It seems we are on to a good thing with these little wine trip columns. So here is another one. It’s in a similar area to the last one, but just a touch further down the road.
This week I’ll be giving you a guide to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Heaven on earth? Well not entirely, because the wine isn’t free, no one offered me back rubs and spliffs, and I returned not having found spiritual nirvana. However, it is a fantastic little wine route as everything is on one road. This makes giving directions this week spectacularly simple. Drive, stop, taste, repeat.
As usual I’m using Cape Town as the starting place for the trip, and I am working on a Saturday/Sunday adventure. Your goal is to get to the valley by 10h00. So head out on the N2 nice and early. For music, I’m going to suggest you start with the Foo Fighters’ first album, “Foo Fighters”; nothing like a bit of solid 90’s grunge to get you up and over the mountains. It’s such a good album I would suggest listening to it a couple of times because I am going to send you on a slightly roundabout route.
I reckon most people visit the Hemel-en-Aarde valley by going to Hermanus, and then hanging a left up into the valley. Possibly because I am generally otherwise, I am going to do this the other way round. So stick on the N2 all the way to Caledon. There is one stop you have to make first. After you have past Botrivier, look out for Dassiesfontein farm stall, it’s about halfway between Botriver and Caledon. Either grab something for breakfast, or if you are in the picnicking mood, stock up on some cheese, meats, and some freshly baked bread. Seriously get the bread.
Carry on to Caledon taking a right onto the R316. Drive through the town and take another right onto Hermanus Way (R320) and change the music. This might sound like a ridiculous idea, but The Cure worked for me. There was something supremely fitting barreling down the valley with “Jupiter Crash” belting out.
There are now three separate appellations in the Hemel-en-Aarde. Since I have sent you to Caledon first, you will find yourself in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge; making your way down the valley you will go through Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and then the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Confused? Don’t worry about it. I think the winemakers themselves are more concerned about this naming than anyone else. And, like anything in wine, if it is not increasing your enjoyment of the wine itself, then meh, don’t even stress about it.
But for clarity, you are starting in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. This little conclave consists of Creation, Domaine Des Dieux, Ataraxia and Mount Babylon. First stop is at Creation. This Winery was established in 2002, and I have been tasting the wines yearly for the last three or so vintages at least, and in my opinion the wines are getting better and better.
I tasted a tank sample of the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and it was simply brilliant, and I am really hoping the black current and elderberry flavours hold out until the wine reaches bottle. I tasted through the range and was really impressed with how the Merlot and Bordeaux blend have developed. I previously found an edge of greeness that led me to always prefer the Syrah-Grenache in the red wine department. This has moved into more of a pencil lead character, which is way more appealing. I know, poncy wine speak. It’s gone from leafy to savoury.
Have to tastes at Creation: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah Grenache.
Next up Ataraxia. Just down the road, you will find, for me, one of the most elegant tasting rooms in the country. Perched on the top of a hill, they have modeled their tasting room on a chapel. It’s very, very pretty. Even if the wines were kak, I’d still recommend you go there. Look:
However, some of the wines match the view. Kevin Grant at Ataraxia makes super wines. The Chardonnay, the 2007, is one of the best South African Chardonnays that I have ever tasted. The red blend Serenity is consistently good as is the Sauvignon Blanc. Take in the view, sip the wines, but don’t dawdle, there is still much to do.
Have to tastes at Ataraxia: Chardonnay.
Hit the Hermanus Wy and carry on down to your splendid accommodation at Sumaridge. (Hang back from tasting, they are scheduled for Sunday). We stayed in their self catering cottage, and it is the perfect launch-pad for the Hemel-en-Aarde. There is a main house for bigger groups, and a smaller annex, for couples. Drop of your stuff and then race down for a quick tasting at Ashbourne – it’s on the left hand-side of the road. You need to be quick because the next activity is awesome.
They close at 13h00, and you need to aim to be there latest 12h45. There are only two wines, the interesting and very well handled Pinotage, and the white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Chardonnay. Both of these wines are brilliant and you have to taste them while in the valley.
OK. Now we will forget wine and head off to Hermanus for something completely and utterly awesome. The place is called Romantiques. It’s a really fun, quirky little antique store. The rooms are well arranged, and there are enough bits and pieces of old stuff to look at to keep you amused for hours. But the real attraction is the old style movie theatre set up in the store. It seats around 20 people and they normally show old, classic movies on Saturday afternoons (but definitely call ahead to check). Also, they have a car on their roof. If you can do this, you have to. They have no website, Facebook page, Twitter account, or even an email address I can find. Which I sort of love (but I’ve listed their number at the end of the article).
OK. Now you can chillax. I never tell people how to chillax. It’s up to you.
If you are in the mood for more wine, as you are heading back to Sumaridge, pull in to the Hemel-en-Aarde Village. There is a great wine shop there, but also the cellar of Hermanuspitersfontein. Not only do they have the best name in the wine industry, they also make a bunch of different Sauvignon Blancs. I love Die Bartho, the Sauvignon Semillon blend.
Have to tastes at Hermanuspietersfontein: Die Bartho, Nr. 3 Sauvignon Blanc, Kleinboet.
I would recommend that you spend the rest of the day sitting outside the cottage drinking wine, and eating food. Sod restaurants, and all that bollocks. Take in the view, fill up your glass, it’s the closest you’ll probably get to hemel en aarde.
Another fantastic thing about this valley is that the wine farms are not imbecilic and close on Sundays. The majority are open on Sunday. So for breakfast why not casually roll out of bed and into the Sumaridge tasting room a couple hundred metres from your cottage. Like many in the valley, the top wines are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I am a massive fan of their Chardonnay. The 2010 owned it at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show.
Have to tastes at Sumaridge: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, White Blend.
I am running out of space, and you may be running out of time. So the last farm I am going to reccomend (understanding that I am leaving out a couple) is the brilliant Newton Johnsons. This family are making some of the finest, classiest, Pinot Noir in the country. It’s the biggest wine cliche to call Pinot sexy, but the Newton Johnson’s stuff really really is. Sexy and classy. All sinewy cherry with a touch of earthiness. Light but powerful, fresh and clean, utterly delicious.
Have to tastes at Newton Johnson: DRINK ALL THE PINOTS.
I’ve left out some brilliant farms, Bouchard Finlayson, Hamilton Russel, Southern Right. If you have time you can visit all the farms, I have just listed my favourite ones. The Hermanus Wine Route has a very useful and straightforward website for opening times and contact details. The valley is beautiful, and is a truly restful place. Enjoy your weekend away, and come back full of pinot noir.
Tel: +27 28 3123862
GPS: 34°19´46.97˝S 19°19´35.46˝E
Tel: +27 28 212 2007
GPS: -34° 20′ 10.35″, +19° 18′ 27.41″
Tel: +27 28 212 1107
GPS: S34º19’861, E19º19’584
Tel: +27 028 312 1097
GPS: S34°22’1,6″ E019°15’18,6
Tel: +27 28 -312 -4226
14 Aberdeen St, Hermanus
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