"Maritime influence. Elegant wines"
In May 2004 the Walker Bay Wine Ward was reclassified as a Wine District – one of 21 in the South African winelands. Given its size (close to that of the Stellenbosch District) and the greater and greater number of wine producers active in the area with a multitude of different wine styles, the Walker Bay was increasingly unable to justify Ward Status. A Wine Ward is the smallest unit of appellation after an individual Wine Estate and is supposed to delimit an area of relatively homogenous terroir – similar to an AVA in the US.
With the reclassification of the Walker Bay as a Wine District, the way was open for producers in the District to create their own more relevant Wine Wards with the assistance of a committee of soil specialists and viticulturists. Three Wards were created in the Hemel-en-Aarde Area – 1. Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 2. Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, both created in August 2006 and 3. Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, created in June 2009. These three appellations have the beautiful seaside resort town of Hermanus as their “service centre” and are aligned along the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Road (R320) as you leave Hermanus towards Caledon in the above order, with the nearest beginning 1 km from the turn-off and the furthest ending 18.2 km from the turn-off.
Particularly strong maritime influence . Collectively, the three Hemel-en-Aarde Area appellations enjoy probably the strongest maritime influence of any winegrowing area in South Africa. The closest point to the Atlantic Ocean Walker Bay, with its cooling influence of the cold Benguela current flowing up from Antarctica, is only 1.5km and the furthest point 10.6km. The prevailing summer wind, the Southeaster, blows across this bay towards the vineyards enhancing the cooling effect of proximity to the sea. This means cooler days but warmer nights and cooler summers but warmer winters. The climate, as for the rest of the Western Cape, is Mediterranean.
Cool in a South African context. Most international measures of average temperatures for wine producing areas, use minimum and maximum temperatures and therefore tend to distort more maritime areas upwards and more continental areas downwards. The average of the maximum daily temperatures for the four hottest months of the year, when there are grapes (immature or otherwise) on the vines is a more appropriate measure for South Africa. Based on this the Hemel-en-Aarde Area averages around 25 Centigrade over a 10 year period – similar to Elgin and Constantia, while Stellenbosch averages around 28 Centigrade, Franschhoek 29 Centigrade and Robertson 30 centigrade. In other words the Hemel-en-Aarde Area is significantly cooler than most winegrowing areas in South Africa for the most important months of the year for wine quality.
Higher than average rainfall for the winelands. Annual average rainfall is in the region of 750 mm if a ten year average is taken. This can vary substantially year on year, but rainfall is significantly more than for areas such as Stellenbosch, Paarl, Worcester, Robertson, Darling and the Swartland for example. Around 43% of the rainfall is in the winter months, 23% in the spring, 10% in the summer ripening season and the remaining 24% falls after harvest in the autumn. This is a more even rainfall distribution than for many of the growing areas further to the west and affords the possibility of dispensing with irrigation.
Further south than most of the winelands. Situated 34º 24′ 3.2” and 34º 19′ 51.5" south, the three Hemel-en-Aarde Area appellations, while southerly for the Cape winelands, do not come close to approximating the latitudes of the great European winegrowing regions and are cooled more by close proximity to the cold Atlantic Ocean than latitude. Even though the Hemel-en-Aarde Area is close to the southern tip of the African continent, South Africa simply does not stretch far enough south to reach classic European wine growing latitudes. The analogous wine growing region (latitude-wise) in North America would be the Santa Barbara area.