20 years ago the country was still fallow. Here in Walker Bay, with a view of Mount Babylon, between Hemel-en-Aerde, i.e. between heaven and earth, Africa's best winery has emerged. A place name could not be more symbolic. The options that opened up from a wasteland on which vines were planted must have far exceeded the expectations of Jean-Claude and his wife Carolyn. He is an oenologist and learned his craft at the age of 19, she is South African with winemaking ancestors.
In 2002 they planted the first vines on their newly acquired land. Many factors have to be right for grapes to become good wines. The soil, the temperature, the angle to the sun. Here between Hemel-en-Aerde the climate was just right. The area around Walker Bay is characterized by fresh Atlantic winds. It is cool, sometimes even cold, the sun is high during the day and ensures that the grapes ripen well.
The vineyards are at 290 meters, the floors are clay and slate, which gives the wines an extra kick. The grapes ripen slowly due to the difference in temperature between night and day. This later gives the wines a naturally high level of acidity and fine fruit that is not known from South Africa. This is another reason why the wines from this region are special. Above all, large Pinot Noirs and fresh Chardonnays grow here, which only develop their full potential in the cool weather.
The couple was still inexperienced when they planted the first vines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon met soil that had never before been rooted by vines. You could therefore also rely on virus-free plants and work sustainably and ecologically from the start. New vineyards are now planted with grafted vines. They consist of a rootstock and scion grafted onto it. The scion contains the genetic material of the grape variety, the rootstock contains the material for the root system. It can come from any grape variety, it just has to be phylloxera-resistant and virus-free.
Jean-Claude is the winemaker, Claudia is the head of the winery, driving innovation. The wine cellar is also innovative, where the wines are often aged in wood for months. New additions are concrete eggs, with which Jean-Claude wants to create new wines. Creation is therefore also the right name for the winery. Something new was created here 20 years ago, and something new will continue to be created here. The winegrowers always try to stay technologically up to date. For example, the bottling of the wines is outsourced, when the wines are ready to be bottled, a truck, a mobile bottler, drives up. This saves valuable space.
Last year, the 50-hectare winery was voted the best in Africa, and it is ranked 38th in the world. The Martins bottle up to 400,000 bottles a year, which is enormous. Gourmets will also get their money's worth in the winery. There are seasonal dishes made with local produce that can be combined as a set menu or as small plates to share. A focus is placed primarily on plant-based food, one moves with the times. There are poke bowls, ostrich steak and artichoke salad. The right wine is recommended for each dish. And then you look up at Mount Babylon and now you understand why you dine here between heaven and earth.