I don’t seem to find enough time to blog – life just seems to get so busy and things just pile up! So now, we have a big pile to work through and share. This series of blogs is going to share some new places I have found as well as some of my favourite places and experiences in the Cape Town and the Cape Winelands. As always – I want this website to be a place where fellow foodies and wino’s can discover the gems we have and as such not waste a second on a mediocre experience while visiting us.
THE HEMEL-EN-AARDE WINE VALLEY:
The name of this valley means Heaven-on-Earth ……and it is a really appropriate name! This valley is famous locally for being the best region for pinot noir and chardonnay. Recently it added to the accolades by winning the trophy for the best Merlot in the country – which represents a complete breakaway from what the others are doing in the valley by new kid on the block – Creation winery.
The timing for this blog is great as Whale season is approaching us in Hermanus. The little town of Hermanus in the Western Cape offers the best land based Whale watching in the country from July to the end of December. Hermanus is a quaint town that boasts long cliff walks (where you can watch the whales), cute guesthouses, luxury experiences such as staying at the Birkenhead or The Marine, quaint restaurants and a beachside holiday. Most importantly it boasts a wonderful wine ramble right on its doorstep – the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Whale watching requires refreshment of the tastebuds inbetween viewing from the cliffs. So once you have had your fill of watching whales, head off to the valley. The list of wine estates below represents some of my favourites:
HAMILTON RUSSELL specialize in only two wines: chardonnay & pinot noir. Both are consistently good and they win many awards each year. The tasting room on the farm is a quaint little thatch cottage. Tastings are done in large beautiful glasses. The setting is on a small lake and they have now added some outside furniture which adds to the experience of relaxation. The lady in the tasting room is fairly knowledgeable – but will not be able to answer any complex questions. www.hamiltonrussellvineyards.com
BOUCHARD FINLAYSON –
This is always a lovely spot to stop at. They have a passionate lady who runs the tasting room and she is always warm, welcoming and knowledgeable. The tasting room is slightly old worldish and has a musty cellar feel – I like it a lot – it feels real and down to earth. The range of wines do not disappoint, in fact they cannot fail to impress! This estate is home to the very talented winemaker Peter Finlayson. The Finlayson family have left their mark on the South African wine industry over the years and I think they were born with wine in their blood! Make sure you pop into this estate to taste the pinot noir. www.bouchardfinlayson.co.za
Not far down the road you find Newton Johnson on the same side of the road as Bouchard Finlayson.
represents 100% passion – they were newer then the big boys above and as such have had to fight to gain a reputation for great wine. The results are great. This is a wonderful estate to visit. The architecture is modern, the view from the top of the mountain is jaw dropping and they are home to a wonderful little restaurant called Heaven. It is well worth booking for lunch at Heaven – to me it represents fresh country cuisine. The dishes are simple and delicious. The view from this spot is fantastic. If you are madly wild about wine and have a few hours to spend at Newton-Johnson, make an appointment to meet up with the son and winemaker Gordon Newton-Johnson. He is 150% passion and will have you hopping from barrel to barrel for wine tastings. His chardonnay and pinot noir are fantastic and his excitement about them is infectious! www.newtonjohnson.com
NOTE – all three of the above wineries are open Mon – Friday and only on Saturday morning. I find this mind-boggling. Hermanus is a weekend spot that the Cape Town people head to – as such the population swells on the weekend. From a wine estate perspective, your cheapest sale is direct from the estate. The relationship that the client forms from visiting the estate is also the reason for having tasting rooms – it is an extension of your marketing and extension of your brand. As such, create a relationship with me and I will be your client for many years. As such the fact that they are not open all weekend is a real slip in terms of marketing, in my opinion! The reason I mention this is that if you plan to visit this valley – take note that if you are there on the weekend, you need to set off early on Saturday! Both Ataraxia and Creation are open on a Sunday for wine tastings.
LA VIERGE – As you drive past Newton Johnson, you will come across La Vierge on your left hand side. They have a champagne bar and a wonderful little restaurant with sweeping views over the valley – this is always a nice idea for lunch. Beware however that it is seldom warm enough to sit outside – somehow there is always a cool breeze here. I just love the idea of spending an afternoon drinking champagne on their terrace with the view! Perhaps it is just me and each time I go it is slightly chilly! The Europeans quite justifiably think of us locals as wimps! We definitely have a tendency to bundle up when the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius! www.lavierge.co.za
MOGGS COUNTRY COOKHOUSE RESTAURANT– After La Vierge it is downhill from here – quite literally you hit a dust road – which is not in too shabby a condition to start with. You will then pass Moggs Country Cookhouse. This is a institution that the locals book well in advance to come and enjoy on weekends. In fact – in summer, it is not even worth stopping to ask if they have space for you for lunch unless you have booked – so make sure you put the booking in well in advance if you know you are going to be in the area for the weekend! Open Wed – Sunday for lunch only. Note that the menu changes each week with a choice of three items for each course based on what is fresh. http://moggscookhouse.com/
ATARAXIA – half the fun is trying to find this wine estate! Continue on the dust road after Moggs and if you blink, you will miss the sign for Ataraxia on the fence on the left hand side. If you are seeing what looks like a quaint white chapel on a hill on the left hand side, it means you missed the entrance! The tasting room looks just like a little chapel. It even includes a bell tower that you are welcome to ring. The interior is cozy with large “poofy” couches and modern art on the walls of a local Hermanus artist. The wine is spectacular and it is well worth heading down the bad road to get here! This is the venture of the passionate Kevin Grant, who was the former winemaker at Hamilton Russell Estate. He is exceptionally talented at Chardonnay and I also really enjoyed his Serenity – a mystery red blend! Seriously – they won’t tell you what is in it! It has a deep colour and is extremely complex and smooth – so head there to try and guess what is in it! You will never know if you were right though! Closed on Mondays (ie open Saturday and Sunday – which is impressive in this valley!!!) www.ataraxiawines.co.za
CREATION WINES – so, you head back onto the dirt road and just when you think there cannot be anything else, you turn off to Creation Wines on the left. It has an impressive entrance that is hard to miss. The newest kids on the block are making their mark. It is the joint venture of two Swiss Winemaking friends (JC Martin and the talented Christoph Kaser). JC is married to Carolyn from the famous Finlayson winemaking family. As such it was only natural that her uncle from Bouchard Finlayson would have taken them for a little drive to see this property that he had his eye on. Carolyn is very hands on in terms of the tasting room and restaurant and you are likely to meet her when visiting the estate.
This year, with their very young Merlot vines, they won by a horse’s hair margin, the award for the best Merlot in the country. I am in love with their red blends, their beautiful tasting room, their fantastic food and wine pairing (literally the best tasting experience I have had in the country at a winery), their setting, their view, their training of their staff, their passion………..the full package is well worth the trip!! They are literally in the middle of nowhere and the word has spread about the experience offered on the estate. The result if being reflected on their bottom line with substantial sales happening from the estate. Tip: If you are visiting during the week – make sure to make an appointment with the assistant winemaker Kevin Baatjies for a cellar tour. Kevin was a fisherman, then he became a handy man and through the owners of Creation he has learnt to become a wine maker. He has definitely found his groove in life and clearly loves what he does. Spending time with him in the cellar was an absolute treat. Here you get to not only see the process but do barrel tastings with Kevin – I cannot recommend the experience highly enough! www.creationwines.com
A reminder to remember to check out a few whales between wine tastings! I love walking the Cliffs in Hermanus and simply just watching the whales. My dream spot to stay and watch them would be Birkenhead House – this is located just above the water and offers over the top decoration, fantastic friendly service, deck chairs with a view where you could just relax and make sure your champers is always toped up, top chefs in the kitchen and simply the most relaxing ambiance. One day I will check in there for a week, and only leave the property for wine tastings in the area!