by Georgina Crouth (published on 14 July '23 by Daily Maverick)
A slice of heaven in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley has just been ranked the world’s fourth-best vineyard to visit and the top wine estate in Africa. This is also the fourth time that Creation Wines has been listed as the number-one estate on the continent.
It joins the prestigious top line-up of Catena Zapata Wines in Mendoza, Argentina (world’s best vineyard); Bodegas de los Herederos del Marqués de Riscal in Rioja, Spain; Viña VIK in Chile; and Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux, France in fifth position, as the finest wine tourism destinations in the world.
This is the fifth edition of the annual awards, which are organised by William Reed Media (WRM), a digital data and events business in the food and beverage sector. Based in London, WRM also releases the influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards list.
“The World’s Best Vineyards highlights the very best wine tourism destinations around the globe,” says Andrew Reed, managing director of wine and exhibitions at William Reed. “We understand that there is more to wine than grape juice in a bottle. It’s also the story behind the winery, the visitor experiences you can have there.”
In 2023, he says, there were more new entries than ever.
Nominated by more than 500 leading international travel and wine experts to discover the best wine tourism experiences, the World’s 50 Best Vineyards have just been revealed at an awards ceremony in Rioja, Spain.
The judges nominate up to seven destination vineyards they’ve visited in the past two years.
Wineries must be open to the public, but are not required to serve “great” wine. Reed told Bloomberg that there’s no defined set of criteria: “Decent wine is a given,” and that judges rank wineries based on their all-around visitor experience, which means they are judged on their offerings to tourists – architecture, views, restaurant, cellars, activities, concerts, etc.
Top of the pops
Catena Zapata Wines founder and winemaker Nicolás Catena Zapata thrust Argentinian wine into the modern era by focusing entirely on quality. Catena Zapata, an economist, dared to plant vines where no one thought they would ripen and triggered a high-altitude wine revolution that culminated in the discovery of a new terroir for wine, the Adrianna Vineyard, at an elevation of almost 1,524m.
A view of the stars and snow-capped Andes from the watchtower at Catena Zapata’s Adrianna Vineyard. (Photo: Supplied)
Founded in 1902, the Bodega Catena Zapata is known for its pioneering role in resurrecting Malbec and in discovering extreme high-altitude terroirs in the Andean foothills of Mendoza. The estate, which produced Argentina’s first Grand Vin, is the oldest Argentinian family winery still in family hands. Catena’s daughter, Laura (honorary president at the renowned Wine and Spirits Education Trust), now runs the iconic Mayan pyramid-shaped winery, where guests are invited to dine in the new restaurant in the vines, taste directly from the barrel, take a wine and music tour, take in the views of the Adrianna vineyard, take a wine course and enjoy the estate’s architecture.
The Marqués de Riscal, which is distinguished by Frank Gehry’s futuristic architecture and dramatic twisted aluminium “ribbons” in hues of silver, gold and purple. (Photo: Supplied)
This year’s runner-up, for the second year in a row, is the Marqués de Riscal, which is distinguished by Frank Gehry’s futuristic architecture and dramatic twisted aluminium “ribbons” in hues of silver, gold and purple, shrouding the Hotel Marqués de Riscal. Gehry is famous for his postmodern designs, which include the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, the Lou Ruvo Centre in Las Vegas and perhaps the most famous, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
The property’s original bodega, in the Plaza del Reloj (“Square of the Sun Dial”) was built in 1860 and is home to the old cellars, with bottles dating back to the first vintage. The vineyards can be explored by foot, bike or horse, with golf and Padel courts. The surrounding mediaeval town of Elciego is rich in culture and history.
It has a Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant on the property, headed by local superstar chef Francis Paniego, a wine bar and al fresco grill, as well as a spa.
Another work of Gehry’s is in third place, located on 4,500ha of pristine Chilean nature with unique biodiversity.
VIK, characterised by avant garde and eco-friendly design, is perched on a hilltop in the heart of a picturesque valley, with the Andes mountains in the distance and panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and nature. It has a floating, sculptural roof of bronzed titanium, inspired by the mountains and the wind.
VIK, characterised by avant garde and eco-friendly design, is perched on a hilltop in the heart of a picturesque valley in Chile. (Photo: Supplied)
At this retreat on a hill, guests are invited to rest and “disconnect”, surrounded by the property’s remarkable art works, while they take in the views of VIK Park.
VIK Chile is said to be the most luxurious hotel in the country. There’s horseback riding, cooking classes, mountain biking, hiking and other experiences. Guests can enjoy a farm-to-table gourmet lunch in the vineyard’s restaurant, prepared with seasonal produce from their own organic garden, paired with their own wines.
Creation Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley has been selected as the world’s fourth best wine tourism destination. (Photo: Supplied)
Once again, Creation Wines has fared well against international competitors.
The cool-climate producer in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom is positioned in one of the most biodiverse wine regions in the world.
Co-owner Jean-Claude Martin was the first winemaker in South Africa to plant virus-free vines since the advent of democracy, which has been a long-term investment in sustainability since this improves vineyard longevity and quality as healthy vineyards yield healthy grapes. In the vineyards, armies of wasps and ladybirds control pests, which are kept under control by bats and owls.
Creation is a member of the voluntary schemes Integrated Production of Wine and EnviroWines, as well as a WWF-SA Conservation Champion.
Guests are encouraged to explore the grounds, which feature regular art exhibitions, go hiking and cycling, and enjoy the sheer natural beauty of the area. For gastronomes, there’s a seasonal menu, as well as fun food and wine pairings.
The region, which is cooled by Atlantic Ocean air, is well suited to chardonnay and pinot noir, which are Creation’s forte.
Bordeaux’s Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a leader in organic and biodynamic viticulture. (Photo: Supplied)
In fifth position is Bordeaux’s Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a leader in organic and biodynamic viticulture in Bordeaux, which offers a “forest of the senses” walking trail, horses for ploughing in the vineyard, and a “stealth” winery where C02 from fermentation is transformed into baking soda.
The property’s history dates back to the 14th century but over the past 30 years it has made its mark after former French Olympic skier Daniel Cathiard and his wife Florence bought the estate, embraced biodynamic farming and turned the winery into a luxury destination.
The five-star Les Sources de Caudalie is an opulent hotel in the middle of the vineyards, with two restaurants including the two-Michelin-starred restaurant La Grande’Vigne, or cosy countryside inn La Table du Lavoir. There’s a spa, a shop, wine bar, pool, gym, sauna, tennis court and more.
Day visitors are encouraged to visit the tasting room in the orangery, where the floorboards open up to reveal a secret stairway leading to a cellar holding the estate’s precious collection of bottles dating back to the 19th century.
Two other critically acclaimed South African estates featured in the top 50: At 32 is Klein Constantia, which traces its history to 1685 and revived production of the legendary “Vin de Constance” (famously requested by Napoleon on his deathbed, imported by kings, and praised by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Baudelaire and Byron), and at 37 is Delaire Graff Estate, owned since 2003 by diamond billionaire Laurence Graff, who invested heavily in the estate’s restaurants, artworks, hotel and winery.