Not long ago the Hemel-en-Aarde valley hosted little but livestock. Now it is on the wine trail, writes Christine Austin

If Yorkshire seems a little empty at present it is possibly because a huge number of people are currently on holiday in South Africa. I met several of them during my own recent vitamin D top-up trip to the Cape.

After a rain storm last week, the dreaded Day Zero – when the city of Cape Town runs out of water – has been rolled forward to June which is the start of the normally rainy season, so with luck day zero may never arrive. Other parts of the Cape, such as the lovely coastal town of Hermanus on Walker Bay seem to have sufficient water in the taps, so if you are heading south for some sunshine then maybe you should take a detour there.

This is the ideal place to start exploring the Hemel-en-Aarde valley with producers such as Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Newton Johnson, Sumaridge and Creation strung out along the winding , beautiful valley. The cool coastal breezes work their way up the valley, providing a definitely breezy, gentle climate where Pinot Noir does particularly well. Some of South Africa’s finest Pinots come from this single valley.

At the top of the valley, tucked in behind a mountainous ridge and spread out across a range of slopes, the vineyards of Creation are now well-established. This is a relatively new wine property, owned by Swiss-born winemaker Jean-Claude Martin and his South African wife Carolyn, both of whom come from wine families. They started in 2002 when there was ‘nothing here but sheep’ and have transformed the landscape into a well-tended vineyard now producing outstanding, world-class wines. Pinot Noir is the obvious star but because they have the advantage of the twists and turns of the slopes, their range includes Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Cabernets.

Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin have transformed bare land into top-class vineyards

What is even more remarkable is the way they have turned a winery at the end of a very long road into one of the Cape’s most exciting tasting rooms, where even on a weekday morning, the tables are full of wine enthusiasts enjoying Creation’s particular style of food and wine pairing. With precise flavours, an extensive use of local, fresh ingredients and a superb understanding of the way wine combines with the food on the plate, Creation is a must for visitors to the Cape. Out of my nine tiny, delicious courses it is difficult to pick out a favourite, but the combination of smoked duck with goat’s cheese, beetroot dust and radish was definitely a heavenly match for the deep, almost Burgundian flavours of 2016 Reserve Pinot Noir.

You don’t have to go to South Africa to taste these wines, they are available from Harrogate Wine at £34.99 for the 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve, while the silky bright, peach-edged Creation Chardonnay is £22.99. Creation wines are also occasionally offered by the glass at Mr P in York and at The Star Inn at Harome.

While I was at Creation I took a detour to look at the new Pebbles Project which now occupies a few farm buildings just down the road. Pebbles takes it name from the effect a pebble has when it is dropped into a pond – the ripples spread out across the whole pond. Offering childcare, nutrition, libraries, healthcare, after-school provision and school leavers’ programmes, this charitable project has changed the lives of many children, young adults and adults in the rural parts of South Africa which can be several miles away from towns and a school.   The cutest pictures are always of little children playing safely while their mothers work, but the most amazing stories are of young people training for roles in the hotel and restaurant industry including work at Creation. These are the people who will go on to change South Africa’s future position in the world.


I also took the chance to visit the Pebbles’ nerve centre which works out of the Villiera farm in Stellenbosch. Once again I was blown away by the dedication and hard work that has gone into raising standards of living for the local people.

The Pebbles Project changes lives in South Africa

I was also totally impressed by the wines made at Villiera. This company is owned by the Grier family and has been making wines for Marks and Spencer for several years under the Crow’s Fountain label. The Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (£9) is crisp and minerally with tropical fruit notes on the mid-palate while the Shiraz/Merlot/Pinotage 2016 blend (£9) has dark, juicy, plums and blackberry fruit.

Both wines are made on this ecologically-aware property where the roof is covered in solar panels and where every drop of rain is harvested by a network of gutters and tanks.

‘We try to be better than organic’ said winemaker Jeff Grier which explains the swathes of trees they have planted across the estate and the ducks which are normally running free in the vineyards hunting for snails. On the day of my visit the ducks seem to have gone on strike, possibly in protest at their pond having shrunk to puddle proportions.

Villiera also has a most surprising other attraction. They have 220 hectares of land transformed into a wildlife sanctuary. ‘That parcel of land wasn’t very good for growing grapes, apart from one rather good Merlot vineyard’ said Cathy Grier so the whole lot has been transformed into a game reserve with giraffe, zebra, springbok, kudu, black wildebeest and various other animals – without the big cat predators that you might find larger game parks. There are 12 dams, marsh areas and 100,000 trees have been planted to enhance the landscape and provide habitats for wildlife. The advantage of this reserve is that you don’t need to take malaria pills and it is just an hour’s drive from Cape Town. I learnt more about the wildlife of South Africa during my two-hour tour of the Villiera Game Reserve than I did during several days in the Kruger Park.

After your tour you can visit the Villiera tasting room and taste through the range. Make sure you try Monro Red 2015, a fabulous, cherry, damson and herb blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Also well worth a taste is Villiera Down to Earth Touriga Nacional/Shiraz 2015 for its chunky, dark plums and liquorice fruit available in the UK from The Wine Society at just £7.75.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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