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Hemel-en-Aarde

Hemel-en-Aarde (which means "heaven and earth" in the Afrikaans language) is a wine-producing area of Walker Bay in the Western Cape of South Africa, about 80km southeast of Cape Town. The region's close proximity to the coast means that it enjoys a distinctly maritime climate. Elegant, cool-climate wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a certain degree of Burgundian style are a particular specialty of the region, which has considerably increased its international reputation in recent years. Smaller amounts of Syrah, Pinotage and red Bordeaux blends are also made here.

The Hemel-en-Aarde viticultural zone lies in a valley that extends 27km (16 miles) northeastwards from the whale-watching town of Hermanus on the coast. It is divided into three wards each with a distinct Wine of Origin designation. Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is situated closest to the sea, though the vineyards of Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley rarely lie further than 15km (9 miles) from Walker Bay. Furthest inland is the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge WO. The wider region is bordered on the north side by the Babylonstoren Mountains, and on the south by the Kleinrivier Mountains. The Onrust River runs through the valley.

The Antarctic Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean brings cooling breezes to the area, predominantly from the south-east. This oceanic influence means that average summer temperatures in Hemel-en-Aarde are significantly cooler than regions further inland such as Stellenbosch and Paarl. Clouds are hemmed in by the surrounding mountains, trapping cool air and moisture in the narrow Hemel-en-Aarde valley.

Vineyards stretch along the valley floor, but also reach up the foothills of the mountains to altitudes of up to 350m above sea level. White wine grape varieties such as Chardonnay prefer the shaded south-facing slopes, while red-wine grape varieties such as Pinot Noir do well on the north-facing slopes that have greater access to sunlight. The exposure to both sun and wind on these slopes leads to a longer ripening period, allowing the vines to produce grapes with concentrated flavors and good acidity. 

The soils in the region are largely Bokkeveld shale, Table Mountain sandstone and decomposed granite. These provide excellent drainage, particularly on elevated vineyards, causing the vines to grow deep, strong root systems. Low fertility in these soils ensures the vines do not waste precious energy on producing foliage. The high clay content of the soils found in Hemel-en-Aarde is reminiscent of the Cote d’Or in Burgundy.

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