Taste of heaven in a glass

Gary Hemmings

IF YOU find yourself overcome by an inescapable yearning to be among the vines, this account of our PE Wine Lovers’ visit to Hermanus’s magnificent Hemel-en-Aarde region, might provide some inspiration for your own sojourn.

Having heard rumours of its magnificent mountains and breathtaking views and armed only with Rehidrat and an insatiable desire to personally test the fermented fruits of South Africa’s newest region, esteemed founder members of our association – Tanya Hemmings, Carol-Jean and Keith Fourie, along with yours truly – set out one Friday morning on our noble quest to tour the Overberg among some 17 of the southernmost vineyards in Africa.

We were making good time until a sudden swerve to the left just before Plettenberg Bay found us on the doorstep of Bramon Wine Estate just off the N2 near the Crags.

In an instant, we were sampling their superb meze platter with the leaves of the accompanying vines draped over our laps, marvelling at how this authentic experience could be so close to our doorstep.

Next we looked on helplessly as another distraction in the area tore us equally sporadically off our path as neighbour Packwood’s award-winning sauvignon blanc demanded a visit. Thankfully, their miniscule tasting portion allowed us to soon be on our by now very merry way.

A word in your ear – prepare for another essential stop before reaching your destination: 23km before Hermanus on the road to Stanford, amidst spectacular countryside, you’ll find wine fair favourites Raka’s tasting room generously doling out helpings of their familiar Quinary and Biography ranges with the kind of warmhearted hospitality which obliges an extensive stay.

We eventually limped into the port of Hermanus and found ourselves overlooking the sea at the Harbour Rock restaurant.

The next morning, the stage was set to discover first-hand why the famed cool maritime climate, just a stone’s throw from the sea with its refreshing onshore breezes, frost-free weather and rugged but perfect vineyard soil composition, makes the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley such an ideal location for the fussy pinot noir and chardonnay for which this region has earned its reputation.

Saturdays in Hermanus are Food and Wine Market day at Hermanuspietersfontein Wines. Standing guard at the entrance of the R320 wine route, the home of famed HPF bordeaux’s Kleinboet and Die Arnoldus and the Platter 5-Star sauvignon blanc, Die Bartho, this welcoming estate set the tone of things to come with a scrumptious breakfast.

The breakfast had at its pinnacle a round of HPF Nr 5, which, if memory serves, was responsible for Trevor Villet and myself nearly sinking our fishing boat on the Krom River.

After popping into the legendary Wine Village, a specialist wine shop run by a man with an unusual passion for wine who shared fascinating anecdotes in a bid to sell us some very expensive top-class instances, we cultivated our strategy for the day: start at the furthest estate and then eventually hobble our way back into town.

This is how we found ourselves rolling through the heavenly gates of Creation, only to have our wine-tasting expectations completely redefined from that day onwards.

This was everything one could ever hope for in a tasting: a lingering, chilled yet exhilarating experience in which we learnt all sorts about the subtleties of wine appreciation.

From practical demonstrations of the importance of different shaped glasses for different types of wine, to the emphatic effect of proper aeration, the warmth of our hostess Natasha Borutta was only matched by the consistent superiority of all of their exceptional wines. The prince of these being their unforgettable Syrah Grenache. Creation also boasts superb food and wine pairings.

While breathtaking views abound in this area and a trip to Ataraxia across the hill provides a stunning and panoramic outlook, it was the remarkable Sumaridge in all its ridiculously natural photogenic splendour which stole our hearts.

Sumaridge resembles an ancient church and is perched overlooking a sublime vista which arches across three waterways to Walker Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.

An equally photogenic young wine pourer by the name of “Colin the Magnificent” melted hearts as he delivered extravagant cheese platters and wines which were no less stellar than their setting.

Across the road, the trendy and newly refurbished Heaven Restaurant at Newton Johnson provided us with a deliciously decadent serving of Nuevo cuisine which was far too fine for our by now increasingly rowdy company.

Growing ever more vocal, we descended on the oldest farm in the area, Bouchard Finlayson, for our final tasting of the day.

Here we encountered a quiet but friendly gentleman who we treated to an expansive viticultural education, enthusiastically sharing critiques and appraisals of the subtle nature of the wines at hand.

It was only after he had left, that it was pointed out to us that he was in fact none other than the internationally renowned pioneer of South African pinot noir and the winemaker of this illustrious farm, Peter Finlayson himself, who I am afraid to say, will never get those two hours back again.

As the night beckoned, so too did the wine-tinted philosophy: “Ask not what wine has done for you, but rather, what are you willing to do for wine … life is too short to drink cheap wine … You only live once … but if you do it with enough good wine, then once is enough!”

Next week, we’ll follow the wine connoisseurs to examine the delights of Franschhoek.

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