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BBefore molecular gastronomy was a culinary buzzword and chefs took it upon themselves to seek art and atoms in their stock pots, the winemakers of Hemel-en-Aarde were pioneering another scientific wisdom: terroir. Terroir is the influence that the natural environment and, some say, the personality of the winemaker have on growing grapes and making wine.
Every cellar along the Hermanus wine route, which follows the Walker Bay wine region's R320 and meanders through the picturesque Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (or heaven on earth, in Afrikaans), is worth visiting for more than just the wine.
Located in Hermanus in the Western Cape, this out-of-the-ordinary wine route includes 15 wineries, each producing small amounts of premium wine.
The winemakers of the Hermanus wine route specialise in highly individual, origin-expressive wines. Plantings are limited to grape varieties in soil types that will complement the terroir-driven style they aim for. It’s about expressing the personality of the individual vineyard through its wine.
As a result, the Hemel-en-Aarde wine district is patronised by those in the know, who come to buy arguably the best chardonnay and pinot noir the Cape has to offer; and by those who chance upon the cellars here and feel like they’ve discovered a viticulture grail trail.
For those making the wine pilgrimage for the first time, prepare to be amazed. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is a spectacularly beautiful place, enfolded by the Babylonstoren and Raed-na-Gael mountains. Enter the valley from Hermanus and wind your way through 20km of heavenly scenery, interspersed with vineyards and cellars.
Hemel-en-Aarde vineyards Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell are internationally acclaimed producers of pinot noir and chardonnay wines, with newer cellars like Hermanuspietersfontein, Newton Johnson, Creation Wines and Ataraxia set to entrench the area’s world-class reputation.
Mineral sauvignon blancs are a mainstay of the area and fine pinotage, merlot and shiraz are also being produced here. New cultivars include sangiovese, nebbiolo, mourvèdre, viognier and grenache. Visit Whalehaven for some interesting Italian-style wines under the Enoteca Bottega label.
The Hermanus Wine Village is a one-stop shop that showcases Cape wines, olives and local produce under one roof.
Where there is fine wine, fine food will follow. Heaven Restaurant at Newton Johnson vineyards serves elegant bistro fare, and Creation Wines offers food and wine pairings using only locally sourced produce.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Hermanus Wine Village
Tel:+27 (0)28 316 3988
Fax:+27 (0)86 509 4931
How to get here
From Cape Town, follow the R43 over Sir Lowry’s Pass to Grabouw then though to Hermanus – a distance of 120km that will take about 90 minutes by car. Alternatively follow the coastal route along False Bay on the R44 – a similar distance that takes about 2 hours.
Best time to visit
The Hermanus Wine Route can be explored at any time, but it is most scenic between September and April. Harvest activities take place between January and mid-April.
Things to do
The Hermanus Wine Village purveys wine from over 600 South African wine producers, with 1 600 labels on display. Visit local artists' studios and galleries. Hike in the Groenlandberg, Kogelberg and Fernkloof nature reserves, and watch whales from June to December.
Tours to do
Harbour, photographic, wine route and fynbos tours. Eco-tours by boat to see whales, seals, dolphins, penguins and seabirds.
Car hire is recommended. There are few metered taxis in Hermanus.
What will it cost?
The cost of a wine tasting varies from cellar to cellar. Most private cellars charge for a wine tasting but will waive the fee if wines are purchased.
What to pack
Hermanus has fantastic whale-watching opportunities in season (June to November). Bring binoculars and a camera.
Where to stay
Choose from guest houses, B&Bs, 5-star hotels or self-catering cottages in the winelands.
What to eat
Fresh crayfish in season, sustainable abalone from the Abagold factory near the New Harbour, and seasonal linefish. Try stoneground bread from the Camphill bakery, handcrafted charcuterie from Richard Bosman, Truckles cheese and Von Geusau chocolates.
The Hermanus Whale Festival in September and the Hermanus Food and Wine Festival, usually in October.
The region is noted for its award-winning pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc wines. Local artwork and gifts and crafts from the Hemel-en-Aarde Craft Village.