Toenadering in the Hemel-en-Aarde

Oh good. The last I’d heard was of possible lawsuits, undoubted bad feeling. But now good sense has triumphed and there’s an association of producers in this fine wine-growing area inland from Hermanus.

It’s the area which everyone must agree owes an enormous amount to the pioneering faith and work of Tim Hamilton-Russell, founder of Hamilton Russel Vineyards in the early 1970s (that’s the HRV barrel cellar in the pic). More recently, when the Wine and Spirit Board was called in to look at the merits of declaring the Hemel-en Aarde Valley a ward (it was then merely part of the Walker Bay District), the committee decided that there was good reason to break it into three wards rather than leave it as just one.

Two of these were easy to name, the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde. The trouble came with the newly opened up area (most famously colonised by ex-Hamilton Russell winemaker Kevin Grant and his Ataraxia Mountain Vineyards). A watershed literally divided that ward from the other two, and there was (to put it mildly) great reluctance on the part of some established prducers to allow “Ward 3” to call itself anything that associated it with the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (“It’s a separate valley entirely!”, was the reason – or the excuse). For a long while bitterness and argument and threat of legal action prevailed, preventing the official naming of the third ward.

But now, clearly, some process which will be welcomed by surely everyone has taken place. The third ward (the most distant from Hermanus, as one travels happily up the single road to Caledon through what most academically-challenged people will accept as one valley) has been named: Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge it is. It appears that all have agreed that it’s not really part of the same valley (but who cares, actually, in a system that seems happy to call Constantia a valley when the largest part of it clearly is not a valley at all, but open to the sea). As a price for a settlement useful to everyone in the whole Cape wine industry, not just themselves, that seems pretty reasonable.

So we now have the Hemel-en-Aarde Winegrowers Association. It’s a great pity they’ve chosen to be illiterate and omit the apostrophe, but how good to have the word “winegrower” included, as the best available English translation of the French “vigneron”, uniting as it does the concepts of viticulturist and winemaker. This is, after all, the area that at least started off as a local approximation of Burgundy, specialising in pinot noir and chardonnay – even if (sadly to some) it is now developing into the typical New World opportunist mish-mash of including everything that will sell, especially the fashionable varieties (ie sauvignon blanc above all – believe it or not, this variety now occupies nearly a quarter of the vineyards in the area, with even bloody shiraz close on the heels of pinot and chardonnay; clearly calling oneself a vigneron doesn’t always imply a helluva lot).

Nonetheless, let’s call for at least two cheers for the reconciliation and for the fixed smiles of unity in the Hemel-en-Aarde.

For the record, there are 23 producers in the new Association, distributed ward-wise as follows:

Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Ashbourne, Bouchard Finlayson, La Vierge., Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Southern Right, Vrede

Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Déjà vu, Hemel-en-Aarde Country Retreat, Hemelzicht, Klein Hemel, Lelienfontein, Newton Johnson, Pearly Gates, Southend, Sumaridge, Tokara – Siberia Vineyards, Spookfontein.

Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge
Ataraxia, Babylon Farm Vineyards, Creation, Jakob’s Vineyards, Domaine des Dieux, Mount Babylon

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