* This article first appeared here on Goodthingsguy.com
Thin places is a striking phrase the Celtics use to describe places that are so magically divine that it seems the space between heaven and earth is very thin – or even nonexistent. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is indeed one of these spaces not only in name – Afrikaans for Heaven and Earth Valley – but also in its startling beauty.
The Overberg is known for its dreamy landscapes, but in this sliver of a valley, they are perhaps most dramatically pronounced. In the wake of domestic tourism reopening, here are my recommended restaurants, wine tastings, and two heavenly places to sleep.
Spookfontein is one of the dozen wineries dotted along the Hemel-en-Aarde Road, which almost perfectly dissects the Valley. The estate has the fourth oldest plantings in the Valley, as well as one of the largest properties. Only 13 of the 313 hectares are under vine, leaving the vineyards surrounded by pristine fynbos.
My introduction to Spookfontein’s range was by winemaker Sol Yerden. A daughter of Argentina, Sol grew up with ambitions of being the queen of the harvest (a highly coveted position in the annual harvest festival associated with her native Mendoza). She smiles as I point out that a few years later she’s seen her dreams realised with a significant reign at Spookfontein.
Some of my recommendations include: the Rosé which inherits both colour and juicy flavour from its Merlot cultivar; the Syrah with all that spice sensitively softened by old oak; the Phantom which is the best of Bordeaux (Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sav blend); and their Cape Ruby – a sumptuous port that simply begs a fireplace and equally juicy novel.
The winery is Spookfontein’s crowning glory. Positioned high above the vineyards it has remarkable architecture;the gentle curves of theconcrete roof reflects the arcs of the surrounding hills. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls best frame the view. An elegant design without being arrogant. This characteristic is also reflected in the range of wines: distinctive Hemel-en-Aarde quality, balanced with reasonable prices (from R55 to R195).
The winery is also home to the farm’s restaurant. Owners Vaughan and Francois offer a very tempting menu that honours the spectacular setting. Every meal has been thoroughly crafted…some taking three weeks to perfect! Don’t leave without trying the lamb tortellini or the Pork Ramen. The Spookfontein Restaurant offers a relaxed environment and under-complicated meals, all the while doing justice to the generous surrounds.
Spookfontein is one of the few farms that offers accommodation in the area, so understandably their two cottages are in high demand. For three days Sunbird was my home, set on the fringe of the forest and surrounded by vineyards. Both cottages are angled to take full advantage of the liberal views before them.
When the Valley wears her winter coat, the cottages offer a cosy retreat where a roaring fire and red wine await and in summer there is an enticing dam to cool off in. Trail runners and hikers: bring your gear as there is no shortage of mountain paths waiting to be explored. spookfontein.co.za
The beauty of the Valley is that despite over ten visits, I’m still able to discover new wineries. I’d seen the Seven Springs Vineyard labels but never tasted what lay within them. Augustus Dale (affectionately Gus) is the farm’s vigneron, leading the tastings when he is available. The tasting room is an unassuming space where the wines shine.
Gus is as knowledgeable as he is entertaining and quickly I realise he’s only too willing to share what he knows. It only took him eight weeks of classes at Oxford University to know that economics was not for him, and then eight weeks assisting in a cellar in Burgundy to know he’d found his calling. 14 years’ experience in Burgundy was just what was needed to make his mark in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley…often touted as closest to Burgundy in South Africa.
The unoaked Chard is a lean offering and at R110 for a 2016 vintage you’re in for a treat. As with the Sauvignon Blanc of the same vintage, they demonstrate that cool whites are able to age well. The farm’s Syrah is spicy and seductive, and with the Valley’s temperatures identical to the Northern Rhone, you’re drinking a softer Old World-styled wine.
At Seven Springs the grapes are hand-harvested, hand processed and the vinification is as natural as possible: made with minimal intervention or use of sulphur. The tasting costs R60 (refundable with two bottles purchases) and wines retail from R110 – R190 at the estate. Until you’re able to visit the farm, find your local stockist here. 7springs.co.za
Arriving in Cape Town nine years ago I began to hear the name Creation. Within minutes of my first visit, I’d already made the decision that Creation would be the home of an annual epicurean pilgrimage to a destination home to matchless food and wine offerings.
As with every drive through the gate, I was wondering what manner of persuasive nibbles and culinary delights were awaiting. Distinctive to the Valley is both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; they are perfected by the cool climate and careful stewardship. Both are where Creation not only focus but excel, available in the Estate offerings, Reserve range and then ultimate Art series (individually numbered bottles that are both site and barrel specific).
My visit to Creation came just as the second alcohol ban was being lifted. Speaking to Carolyn Martin (the creative tour de force behind the farm) there were moments when her eyes revealed some of the frustration and difficulty of that difficult period, but quickly shone with the indominable force of creativity so synonymous with Creation.
Not only is innovation encouraged, but at Creation it seems to be perfected. Lockdown was no exception – and almost effortlessly – their social media, menu changes, and tasting options demonstrated a celebration of creativity and craftmanship.
Added to the excitement of this trip was the promise of staying in Creation’s newest addition: the 2-sleeper Voormanshuis. The cottage, as with everything Creation, is a work of art…both marvel and masterpiece.
On the edge of one of the vineyard-lined hills, a modern timber structure rises up from the ground. Wooden panels encase the garage and cellar downstairs and open-plan living space upstairs. Then protruding out from this casing is an angular structure creating an entrance below and expansive veranda upstairs.
The sophisticated open-plan living space features a fireplace, dining area, poster-bed and oversized window for gazing out. This thoroughly romantic two-sleeper getaway is already becoming quite sought after – after all who wouldn’t want to be the sole residents on one of South Africa’s most sought-after epicurean destinations. creationwines.com