It took a Jo’burg businessman named Tim Hamilton Russell and his wine mentor, Desiderius Pongrácz (of popular MCC fame), to realise the true potential of the Hemel-en-Aarde back in 1975. This was a pioneering act, as the KWV imposed strict quota laws that prohibited wine expansion into new areas. Undeterred, Tim bought Hamilton Russell Vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and persuaded winemaker Peter Finlayson to leave tried-and-tested Franschhoek for Hermanus. After experimenting with a variety of cultivars, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were the only ones to express something new and exciting. It was only in 2004 that Walker Bay was officially recognised as a wine district with the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley gaining ward status in 2006.
Of the three Hemel-en-Aarde wards, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is the closest to the Atlantic Ocean, with the nearest vineyards only 1.5km away from from the cold Benguela current’s Antarctic influence, making it one of the coolest wine regions in South Africa.
Here, wines exhibit a muscular structure, with iron and clay-rich soils giving a refreshing saline element, without being racy or sharp.
In the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, the soils change from Bokkeveld shale to lighter structured Table Mountain sandstone to the north of Onrus River, and decomposed granite to the south. Coupled with a longer hang time, the wines display a fresh linearity and perfumed character, often highlighting floral notes.
The Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, acting as a boundary between the cool valley and the dramatically increasing warmth of Caledon, really puts its vines to the test. The smallest of the three wards, it’s also the most extreme in altitude, the coolest and windiest, with the least amount of clay content in its soils. The resulting wines, however, are highly aromatic and expressive with a pure fruit profile.
Join us at Belthazar to explore this place named after the meeting place of heaven and earth. Or, as Anthony Hamilton Russell puts it: “Hemel-en-Aarde is a place to come to. Not a place to leave.”