Blog written by Rosanne Turner

©Rosanne Turner

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley the other wine route

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” ¬†This certainly seems to ring true of the winemakers of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, just outside Hermanus. What a life: creating nectar of the vines whilst living in one of the most beautiful areas in our country. Would we expect these wine folk to be anything but as chilled as a good chardonnay should be served?

The Hemel-en-Aarde wine route, perhaps not as well-known as the other Cape wine routes, is fast becoming a popular wine destination due to its spectacular views, brilliant restaurants and award-winning wines. The terroir (soil and climatic conditions) including cool Atlantic breezes that whisper down the valley, are ideally suited to producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

An ideal way to start a Saturday (as I do most weekends) would be at the boeremark or farmers market, at Hermanuspietersfontein. Friends meet here each Saturday morning, over breakfast of cinnamon pancakes, homemade quiche and bacon and egg rolls, finished off with steaming organic coffee. Stock up on gastronomic treats for the weekend: local cheeses, lemon-infused olive oil, chillies and preserves, diet-breaking baked goods to mention but a few.

After doing your weekend grocery shopping at the Boeremark, make your way up the spectacular Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Heaven on Earth valley), to savour award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Restaurants have been strategically placed to make the most of sweeping views of vineyards, and across to Walker Bay; the vista ever changing with the seasons.

In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobism, nor a sign of sophistication, nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.” It was after reading these wise words by Ernest Hemmingway that I decided to try out some of the local wine estates in this heavenly valley, all in the interests on research and good journalism, of course.

My husband and I headed down into the valley one particular work day, our first stop (and as it turned out, our only stop) being Bouchard Finlayson Wine Estate. Peter Finlayson is renowned as being the pioneer of the pinot noir cultivar in South Africa. Although they would have every right to be egotistical due to the many award-winning wines produced, there is nothing stuffy and snobbish about this estate. This is reflected by the relaxed manner in which the tasting was done. We joined a group of Swedish ladies, as Wendy took us through the wines on offer in an informative yet entertaining manner.

The day we chose to visit Bouchard Finlayson, was the day that the photos for their new brochure were being shot. Our glasses were constantly being refilled in order for the photographer to get that perfect shot. We were even lucky to sample the 2007 Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, not usually allowed for tastings. (Class winner- Winemaker’s Choice Diamond Awards 2008).

Needless to say, we spent the entire morning at Bouchard Finlayson, leaving me to set aside another day to try out what the rest of the valley had to offer – All in a day’s work!

La Vierge restaurant and champagne deck is one of my favourite restaurants in the area. The name, French for “the virgin”, relates to the fact that virgin soils were chosen for planting and the first methode cap classique (MCC) to be released in the valley. Their MCC, is only to be released late 2009, but a selection of bubbly, including some from France are available to enjoy in the restaurant or on the Champagne deck. Come, I am tasting the stars!” said Dom Perignon when he tasted his first bottle of champagne. A very good description of how I feel when sipping on a yeasty bottle of bubbly, overlooking the valley on a summer’s day, or in winter, next to the log fire. The deck is the ideal place for Sunday breakfasts, leisurely lunches or unwinding with sundowners. It is also the perfect romantic wedding location. The food and service equal the view in standard. If you are not content to just soak in the view, there is a boule court for friendly challenges.

On day two of hitting the wine route, I left hubby at the office and took a friend along for moral support, and of course to be the designated driver. This time I managed two estates, before it was time to head back to town to do the school run.

Sumaridge Estate is situated in the upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. An impressive stone-clad building houses the tasting room and restaurant and overlooks a dam and the estate’s vineyards. Once again, the region’s cultivars of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excelled. Equally as impressive, albeit not as common, is their Syrah. The berry and chocolate notes are probably why I found this wine so palatable. Kevin Warwick from Warwick’s Chef School in Hermanus, recently partnered with the estate to bring an interesting menu to the quaint restaurant next to the tasting room.

We reluctantly left the coolness of the Sumaridge tasting room, and back to the hot car to head further up the valley to Creation Wines.

Creation’s modern cellar boasts state of the art equipment, which can be viewed through glass panels on the floor of the stylishly furnished tasting room. The industrial-like building has been softened with a lounge look and focal points, giving it a welcoming feel. Artwork by Hermanus artist Leon Muller adorns the walls, and chandeliers made of wine glasses form a talking point. My favourite of the wines tasted was their Chardonnay with citrus notes, not overly wooded. For a different tasting experience, try Creation’s paring platters: each of the estate’s wines is pared with a tasty morsel created by the chefs

from Season Restaurant to compliment the wine, while knowledgeable staff explain the styles and characteristics of each.

Should you not have the time to venture down the valley to sample the region’s wines, try stopping off at the Wine Village, when next in Hermanus. They are located only about 5km before Hermanus central on the R43, at the start of the Hemel-en-Aarde wine route. Paul and Cathy Du Toit and their staff are happy to share their knowledge and love of wine, and there are always a few bottles open for tasting.

The Hemel-en-Aarde wine route can easily be accessed from either Hermanus, or Caledon, as the estates are located on the link road between these two Overberg towns. Chill out and enjoy the pace of country living with the locals of the Whale Coast wine route. You will be pleasantly surprised by what this best-kept-secret wine region has to offer.