Creation’s tasting room
Creation’s tasting room
Image: Erlo Brown

Tucked between the seaside town of Hermanus, the Cape winelands and Elgin, the Hemel-en-Aarde valley is not as well-known as Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. It has a more subdued sensibility, and feels more unexplored. But with striking visual appeal, rolling vineyards and fertile grounds, it’s said to be South Africa’s answer to Burgundy, France.

To get around, we catch a ride with Wine Hoppers, the hop-on, hop-off safari-style local wine tour. It’s fun and easy, and a guide takes us to a handful of farms on a whistle-stop tour of the area. Along the way, we discover that the signature wines of the valley are pinot noir and chardonnay, the more than 20 wine producers in the valley are almost all family-owned operations, and most produce small-batch, high-end wines.

First stop: Whalehaven. The third-oldest winery in the region, the Hermanus winery is owned by the Bottega family and is known for its French-style pinot noir and chardonnay. It’s not just a spot for wine enthusiasts though; Whalehaven produces perfumes too.

A quick 10 minutes on is Bouchard Finlayson Winery, part of the Red Carnation group owned by the Tollman family. The estate, known for its Galpin Peak pinot noir and Hannibal red blend, has an inviting cellar area. Just 25ha of the 125ha grounds are cultivated — the rest is a fynbos conservancy.

Third stop is La Vierge, with what looks like a Barbie-pink exterior. Not so, says Barry Henn, who runs the tasting room — it’s not pink but cerise, “the colour of desire”. It’s part of a broader seductive theme: La Vierge’s two pinot noirs are named The Affair and Seduction, and there’s a range called Nymphomane. As for the estate itself, it’s named “the virgin” — a reference to the virgin soil when the estate was founded.

One of the highest wine farms in the valley, La Vierge has exceptional views. A glass-walled tasting room and restaurant with an inviting deck is the perfect venue for a quick lunch of burgers and arancini balls (they do offer a wide range of dishes, from line-fish to lamb shank).

And, of course, there are the award-winning wines. Says Henn: “If you look at the top 10 pinot noirs every year, 50%-70% will come from our 12 farms and that is out of a total of 530 South African wine farms.”

Next up is Spookfontein, which has a sophisticated contemporary restaurant and two cottages for stayovers. It takes its name from a small waterfall at the back of the mountain that in winter looks like a ghostly fountain.

Our last stop is Creation Wines. Founded on a virtual wilderness in 2002, this is another family-owned business with best-selling pinot noir and chardonnay. As with most of the estates, there are pairing options — some with food, others with chocolate. Here there’s also a nonalcoholic tea pairing, and even a pairing for children. There’s also a children’s play area.

Louis Fourie, in the marketing team, points out that the estate is part of the World’s Best Vineyard’s Awards.

Apogee wine pairing at La Vierge
Apogee wine pairing at La Vierge
Image: Supplied

A home from home

We stay at Southwinds Estate, an upmarket residence between Hermanus and Stanford, with rolling lawns and stunning views of the Klein River lagoon. It even has a private beach.

It’s more hideaway than hotel, and that’s part of the appeal; the manor house feels like a home. Four bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms come with all the amenities, there’s a hammock outside and even a chess board corner. It’s kitted out with Disney and Netflix streaming options, and its fully equipped kitchen allows for self-catering, keeping things simple.

Hermanus has long been popular with retirees, but young families are also relocating to the town. Among those who have moved nearby are Alex and Eloise Windebank, who owned the popular Farro restaurant in Joburg and now run Farro at Gabriëlskloof, an Eat Out-star restaurant.

Farro Gabrielskloof roast grape, ricotta, honey and almond tart
Farro Gabrielskloof roast grape, ricotta, honey and almond tart
Image: Supplied

We head to their new pizza place, Lina. It’s small but cosy, and Eloise says it’s “like our love letter to Italy and tiny European places that we love”.

The pizza and salads are geared more towards adults than children (there’s no pineapple on the pizza), and our meal was scrumptious yet simple: a salad of zucchini, rocket, lemon and basil, and pizza with anchovy, zucchini, capers and lemon. Lina uses a fermented-style dough with top-end local produce — along with Puglia fior di latte. “We’re not trying to put a thousand things on a pizza; we’re putting three things on a pizza and they must all do well,” says Eloise.

In between it all, we fitted in a walk along Fernkloof Nature Reserve, popped into Grotto beach and headed to Ficks Pinchos & Wine. It has a glorious setting in the cliffs, looking out over Fick’s tidal pool. It also offers tasty tapas or flammkuchen-style pizzas, and the children loved the tasty chicken wings while we soaked up our mocktails.

“Heaven and earth” indeed.

* This story originally appeared in Business Day. The writer was a guest of Southwinds Estate

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