Move over, Stellenbosch, for a new and exciting bubby route has surfaced and is hot on your heels. Possessing all the foundations to create tasty wines, Plettenberg Bay is in the midst of a quiet wine revolution, stamping its Garden Route footprint all over the international wine map.
Peter Thorpe is the man with a vision and is almost wholly responsible for this uprising. Having grown up on a wine farm in the Worcester area, Peter discovered a piece of land in what is now fondly known as the Crags named after the craggy landscape, and planted his first vines, Sauvignon Blanc, on his Bramon Wine Estate in 2000. His dry brut uncorked a number of firsts – not only was it a first wine for the region, but it was also the first bubbly to be made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes and stimulated a new generation of progressive wine farmers into action.
Where Peter ventured, others followed suit and, fifteen years on, nearly 20 new wine vineyards now adorn the Plettenberg region, producing 200, 000 bottles of wine annually. Set in the valleys and hills of Harkerville in the west, the vineyards are framed by the Indian Ocean and breathtaking Tsitsikamma Mountains, providing extraordinary natural and near perfect conditions for the style of new aged wines that are changing perceptions of wine and bubbly.
“Plettenberg Bay is one of South Africa’s newest Wines of Origin and the Plettenberg Bay seal is most definitely a coup for the area,” says Peter. Today, the Bramon Wine Estate enjoys global recognition and has won many awards for its wines, including two golds, a Michelangelo international silver medal and a hidden Gem in Platters Wine guide for 2014. A 250-ton cellar was built on the estate in 2010, making the wine for seven other wine farms in the region and producing a variety of cultivars, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rosé, along with the expanding Méthodé Cap Classique varieties.
The region is often compared favourably to that of New Zealand – mainly because of the cooler summer temperature, averaging 22°C compared to 28-32°C of Stellenbosch and Paarl. “Our Sauvignon Blanc is considered equal to the one that is produced on the Malborough estates in New Zealand which is quite an accolade,” says Patty Butterworth of Plett Winelands.
The cool temperatures allow for a longer process of ripening and mean that the varieties currently cultivated do extremely well in this area, explains Doug Lund from Newstead Lund Family Vineyards. “Grapes stay on the vine for longer, which leads to an extended season, meaning more flavour, greater depth and more complexity in the wines. There is also a slow ripening process, because we don’t experience severe heat, which can compromise the flavour,” continues Doug.
Plus, because the soils in Plett produce juice with very low pH and minimal sulphur, the wines are a healthier alternative, with a longer shelf life – especially ideal for wine lovers who are sensitive to sulphur or wines high in sugar. It also eliminates sore heads the next day, a welcome notion for every wine drinker, no doubt.
Sitting in the middle of the stunning Garden Route, Plettenberg Bay is certainly on a par with any other premier tourism destination in the world. The addition of tasting rooms and a lunch venue like at Packwood Wine and Country Estate allows visitors to sample the homemade cheeses, whilst cycling tours and other ‘add-ons’ are an important element to increase flow to the area. Events such as the Sasfin Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival and the soon to be launched Plett Winelands Trails also provide ample activity.
All the wine farms are boutique, with the majority less than 10 hectares in size, explains Vicky from Packwood, whose family has been farming in the region for nearly 20 years and are one of the main milk suppliers to Lancewood. “Although many of the new wine farms are run by those who are relatively new to the industry, collectively, we have a wealth of knowledge and understanding thanks to celebrated figures like Anton Smal, Bramon’s Wine Master and former vintner on the Stellenbosch wine route and Teddy Hall.
Teddy Hall made our wine for several years before moving the operation to the farm, but remains a key consultant.” Yet, that and the cooler temperature are probably the only two references to Stellenbosch, for the wine makers are quick to differentiate themselves. “It is not our aim to become another Stellenbosch,” says Patty. “We want to maintain our identity, because what we offer will always be different and of great interest, with its own character and offerings. It simply cannot be compared to Stellenbosch, which has been going for 300 years. We need to build stock and develop our own history,” says Patty.
Falling short of a rich and fascinating history, it is abundantly clear that Plettenberg Bay successfully ticks all the wine making requirements. A cooler climate, good, well drained soils with not too much wind and a top winemaker making the best wines possible is the perfect combination, so fill up your glass and join us in toasting the new wine route of the future. Cheers!