If you love Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, beautiful landscape and small boutique wineries but don’t want to deal with the crowds, I have found a place for you to put on top of your bucket list.
Located about one and a half hour from Cape Town, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is another of South Africa’s lesser known wine making areas in the spectacular Overberg region that’s well worth a visit.
Meaning ‘heaven and earth’ in Afrikaans, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is more precisely located within the Walker Bay area which is perhaps best known for whale watching and other maritime activities; wedged between the imposing Kleinrivier and Babylonstoren mountain ranges.
South Africa’s wine production extends well beyond the well known areas Stellenbosch and Franschhoek; and lesser known areas should not be overlooked as they offer a range of awesome wines.
The Hemel-en-Aarde wine route, sometimes also referred to as the Hermanus wine route due to its proximity to the coastal town of Hermanus, continues to be something of a secret, although this is changing quickly as more and more visitors are starting to explore the area and its excellent wineries.
This small wine-growing region produces some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world thanks to a mixture of Table Mountain sandstone, decomposed granite and Bokkeveld shale-based soil. In addition, the area boasts a relatively stable cool climate throughout the year. As such, it is actually similar to that of Burgundy in France and this is clearly reflected in the style of local wines.
From the first winery starting to make wine in the area at the end of the 1970s the region has grown to around twenty wineries today. Most are small, family-led estates with immense focus on quality and sustainable production processes and production focuses on small batches.
Which is another region to visit, as it’s pretty unlikely you will find lots of the really excellent local wines at a wine store near you.
How to get to Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
The Hemel-en-Aarde valley stretches along R320, only a short distance from Hermanus.
It’s an easy drive and local wineries are located over approximately 20 kilometres along the road, with the first one some 10 minutes from the centre of the town.
However, you should be aware most of the wineries require you to drive a short distance on unpaved roads as soon as you turn off R320.
There is no public transportation in the valley but if you do not want to drive a great alternative is booking with Hermanus Wine Hoppers. The company provides an easy, hop-on-hop-off style service with tickets valid for a full day and routes passing by all local wineries. Thus you can get off wine tasting or having lunch at the winery of your choice, then board the next vehicle to continue wine tasting or heading back to Hermanus.
Where to stay in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Though much has been done in the valley to provide a great visitor experience, Hemel-en-Aarde is still not a full-fledged tourist area.
This means, accommodation is limited and most of what you will find here are self-catering guest houses. That said, if you don’t mind looking after your own breakfast (or find it at some other place), the cottages are all well equipped and there are lots of opportunities eating out, including many of the local wineries.
If you are after a more luxury stay with all the usual services at your fingertip, the seaside town of Hermanus is just a few kilometres away and offers a good choice of luxury hotels. To know more, about accommodation in Hermanus check out my post on the Best things to do in Hermanus beyond whale watching.
Five exquisite wineries to visit in Hemel-en-Aarde
When it comes to being known and popularity, there’s no doubt Creation Wines takes one of the top spots in the valley.
Certainly the incredible food and wine pairings, including the very popular ‘Story of Creation’ pairing menu is one of the reasons behind this success.
Though the winery is open daily, I recommend to book ahead in particular if you want to do a pairing and get a table at the restaurant. We went during high summer season and the place was packed. Though you are likely to squeeze in for a wine tasting nevertheless as the winery during busy periods extends the tasting area around their cellar, it would be a real miss not trying the food here.
There are various wine tasting options available but make sure to include the two flagship Creation Art of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They are really worth it.
Creation is also one of the local wineries perfect for a family visit. They have a special kiddies’ paring menu (non alcoholic obviously) so no remorse you are doing something not so much appropriate for the whole family.
Open daily 10 am – 5 pm (wine pairing from 11 am – 4 pm)
If you are familiar with the Cape Winelands and their wines in general, Bouchard Finlayson is most likely the one you have already heard off as the winery is one of the most awarded boutique winery in South Africa and is working very actively with restaurants and hotels around Cape Town to promote their wines.
As most others in the Hemel-en-Aarde the focus is on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir although you will find other varieties here too including the award-winning Hannibal blend created with Italian Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes.
Settle down at the outside terrace or directly in the wine cellar where you will surrounded by the wine barrels (bring a jacket for the latter as the cellar it’s cool in there even in summer). For wine tasting, you can chose from nine different wines. The winery also offers excellent platters if you crave some food with your wine.
The winery is also an ideal location if you want to go for a hike with three trails of various length (from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours) letting you explore the indigenous fynbos vegetation of the area.
Open Mon – Fri, 9 am to 5 pm; Sat 10 am to 1 pm.
Sumaridge Estate Wines
This lovely estate is nestled next to a small dam and surrounded by the verdant rolling hilltops of the valley.
Though the small tasting room is really nice, it’s the tables nestled below the huge trees bordering the dam that are unbeatable for some downtime and a nice wine tasting. During summer, you can also have a picnic there on the lawn.
Sumaridge offers a range of varietals including off course the areas main Chardonnay and Pinot Noir next to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah and Pinotage. I definitely recommend to taste the two flagship blends Maritimus and Epitome.
The small restaurant serves excellent platters.
Open daily 11 am – 5 pm; restaurant 12 am – 3 pm
Nestled on top of one of the hilltops in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde valley, Newton Johnson offers one of the most spectacular views over the verdant valley as far as the Atlantic Ocean.
Founded in 2000, the winery has quickly eared a name for its excellent Pinot Noir and has been the first winery in South Africa to produce a local Albariño.
There is a small tasting room where you can try the winery’s different ranges.
However, the jewel of Newton Johnson is The Restaurant at Newton-Johnson offering an excellent traditional South African cuisine based on produce sourced locally, many actually directly grown on the farm.
The restaurant is open for lunch from Wed – Sun, 12 pm – 2.30 pm. Check out the website for special dinner events.
A winery you cannot miss to visit in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – or while you are in seaside town of Hermanus – is Hermanuspieterfontain Wines.
It takes its name from the founder of Hermanus, Hermanus Pieters and it is the winery with the longest name in Afrikaans in the world.
Located just outside of Hermanus within a larger shopping village , the Hermanuspietersfontein Wines tasting room feels a bit more like a wine shop rather than a winery. Even though it lacks the beautiful scenery of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley featured by the other wineries, wine tasting here is not at all different. There are several tasting options, and there is food there too.
I really recommend you plan a visit to coincide with the wineries weekly Saturday market. A popular happening in Hermanus, the market which is located in the courtyard behind the tasting room is called Die Markie and features food with stalls selling a variety of breakfast choices, meat pies, burgers, seafood, pastries, home-made bread, cheese and charcuterie, as well as fruits and sweets.
Open Mon – Fri, 9 am to 5 pm; Sat 9 am to 1 pm
Have you been to Hemel-en-Aarde Valley? Let me know about your experience.