We had decided to take a bit of a detour. Well, a detour of an extra hour, that is, via the Franschhoek Pass across Teewaterskloofdam and on to the Van Der Stel Pass. Apart from being the scenic option, taking this road also prepares your head for the mindset you are about to experience at Hemel en Aarde. I recommend it.
People in the Hemel en Aarde Valley are happy to see you. The region has not been overrun with tourists, yet, or tourist traps for that matter, yet, and a visit to most of the 15 wine estates still feels like an authentic experience. It is an easy destination, too, with wine estates and restaurants scattered around one long, winding main road. It makes full sense, in a wine enthusiast’s kind of way, to start tasting wine at one end of the road, and finish your wine exploration at the other end.
The name “Hemel en Aarde” means “Heaven and Earth” in Dutch. Historians seem to agree on the fact that this refers to some old bugger’s statement that, looking across the mountains from within the Hemel en Aarde Valley, all you can see is the sky touching the earth at the horizon. Whether this also means that at Hemel en Aarde life is “heaven on earth” is up to you. While the historians might disagree with you – they will mumble something about Hemel en Aarde having been home to a leper community in the early 1800’s, but shoo, enough of that now – many people would nod in agreement. People that love fine wine and fresh food and stepping into moist soil while breathing in crisp, sea-infused air would. I would.
So then, the wines … The high clay content in the Hemel en Aarde soils seems to remind those in the know of the Côte-d’Or region of Burgundy in France. In line with Burgundy’s classic reds and whites, here also it is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that take centre stage. During my last visit to the region, at least three wine estates had just been awarded five stars in the Platter Wine Guide, a highly esteemed and rather exceptional score for any wine in South Africa.
The “wine of origin” Hemel en Aarde forms part of the Walker Bay District in the Cape South Coast region, and is in itself subdivided in Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. While I have actually spotted the ocean only from the balcony at Sumeridge, that crisp sea breeze seems always present, throughout the Valley. Most wine farms charge a small fee to taste their wines, and while the one tasting feels more intimate than the other, and the one brand more authentic than the other, my overall experience was an authentic one.