If you are ever lucky enough to make a trip to South Africa, as a wine lover you will most likely tour dozens of the gorgeous wineries of Stellenbosch, make an excursion to Groot Constantia, take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, and spend a few nights on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. That would make for a wonderful trip!
But if you could extend your trip for just one more day, you might find yourself in a place that deservedly calls itself “Heaven and Earth.” Here’s how to get there: Rent a car and drive 70 miles southeast of Cape Town. Stop in the town of Hermanus, a former fishing village built alongside Walker Bay that rivals the beauty of any beach-front Riviera in the world, complete with umbrella-tabled wine bars lining the sand.
Hermanus has many a claim to fame, including the fact that it employs the only full-time whale crier in the world. The town’s centerpiece, Walker Bay, is a breeding ground for the Southern Right Whale and in 2001 was declared a whale sanctuary – meaning no boats or water craft of any kind are allowed in the water from July until November. During season, the whales can be seen from the cliffs along the shore, and when the whale crier sounds his kelp horn people pour out of their homes to watch the show.
Just before the entrance to Hermanus you’ll find the turn-off to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. It is a valley of indescribable beauty, the name, after all, is Afrikaans for “Heaven and Earth.” Hemel-en-Aarde is home to the southernmost vineyards in South Africa, and due to its proximity to Walker Bay and the South Atlantic Ocean, some of the coolest as well.
Part of the Walker Bay Wine District, there are three wine-producing wards in Hemel-en-Aarde. Hemel-en-Aarde Valley begins less than a mile from the shore. A few miles inland, along the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Road (R320), resides the second ward, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Extending 11 miles into the valley formed by the majestic Overberg Mountains, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge is the furthest inland.
There are currently just over a dozen wineries in Hemel-en-Aarde. The pioneer in the area’s wine history is undoubtedly Tim Hamilton Russell, the founder of the Hamilton-Russell Estate. Tim purchased his 170 hectare property in 1975 after a ten-year search for the ideal spot in which to plant cool climate grapes in South Africa. Soon thereafter, the estate began producing world-class wines; one of which won the 2003 International Wine Challenge as the best Pinot Noir in the world. This success paved the way for other wineries in the region.
Another Hemel-en-Aarde Winery that might sound familiar is Bouchard Finlayson. Established in 1989, Bouchard Finlayson is a boutique winery located on a 125-hectare property with just over 22 hectares under vine. The remainder of the property remains a conservatory dedicated to the pristine, indigenous “fynbos” flora of the Western Cape. The leading wine of Bouchard Finlayson is Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, grown in the Bokkeveld Shale and clay-based soils of Galpin Peak Mountain, at an elevation of 2,000 feet.
Other outstanding wineries of Hemel-en-Aarde include Creation Estate, Southern Right, Newton Johnson, and Jakob’s Vineyard, but, alas, they are hard to find outside of South Africa. You’ll just have to make that trip…
For more information:
- Hamilton Russell Vineyards: http://www.hamiltonrussellvineyards.co.za/
- Hermanus Tourism: http://www.hermanustourism.info/
- Wines of South Africa USA: http://www.wosa.us/
- Bouchard Finlayson: http://www.bouchardfinlayson.com/
Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator)