The most important vineyard area in the Walker Bay region is the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – literal translation “heaven on earth”. Here the altitude and exposure varies greatly so that many vine varieties can be grown.
Our first stop along the valley was Hamilton Russell. Tim Hamilton Russell was the first to plant a vineyard in the valley in the 1970s and proved that South Africa could indeed make some serious Pinot. The domaine has since grown into one of the finest in South Africa and are pioneers in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Further up the valley, at the end of a 4km dirt track and on the top of a hillside, sits the fabulous Ataraxia. We were very impressed by this domaine, which despite winning several awards for its Chardonnay, is not very well known outside South Africa. Ataraxia is a Greek term meaning serenity and when you look at the beautiful view from the tasting room you can understand why they chose to call the domaine by this name.
As for their wines, they were delicious. We especially liked their Sauvignon which had really good acidity, was very fresh and extremely drinkable. Their Chardonnay was restrained, peachy and very burgundian in style.
Other stops we made along the valley included Newton Johnson, which I would highly recommend visiting for a lunch stop, and Bouchard Finlayson, another pioneer in Pinot and Chardonnay.
On the other side of the mountains, to the north are the vineyards of Franschhoek. Having visited this region before, I knew what to expect – stunning scenery, excellent cuisine and first-class wines.
Môreson is always a favourite of ours. They have a wide range of wines that are all of a very high standard. Their Chenin goes down very well with a lunch at the adjacent Bread and Wine restaurant.
Our last stop on our vineyard tour of South Africa was Boekenhoutskloof. We had a very interesting tour of the cellars followed by a tasting with the assistant winemaker. The domaine uses traditional winemaking techniques as much as possible. However they are also keen to experiment with different techniques, such as this egg-shape fermentation vat.