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Beginning at the ocean only a few kilometres before Hermanus and then reaching inland to Caledon, lies a mythical area that produces some of South Africa’s finest wines. If you’ve not yet visited the Hemel en Aarde Valley, here are three superb wineries you need to visit.
1. Bouchard Finlayson
‘Nobody wants to listen to mediocre opera. Unless you do Pinot Noir well you’re failing its followers’. These were the daunting words of Peter Finlayson to us as we had gathered earnestly around the tasting table. As one of the pioneers and founding fathers of Pinot Noir in South Africa, there’s no one better qualified to utter the words. He has successfully put the Hemel En Aarde wine region on the world map and made South Africa’s first Pinot Noir. His words to us were, ‘If you want to go forward you have to break the barriers’. Thanks to Peter breaking barriers, we now celebrate the tasteful fruits of his labour.
Understandably, Pinot Noir is clearly where Bouchard Finlayson hangs their hat, and the Galpin Peak it what you want in your glass. High-density planting of the vines results in a supreme flavour that had us drooling in our seats. The Missionvale Chardonnay is a personal favourite, paying homage to the mission hospital that existed in the valley decades ago. The Chard has a velvety and rich texture and beautifully balanced from 8-9 months in oak. Their Blanc de Mer is an affordable Riesling and Viognier blend and a lovely point of departure from the often Chenin/Sauvignon Blanc blends offered as easier drinking wine.
The farm is also a WWF Conservation Champion as a result of its efforts to protect and conserve their biodiversity. In fact, you can take guided or self-guided walks on the farm to enjoy some of the natural beauty. The deli platters are a great complement to the wines, which cost R30 for three tastings and R60 for six. For those interested in a vintage tasting, it will cost you R3200 for groups up to the size of 18, with 5-6 wines on offer.
For the perfect food and wine pairings look no further than Creation Wines. The various epicurean journeys on offer will leave you speechless and undoubtedly mouth-watering. As we learned one does not simply come for a wine tasting. The magnum opus of these taste journeys is the “Story Of Creation” – a 5 course and 8 wine pairing, showcasing the culinary artistry of the kitchen and wine mastery of the vineyards that surround it.
Creation continues the Burgundian emphasis and in the Art of Creation range, you’ll find one of the most sophisticated expressions of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir: showstoppers in every sense of the word. The complex and delectably creamy Reserve Chardonnay is certainly a force to be reckoned with. With its both spicy and dark fruit notes, the Sumac Grenache is also worth tasting.
Other tasting experiences include non-alcoholic pairings, cheese/charcuterie/vegan pairings, kids pairings, gelato and chocolate pairings, herb/flower tastings… the list is almost endless!! An impressive 60000 visitors stop at the farm a year, so I’d recommend you call ahead to book your spot. You can also take the Wine Hopper up to Creation or if you’re the more adventurous type, cycle with one of the many mountain bike routes to stop at Creation. A third of the farm’s wine sales are from the farm itself, so don’t be surprised if you leave with a bottle… or six in hand. Be sure to ask about the Pebbles Project – a local Early Childhood Development Centre which Creation so proudly supports.
3. Domaine Des Dieux
The drive in through the estate takes you through the vineyards and finally drops you off at the intimate and stylish tasting room. Even before the wines have a chance to take your breath away the views will leave you spellbound. It’s here that I understood why the region was called ‘heaven on earth’; welcome to Domaine Des Dieux – the home of Hemel en Aarde bubbly.
Managing owner Sharon’s path transitioned from bakeries and project management to wine (Sharon never physically did any baking herself, she was an entrepreneur that started a chain of bakeries) and her story in wine starts as a result of being in the ‘right place at the right time’ and purchasing the land in the Hemel en Aarde Ridge (Once again we can’t use the term ‘valley’ here as we are not in the valley) and birthed Domaine Des Dieux. Fast forward 17 years of hard work and the farm now produces some of the country’s finest MCC. Claudia is an 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir bubbly that spends three and a half years on the lees and a year on cork and as many know well, it’s currently my favourite MCC in the country. Apparently, I’m not the only one that thinks so; for the last two years, Claudia has won the Best Brut in SA’s Amorim Cap Classique Challenge.
Domaine des Dieux’s decision has been to hold back the wines longer than is usual practice. When other farms may be offering their 2017/18 vintages, this boutique winery is offering it’s 2012 and 2014 wines. It’s a move to showcase the wines’ ability to hold themselves with time – even the white wines – and a tasting will quickly confirm this patience is all worth it. Tastings are reasonably priced at R50 for six wines or R70 for the full range, and it costs R190 for the large and sumptuous platters.