Hemel-en-Aarde the home of South Africa’s champion Pinot Noir
FROM THE VALLEY to the upper slopes and over the ridge, wonderful views left, right and centre… The Hemel-en-Aarde wards outside Hermanus in the district of Walker Bay account for six of South Africa’s Top 10 Pinot Noir – two of the others originating in Elgin (Paul Cluver Seven Flags and Oak Valley), one in Franschhoek (Chamonix Reserve) and one in Stellenbosch (Meerlust). Consider the full 2017 SA Pinot Noir Classification comprising just 18 wines to have shown consistently well over the past 10 years and the Hemel-en-Aarde contingent increases to eight:
Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak and Tête de Cuvée Galpin Peak – Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Creation and Creation Reserve – Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
Crystallum Cuvée Cinéma – Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
Hamilton Russell – Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Newton Johnson Family Vineyards – Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Sumaridge – Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Nowhere else in the country is the variety more successful – red Burgundy much loved by wine folk around the world but oh so difficult to farm outside that area of France famous for its Romanée-Conti, Chambertin, Richebourg, Échezeaux, Le Tâche… New Zealand and Australia have their champions, Oregon in the USA has what it takes, and in South Africa it’s the leading outfits alongside the southern stretch of the R320 between Hermanus and Caledon that have collectively built a reputation for delightful Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay).
Among the criteria for good renditions of the ‘heartbreak grape’ are cooler growing conditions relative to most other varieties. Aside from a few isolated plantings in Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and elsewhere, Elgin and possibly Cape Agulhas are the only districts apart from Walker Bay to have shown the potential to ‘stand shoulder-to-shoulder’ with the world’s great Pinot Noir appellations. And such is the interest in this little ‘corner’ of the Cape winelands that tickets to the annual Hemel-en-Aarde Pinot Noir Celebration tend to be sold out way before the event(s).