They say the surrounding mountains in an Overberg valley are so high all you can see is heaven and earth. Welcome to Hemel-en-Aarde
Having been to Hell – the hidden valley near the Swartberg Pass known as Die Hel – it seems logical to try the opposite extreme. And so we head for heaven, or rather its earthly equivalent, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in the Overberg, about ten kilometres from Hermanus.
It has become easier to explore heaven, as the tarred R320 that once stopped halfway up the valley now winds upwards through sublime scenery, embracing a dozen wineries on the Hermanus Wine Route before continuing to Caledon.
The valley is a microcosm of the way South Africa has changed. Two centuries ago, a leper colony was established on the original farm Hemel-en-Aarde. The colony was moved to Robben Island in 1846, and in subsequent decades the living made on the mixed farms in the valley was poor. It’s a past hard to imagine now, when you’re in an Arcadian landscape of vineyards covering rolling hills, with elegant wineries and restaurants in between.
We decide to start right from the beginning with the story of Creation.
Creation winery is situated in a heavenly location below the Kleinrivier mountains, and instantly recalls for us the Biblical phrase ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. But there’s more than this underlying the name of the wine estate, as Carolyn Martin, co-owner with her husband, winemaker Jean-Claude Martin, explains.
“It’s about putting together all the
elements of food and wine, and the right glasses, to create a beautiful experience and bring joy to people’s life,” says Carolyn, who has quite a background in wine. A member of the Finlayson family, she grew up in the garden at Hartenberg Estate, Stellenbosch, listening to her grandmother Eleanor Finlayson introducing wines.
“Gran belonged to the Tastevin Club, which is all about great food and wine, and I used to be the gofer between the kitchen and the garden. So I learnt about gardening and cooking and knowing that it was important to entertain people. I gave my first wine tasting at the age of five when I couldn't find my grandmother.”
After training in innovation brand development, Carolyn worked in London where Laurent Perrier Champagne was among her clients. “This is where I learnt that you don’t just eat food and have wine. You think about the way they go together.”
The results of her experience show in Creation’s restaurant, three-time winner of the Klink Awards for food and wine pairing. Among the mouth-watering combinations is an eight-course tapas and wine pairing starting with Sauvignon Blanc paired with calamari risotto, pawpaw, pineapple, celery, radish, lemon grass and apples, and ending with the Creation Syrah Grenache paired with lamb and rosemary, curry powder, sundried tomatoes and pomegranate.
There is an ongoing story of upliftment and transformation at Creation, with the Pebbles Education Project to raise funds for a school bus to take local children to secondary school, and an early childhood development pre-school with aftercare, plus a skills-development programme.
Also in the valley is the apple and pear farm Karwyderskraal, where horse rides with Heaven and Earth Trails are guaranteed to
À contented horses amble over from their paddock to greet us, waiting to take us out through some of the most gorgeous scenery.
The trails are run by Karl Götze, who as a small boy rode a pony called Princess without a saddle or bridle, and has been riding ever since. When his sister and brother-in-law Sonia and Danie van Zyl’s two horses became eight – it’s a long story – he pioneered the rides from Karwyderskraal that Danie manages.
Picnics, braais, moonlight or sunset rides, as well as a stay in a three-bedroom, self-catering cottage tucked away in a lush
¿ touch – literally – Karl, a sports science
and physical therapy practitioner, also gives massages to ease any saddle-sore muscles.
“A lot of people who ride with us are beginners,” says Karl. “But there are easy trails with views to Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay, through fields of flowers. "Trails of one to four hours also include a trail through two wine farms. And it seems like a case of history repeating itself, for the farm was once owned by Ella Gordon, a colourful character (died 1958) who was reputed to have trained performing circus horses, and kept her own beloved horses (she called them her children), on the farm.
At Hemel-en-Aarde Village, at the junction of the R43 to Hermanus and the R320, we encounter a one-eyed black sheep at Hermanuspietersfontein wine cellar. “He is a much-travelled sheep,” says Hermanuspietersfontein marketing manager Anika de Goede, explaining that the bead mascot accompanies all tours with their wines. It’s also the only cellar in the country to use Afrikaans exclusively for its wine names and labels, like the charmingly named Bloos (Blush, a Bordeaux-style rosé).
Long ago, farmers in the valley asked Pieter Hermanus to teach their children Afrikaans but they could only afford to pay him in food and sheep. Pieter's resulting flock prospered to such an extent he had to move down the valley to the coast, settling next to a spring known as Hermanuspietersfontein which, in time and with abbreviation, became known as Hermanus. Today the wine farm offers cellar tours
and wine tastings of the fruits of their coolclimate vineyards up in the hills - " That two degrees less in temperature makes all the difference,” says Anika – and Die Markie, a lively Saturday morning food and wine market where, glass in hand, you can enjoy treats like pancakes, abalone or freshly shucked oysters paired with live music.
It’s worth taking a wander down the Village Lane in Hemel-en-Aarde Village to discover the various temptations there, including Whalehaven Winery, owned by the Italian Bottega family of Da Capo Vineyards in Somerset West, and The Wine Village shop
ABOVE: At Creation, this sculpture by Gavin Risi was erected as part of the wine estate’s exhibition for the annual Hermanus FynArts Festival.
LEFT: Carolyn and Jean-Claude Martin (winemaker) of Creation enjoy their Pinot Noir against a backdrop of Babilonstoring peak.
ABOVE: Jurgen Matschke offers a wine tasting to Adele Nutt and Whan Brink at Hermanuspietersfontein tasting room. RIGHT: Sonia and Danielle van Zyl in the doorway of the self-catering cottage in the secluded garden at Karwyderskraal Farm. BELOW: Horses from Heaven and Earth Trails do some meet and greet.