Lying just inland from Hermanus in the Overberg, Hemel-en-Aarde is a beautiful, sinuous valley famed for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Falling within the Walker Bay district, this 20-kilometre-long wine route overlooks the cool South Atlantic and is surrounded by nature reserves. ‘Hemel-en-Aarde’ means ‘Heaven and Earth’ in Afrikaans and according to a visiting Moravian missionary in 1899, ‘Rightly has it got its name because so high are the hills which closely embrace the valley all round, that they seem to touch the sky and you cannot see anything but heaven and earth.’
Hemel-en-Aarde is home to more than 20 wine producers and there are a number of factors setting it apart from other wine regions in South Africa. It is an area of unusual grape varietals; there are no large-volume producers making for relatively small quantity, top-end, terroir-driven wines; in terms of awards and trophies, the region is unrivalled; and the farms are almost all owned by the families that started them from barren ground. In addition, its (elevated) proximity to the Atlantic makes Hemel-en-Aarde one of the coolest, most maritime, wine-producing areas in South Africa.
Our plan was to take a slow meander up this enchanted valley. We left the R44, turned onto the R320 and headed towards Caledon, stopping regularly to experience Hemel-en-Aarde’s famed wineries, restaurants, delis and farm stalls.
First, we took a left off the R320 towards De Bos Dam and a low-slung, building appeared on the horizon, perched on the slope of a sweeping landscape. The modern, wooden Frame House is the venue for wine tasting at Bosman Family Vineyards. This cool-climate site produces a range of wines, which can be paired with a selection of locally produced snacks including cheeses, charcuterie, bread and preserves … or try their barista-made coffee.
The Bosman family have a history of growing wine in the Wellington region dating back to 1810. In 2000 they acquired this Hemel-en-Aarde farm to supplement their offering with cool-climate grapes. The vineyards here are planted between fields of indigenous fynbos and are close to the sea, creating a unique terroir and resulting in wines with minerality and finesse.
Nestled between folded mountains and Walker Bay, the Koue Bokkeveld shale soil and cool ocean breezes ensure the grapes here ripen slowly and grow steadily to produce intense flavours. Bouchard Finlayson was established in 1989 as a collaboration between Paul Bouchard, celebrated Burgundian winemaker, and locally awarded Peter Finlayson. Together they produced world renowned wines, with Peter playing an instrumental role in pioneering the production of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Bouchard Finlayson aims for a balance of old-world ways and innovation in its wines wines.
The cellar offers wine tastings and deli platters, cellar tours, bespoke vintage tastings by appointment, as well as hikes through the farm’s pristine fynbos.
This is the pioneering wine estate of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and specialises in highly individual, terroir-driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Owners Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are the second generation of the family on the property, which celebrated 40 vintages with its 2020 harvest. Direct sales are not a focus for the estate, but visitors can taste the wines at a beautiful historic cottage near the cellars overlooking a lake teeming with birdlife. Evidence of the estate’s World Wildlife Fund ‘Conservation Champion’ status can be seen in the pristine surroundings.
Lying nine kilometres inland from Hermanus, Newton Johnson’s vineyards are set high on the mountainside with superb views of the valley and Atlantic Ocean beyond. Admire the vista over a glass of award-winning Chardonnay or Pinot Noir in the pavilion lounge or on the deck, or have a delicious meal in the estate’s restaurant. Led by Dave and Felicity, the Newton Johnson family moved to the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in 1995. Their enthusiasm for Pinot Noir in particular has taken estate to new heights in exploring the nuances of this grape.
Care is taken at Ataraxia to match rootstock choice to the vineyard soil type and sourcing the best scion material available. Ataraxia was founded in 2004 when husband and wife, Kevin and Hanli Grant and a few friends purchased this 47-hectare property. Kevin is a self-confessed ‘terroiriste’, crafting wines that hold their own on the international stage. The tasting room is perched on a hilltop at the foot of the Babylon Toring Mountain and has the appearance of a chapel. The funky interiors offer sumptuous views from comfortable couches surrounded by striking artworks … a great space to while away an afternoon of wine tasting.
In 2002 Jean-Claude (JC) and Carolyn Martin established Creation in a remote corner of the Walker Bay wine region, 18 kilometres inland from Hermanus. The hilly, 40-hectare farm on Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge had never been planted with vines before, but the Martins recognised the potential. It was no easy task in this undulating terrain, but then Swiss-born JC and South African-born Carolyn (née Finlayson) both come from wine pioneering stock spanning at least three generations and two continents. Today, Creation produces many award-winning wines that offer great balance and elegance. Visit their lovely restaurant and tasting room to sample the wine-and-food-pairing options.