easy access to the regions wine farms, but the prime valley location was (as corny as it may seem) just “heavenly”. The property looks up to incredible panoramic views of the Babilonstoring Mountain Peak which is remarkably 50m higher than Table Mountain – even the shower came with a view! We could not have chosen a better place to stay for a weekend without children, the high thread-count white linen and a 16m rim flow pool was not lost on us. Sharon and Dereck are welcoming, kind and thoughtful hosts – it’s the little touches that make all the difference, like the blankets and lanterns on the deck loungers for stargazing when we got ‘home’ on the Saturday evening after a fruitful day of hiking and wine-tasting.

Speaking of getting ‘home’, we had pre-ordered our dinner on Tuesday for that Friday evening which was delivered by Tullishe le Roux from The Food Cellar who also happens to be the chef at The Restaurant at Newton Johnson (meal orders can be placed with Tullishe on +27 83 667 5283 or email her on tullishe@thefoodcellar.co.za). We could not have asked for a better home-cooked meal while we sat out on the deck enjoying a bottle of Josephine Pinot Noir 2013 from Domaine des Dieux. This boutique wine farm is a great addition to the valley as they use their own grapes to produce wine in collaboration with the best winemakers (and their cellars) in the valley for each varietal. Their Chardonnay is made by Ataraxia’s Kevin Grant, the Syrah Mourvedre is made by Niels Verburg, owner of Luddite… you get the picture. We thoroughly enjoyed our tasting which we managed to squeeze in on the Sunday before we left after tasting the bubbly on our first night and loved their understated 2015 Chardonnay so much that we bought a bottle to take home – it’s good value for money.

Saturday was dedicated to exploring the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde so we were up bright eyed and bushy tailed and took a breath-taking (in more ways than one) 7km hike up the Babilonstoring Mountains led by Hendrik Fourie from Bosman Hermanus. He has spent a year in the Fynbos, two years in the tasting room and before that worked with the Bosman winemaking family in Wellington. He is passionate about conservation and really impressed us with his knowledge of even the most seemingly insignificant plants. Bosman Wines has 187 hectares under nature conservation in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde region. To assist with the conservation efforts, invasive species are actively removed year-round and the farm also has a very active nursery that propagates endemic plants to promote diversity and rehabilitation. We were so impressed to discover that most of the valley’s farms are WWF members and conservation champions. Their collective hard work in clearing alien vegetation has resulted in many new plants and animals returning/being reintroduced to the area.

In just her third vintage at Bosman Family Vineyards, winemaker Natasha Williams received the Platter 5 stars and Best Cinsaut of the year awards for their Twyfeling Cinsaut 2017.FLGH and I both thought the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were very well priced for their quality. I enjoyed the crisp, fresh Sauv Blanc too. We were sad to leave as the view was truly spectacular but will return – being a little way off the main road, Bosman Hermanus is perfect for a day trip of outdoor family fun, great wine, delicious tapas-style food and fab coffee at the restaurant onsite, The Frame House.

After our pre-cursor dinner the night before, our exploration continued with brunch at The Restaurant at Newton Johnson Winery – once again Hemel-en-Aarde local, Tullishe did not disappoint! She is now putting everything she learned during her 15 years mostly in England and Europe where she worked in Michelin starred restaurants and opening gastropubs for a company in the UK, where changing menus daily was a must. Tullishe has applied the same concept at Newton Johnson where she actively chases seasonality and traceability of the finest ingredients. By her own admission, she mostly cooks what she herself loves to eat and says she is grateful there are enough people who choose to come along for the ride – we are very happy to be counted among her followers now!

Our heavenly (I can’t help myself) brunch was followed by a private wine tasting at Newton Johnson Winery. Dave Johnson, a Cape Wine Master with a thesis on Pinot Noir to his name, and his wife, Felicity (née Newton) and their family moved to the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley in 1995, built a cellar and started planting vines shortly thereafter. Their enthusiasm for wine – Pinot Noir in particular – was eagerly adopted by sons, Bevan and Gordon who have taken this family cellar and vineyards to new heights. Winemaking duo, Gordon and wife Nadia Newton Johnson (herself a sixth-generation winemaker) have created over 30 vintages between them! Newton Johnson boasts an extensive range of wines which meant we sadly could not experience the Felicité range but did manage some wines from the Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Range. If this isn’t in your price range then the Newton Johnson range is also great value for money. My pick was the Albarińo – I haven’t tried a wine like this in South Africa before and it was very different, I would say it is similar to a Riesling. The day we visited, Dave and Felicity were looking after their grandchildren while their “kids” made the wine during the busy harvest time. Most of their grandkids are involved in the winemaking process at some point too!

Our journey in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde continued to the awe-inspiring Ataraxia – which in Greek translates to “a serene state of mind, free from worry and preoccupation”. Could this wine estate have been more aptly named?! The centrepiece of the experience is an exquisite chapel-like wine lounge for tasting and sales completed with arresting, evocative acrylic artworks created by well-known contemporary artist, Tay Dall. This meant our experience was not just a journey of taste and smell but also included a visual element indoors powerful enough to stand up against the stunning views of the mountain and valley outside.I was thrilled to see that the tasting room was busy (operating within strict Covid protocols of course) with numbers inside limited while more visitors took in the surrounding splendour. Ataraxia’s winemaker, Kevin Grant was born in Blantyre, Malawi and once he completed his schooling at Rondebosch Boys High School, graduated with a B.Sc. Honours in Zoology from the University of Pretoria. 

The allure of winemaking inspired him to complete a Diploma in Cellar Technology at Elsenburg Agricultural College where he graduated as Dux student in 1990. We managed to try a few of their wines which were exceptional and certainly have benefited from their winemaker’s regular study/harvest trips to France, Oregon, Australia and New Zealand. Ataraxia are best known for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir– we tried the 2017 Pinot Noir (which FLGH and I loved) but in the end I fell for their Sauv Blanc.

Since we were on our ‘virgin’ trip Hemel-en-Aarde, it would not have been complete without a visit to La Vierge (the Virgin). This wine farm is bold and vibrant with its magenta walls providing the backdrop for an Adam and Eve / Seven Deadly Sins inspired theme. We gave the wine, chocolate and nougat pairing a whirl which was great fun with creative labels and names for the wines. Their premium range wines weren’t on the tasting menu unfortunately, but we drank in the great view and tried our hand at Boules on the energetic deck which (yes, of course I won!). We made fast work of a delicious meat, cheese and paté platter before making our way back to The Guardian for some down time at the rim flow pool before sundowners at Ficks (on the Cliffpath in Hermanus).

Ficks was definitely one of the more vibey spots for the ‘cool kids’ (not sure if we qualify) in the region and they don’t take bookings so be prepared for a two hour wait for a table at lunchtime. Our wait wasn’t quite that bad by the time we arrived in the early evening for cocktails. We eyed out some of the food being served at other tables and did have a dash of food envy, so we will definitely be back with friends for a meal and little ‘partay’- the offspring would have a blast in the pool as well as exploring on the nearby rocks on a nice day while the Moms and Dads enjoy ‘things’ on the rocks of another variety!

Fortunately, we had made a reservation at Char’d Grill & Wine Bar, a bespoke steampunk-themed eatery in the Village Square on the Hermanus waterfront where steaks and burgers are said to be outstanding. But this is no traditional ‘steakhouse’. Oh, no. Here they shine a grill flame on unusual and innovative cuts of beef as well as the old classics sourced from artisan butchers. The global trend of nose-to-tail eating echoes to the region’s biodiversity so a restaurant where they use as much of the carcass as possible is, well, I hate to say it… but it’s a match made in heaven. They also take that sustainability thing one step further by only serving local beer, wine and spirits. FLGH and I had more fun than really should be allowed to the tunes of the live band, @takuraterry who played during happy hour from 5 pm till 7 pm. Fun aside, the food really was all it was talked up to be (and well worth the money) matched by quick and friendly service. This is how a Saturday night is meant to be spent!

After a quick check out on Sunday morning we headed in the direction of the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge for a tasting at Domaine des Dieux – nothing like a little bubbly to liven up a Sunday morning! Our final stop on the ridge before making our way home was a leisurely lunch and tasting at Creation Wines. All I can say is, we definitely ended off this weekend on a high note. The Sensations Menu at Creation is nothing short of next level – in fact it’s the antidote to lockdown blues. This experience should be prescribed by doctors… popping candy, feathers, perfume and sounds all add to the sensory journey that enhances the highlights of the wine tasting experience. And if I am not ‘fangirling’ enough already, we had the privilege of Carolyn Martin, co-owner and innovative wine marketing dynamo, her-very-self as our host for lunch! I could literally have died and gone to… oh wait…you get it.

Domaine des dieux bubbles and veiw from the Guardian

Earlier in 2021, Creation Wines was bestowed the honour of regional 2021 Great Wine Capitals (GWC) Best of Wine Tourism Award for Innovative Wine Tourism. During COVID! Not long after that, the estate was declared the 2021 Global Winner for Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences. Like I said, this time we had saved the best for last!

Excuse me while I float a little longer on my cloud, ‘til next time… Honey xx

UP FOR GRABS

We’ve got a spectacular prize worth R8800 to give away to one lucky Winederlust blog fan:

  • From The Guardian valued at R4000:
    • Weekend (two night) stay for two adults (accommodation only)
  • Dinner by The Food Cellar on Friday night R300:
    • Dinner for two delivered to The Guardian on a Friday night (must be pre-ordered by the Tuesday prior to that weekend)
  • From Char’d valued at R350:
    • Meal voucher (please remember to make a reservation)
  • From Bosman Hermanus valued at R500:
    • Guided hike at Bosman Hermanus with wine tasting and platter after
  • From Creation Wines valued at R900:
    • Sensation lunch pairing for two
  • From La Vierge valued at R160:
    • Chocolate and nougat pairing at La Vierge
  • Wine tastings for 2 at any of the following establishments worth R1000:
    • Hamilton Russell Vineyards
    • Bouchard Finlayson
    • Sumaridge
    • Newton Johnson
    • Ataraxia
    • Domaine des Dieuxo
  • From various Hemel-en-Aarde wine farms valued at R1600:
    • A selection 6 of Hemel-en-Aarde wines to take home

  TO ENTER:

  1. Read ‘WINEDERLUST – Unearthing heaven on earth in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
  2. Make sure you are following Hemel-en- Aarde on Facebook
  3. Tag 3 friends you’d love to visit the Hemel-en- Aarde Valley with in the comments on Facebook

The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley lies just before the entrance to the town; it is a valley of almost indescribable beauty flanked by the Babilonstoringberge (Babylon’s Tower Mountains) to the north and the Hermanus mountains to the south, with the Onrust River down the middle, and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

A little known fact about the region: In the early 1800’s this marvellous corner of the world was a home for lepers.

Leaving the Hermanus road, move up into the valley where there are views to the mountains, across vineyards, dams and forests, and down to the sea… as far as Hangklip at the entrance to False Bay.

The Valley is very accessible now, unlike in the past.  A new tar road extends through most of the Valley almost as far as Caledon.

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