Thursday, September 28, 2017

Heritage Weekend in the Hemel en Aarde Valley

Escape to Heaven!
We took off four days last weekend. It was Heritage Day on Sunday and thence a long weekend, so we escaped to the Hemel and Aarde valley with good friends to relax, eat good food, try out some fine wineries and just kuier. Oh, and catch up on some sleep. Kind friends who are travelling abroad had lent us their cottage. The weather was not good, it was mostly bitterly cold with a little sunshine on Sunday; we burnt a lot of wood on the open fireplace but came home very ready to get back into the mad media season
We left at 10 on Friday morning and headed first to Oak Valley Winery and the Pool Room where we tasted some wines with Cape Wine Master Brad Gold, their keen young marketing manager and the lovely Steph, who is behind the tasting counter should you call in
We loved the new label on the Groenlandberg 2016 Pinot Noir. It is the mountain range behind the farm and the Pinot is grown on the highest slopes. This Pinot has finesse, is deep with good fruit and so enjoyable. They also have the 2014 Sound of Silence Pinot Noir, different, more mature and full of flowers and berries, also very good
Oak Valley have just rebranded their wines with some lovely new labels, each which has a story about the farm. You can buy this box with each of the six wines in it, and they are all wrapped in a tissue paper map of the farm. The Stone and Steel Riesling has no terpenes in it and is a very good Riesling
The previous labels were classic; these are softer and more modern and it has increased sales a lot
Time for some lunch. A chilly day meant we sat inside; on a better day, it is lovely eating around the pool
Chef Gordon Manuel has put together a good menu with many of the ingredients sourced from the farm and local suppliers and farms. It changes regularly. The farm has its own free range pork and beef. He sent us an amuse of his fresh mussels in broth. Such plump mussels in a really good creamy wine broth with some chilli and coriander green oil, served with sourdough bread and olive oil. Lynne is cautious with mussels; she was converted
Our friends are vegetarians, so they had the grilled vegetables with the savoury chocolate mole sauce as their starter
and beetroot gnocchi as a main course
Lynne ordered the deep fried calamari as her main course and was surprised when they came in a leafy salad
John ordered his favourite Pool Room dish, the huge Oak Valley Beef Burger with superb hand cut chips. We helped him a little with them
and for dessert was a Crème Brulée
or a very good mini tart tatin, followed by Espressos
The bright yellow weaver birds were waiting for us on the lake side at de Werf
and the yellow-billed ducks
The next day, Saturday, we ventured out to Newton Johnson and did a tasting of their splendid wines. Our friends were so impressed with the quality of all of them. We love making converts to the valley wines
The Tasting menu
They are also making beer, so Lynne decided we needed three of each for the weekend. The brand name is quite naughty; say it out loud. The Enlightened Ale is very well made, light and quaffable. The Dutch Courage IPA is quite dark and malty, more like a stout than an IPA for Lynne but a good beer, easy to drink. These cost R30 a 450ml bottle
We had not booked for lunch as they were full, but chef Rickey Broekhoven wanted to cook something for us while we were there
and made these deep fried wings of yellowtail. These are the fins and the meat from just behind the gills which are usually cut off and put into stock or discarded. Rather like pig or beef cheeks, behind the fin is a lovely nugget of fish, soft and gelatinous and so good. He made an aioli dipping sauce to go with these. Wow
For our vegetarians, he made some cauliflower popcorn with a spicy coating
The trees in the valley are all bursting into leaf and blossom
A young yellow bishop weaver "in transitional plumage" according to an experienced birder friend of ours. He does look a bit fierce with that huge sharp beak!
Lavender time
In the trees next to the house are bird feeders so we see a lot of lovely birds. This Cape weaver had just been indulging
It is such a beautiful valley
And then the clouds came in
The daisies all closed up
The watsonias were looking beautiful
High in a yellow flowering tree
On a nature walk we found these perfect little flowers. Like faces with frilly hats. Only about 4mm across
And sterretjies just beginning to flower
Relaxing with the crossword on the stoep
Arum season too
And hundreds of waterblommetjies in the lakes
Looks so pretty here and would be good in a lamb potjie too
Everything is bursting into flower
Sunset over the sea at the end of the valley
Next morning Lynne spotted this spoonbill landing and sent John off with his camera
The Hadidas led it away
Sunday, despite the gloomy weather, we ventured out to Domaine de Dieux which has fantastic views. That is Ataraxia's Greek chapel styled tasting room on the hill on the right, with Creation below the dam
Domain de Dieux's little pavilion makes a perfect tasting room
We had a great tasting of all their wines, starting with the award winning MCC Bubbly. Megan Parnell sowed us the 2016 Chardonnay, made by Kevin Grant
and the delicious, Bandol-like Petit Rosé
 Sunday was National Braai Day, so we did mainly vegetarian things, with a little Boerewors on the side for us two. Stuffed mushrooms, grilled aubergines and courgettes, braai broodjies stuffed with two cheeses and spring onions, not forgetting the sweet corn. We drank rather a lot of wine. In fact we must confess that we drank nearly all the wine we took with us. But we weren’t going anywhere that day
Monday dawned brighter after all the rain overnight and off we went to Ataraxia which had been closed on Sunday. We drove through his immaculate vineyards
Geometric patterns in the trees and vines
Owner/winemaker Kevin Grant built this quirky tasting room to resemble a Greek church on a hill. The views are almost as spectacular as the wines. Ataraksi in Greek means "a state of serene calmness"
We tasted all his wines and bought some Serenity - our wine of the week this week. He has a just-released 2017 Sauvignon Blanc which is unwooded and has classic notes with good finesse; a 2016 Chardonnay, as Kevin says "unapologetically" wooded and full; and a classic, lightly wooded, elegant Pinot Noir. We suspect his wine at the Cape Winemakers Guild this weekend - Under the Gavel Chardonnay 2016 will do very well indeed and it deserves to. We tasted it in August and were very impressed. We will be there on Saturday
Another view of the glorious Hemel and Aarde valley in spring, this time looking from Ataraxia over Creation wine estate toward Caledon. It really is a beautiful place. We went to Creation next for a paired tasting with lunch. We will write about it in full next week
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