Hermanus Wine Route
The right place to start a tasting tour of the Hermanus wine route is with the Sultan of Sauvignon – big Bartho Eksteen, the incumbent Diners Club Winemaker of the Year (2010) – the Cape’s most exclusive winemakers club. Over a tasting of the new 2010 vintage of his award-winning Nr 5 Sauvignon Blanc, Bartho quips “I was chuffed to win the award with a wooded Sauvignon Blanc up against all those other wines. It stood out like a swart skaap (black sheep)” (the name of Bartho’s Cabernet Franc wine) – and underscored the region’s success with this signature cool-climate variety.
The number of cellars in Walker Bay has grown like the whales visiting Walker Bay over the last decade. I was struck by the number of newer producers exhibiting at the annual three-day Hermanus Wine and Food Fair at Hermanus Wine Village in August. I enjoyed my first taste of the cool-climate wines of Barton Vineyards (Bot River) Brunia Cold Mountain Vineyards (Stanford/Elim), Domaine des Dieux (Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge under new winemaker John Seccombe), Hornbill House (garagiste winemakers in Hermanus), Jakob’s Vineyard (Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge), Elemental Bob (brilliant Turkish/Delight blends from Craig Sheard of Spookfontein), and Seven Springs in the Overberg (a stunning maiden Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay 2010).
Tasting your way up the Hemel-en-Aarde – divided into the new valley, upper and ridge wards – takes visitors from HPF and Whalehaven at 22 metres above sea level to the highest vineyards of Ataraxia at 400 metres. Four signature varieties have made the reputation of the valley – with signature Sauvignon Blanc (24% of all plantings), Chardonnay (20%), Pinot Noir (18%) and, to a lesser extent, Pinotage (12%) – pioneered by Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson. The higher you climb the more diverse the wines, with a mixed bag of flagship Bordeaux, Cape, Italian and Rhône-style blends from Ashbourne, Bouchard Finlayson (Hannibal), Ataraxia (Serenity), Creation, La Vierge, Newton Johnson and Sumaridge. The valley divides into left (newer cellars) and right (older) banks on south and north-facing slopes.
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