Spent a few days in Hemel-en-Aarde, looking around. This is a cool-ish climate wine region in a valley that meets the coast right by the lovely town of Hermanus, about 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town. [Tip: if you drive from Cape Town, allow an extra 20 minutes and drive along the coast road, which is spectacular. Alternatively, the more direct route along the N2 takes you over a pass into Elgin then over another pass and out again, so it’s a great chance to have a look around South Africa’s coolest wine region of all.]
Hemel-En-Aarde is a great place to grow wine grapes, and has a particular talent for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although you can also grow other varieties very successfully here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the latter grape that Anne and Craig Wessels have made a name for themselves with, with their Restless River wines (excellent Chardonnay, too). We began our visits with a lovely morning here. Craig is self taught, and wine is a second life, after he established a very successful animation/design company, which he’s still involved with. He’s an extremely thoughtful winemaker and his wines deserve the excellent reputation they’ve established.
One of the stars of the valley is Newton Johnson. We met with Gordie, and tasted through the new releases. The Pinots here are excellent, as is the Chardonnay, and his 2015 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinot is one of the very best new world Pinots that I’ve tasted. High praise, but deserved.
JC Martin at Creation is a very clever winemaker, and with his wife Carolyn has established a very smart operation, with a really good restaurant and some very clean, pristine wines, including excellent Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah. Vintage here is a long one, simply because they can grow so many different varieties successfully up on the ridge. They’ve worked really hard to get their vineyards virus free, which is a massive thing in this part of the world. If you have virus, it spreads, and then you have to replant your vineyards just as they are hitting their sweetspot at around 15 years of age.
We also visited Gabrielskloof, and caught up with Peter-Allan Finlayson, to taste through some Crystallum wines. Some of these come from Hemel-en-Aarde, but we also took a drive up to the spectacular Kaimansgaat vineyard in Elandskloof. This is where the lovely Malabel Pinot Noir comes from, and we drank it in situ. Cool thing to do.
At Gabrielskloof we also met with John Seccombe, and had a look at his lovely Thorne & Daughters 2016s. Such good wines, including a red for the first time.
Finally, a great appointment at Hemelrand, in Hemel-en-Aarde. This is where Chris and Suzaan Alheit make their wines, and we tried through the 2015s and 2016s. Quite amazing: natural winemaking at its best. The Magnetic North is an amazing wine, from Skurfberg, high up on the west coast. The La Colline Semillon is also amazing. But, really, all these wines are incredible, and if you can get them, you should buy them. The really smart buy is the new Flotsam & Jetsam Chenin, which is underpriced. We also tried the wines of assistant winemaker Franco Lourens: look out for these.
Full write ups to follow.