Spooks and Sea Dragons

Final instalment of our Overberg food and wine extravaganza … where else but among the truly lovely mountains of Hemel-en-Aarde? It’s a place of rounded green hills with rock knuckles pulsing through; neat graphic lines of vineyards swaying upward along mountain slopes; and even furtive glimpses through to a distant shimmer of ocean. This is where brothers Bevan and Gordon of Newton Johnson Family Vineyards spent many, many hours surfing … and also, partly, why their wine label logo features a pert pair of seahorses nose to nose. Sea themes crop up all over the place. Their vines are cooled by the southern winds of the cold Atlantic Ocean. And now two juicy, spicy, red berry Pinot Noirs go by the names of SeaDragon and WindanSea (capital letters all mine).

Newton Johnson has an amazing glass box of a tasting room with sensational views across the Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Their restaurant is also first class, with equally ravishing vistas, but sadly closed on a Monday.

There is no definitive proof of who first named this valley “Heaven and Earth” but there are several historical accounts: one early Dutch author wrote “… omdat het oog over de bergen slechts den hemel kan zien” (… because across the mountains the eye sees only heaven). In another story, a land surveyor one night said “Vandag het ek die hemel en aarde gemeet en die Engel het die ketting gesleep” (today I measured heaven and earth and Engel [his assistant] dragged the chain).

In the tasting room, a timeline recording the establishment of all the wine estates in the valley runs the length of the glass façade. Newton Johnson particularly prides itself on its Pinot Noir cultivars, and once you’ve tasted them, there’s no turning back. I mean, who can resist hints of “layered, dense fruit of cranberry, raspberry, blackberry, and Turkish delight with, sometimes, soft spices of cinnamon, clove and fennel on the finish” ???

Then we headed off to find spooks at Spookfontein. Well, not really. We went to taste wine and enjoy the innovative architecture of their restaurant and winery (restaurant also closed on a Monday). The winery is built below a natural spring, where some mystical person of the past, having a creative imagination, mused that you could see a spirit in the bubbling waters. (“Spook” is the Dutch word for ghost.)



Natural brick, wood and glass … blending into the environment and taking best advantage of the expansive views. Spookfontein also crafts some very lip-puckerish (as in lip-smacking) wines.

And that, my friends, is how certain people celebrate their birthdays. Not too shabby, I have to admit. Luckily I was there to record it.