*A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Saturday Citizen, 22/09/2018
Plettenberg Bay may be known for its pristine beaches and matchless natural beauty, but a handful of wine farms are quickly proving that this part of the has a hidden gem worth sharing. 14 emerging vineyards contribute to a boutique winelands offering in South Africa’s Garden Route. Three friends and I were off for an immersive experience, intent on tasting our way through four wine farms, also checking out several accommodation options in the area.
Where to Wine
Bramon Wine Estate
It all began just 18 years ago at Bramon. Peter Thorpe Began planted a vineyard as a passion project – more particularly his wife had a penchant for bubbly, and he hoped the vines would keep her happy. Almost two decades later, it’s more than just his wife who is happy but many others who are also devoted fans of Bramon’s renowned bubbly.
Wine is artfully made under the careful direction of Anton Smal (winemaker at Bramon). The farm was the first to produce a Sauvignon Blanc MCC in South Africa, and now the award-winning bubbly is complemented with a noteworthy Chardonnay. The still Sav Blanc was a pleasant surprise with unusual but welcoming acidity and fruit balance.
You’ll likely stop for the wine but also stay for lunch – the restaurant provides a mouth-watering menu of options to accompany your tasting, and several of the tables are actually located in-between the vines themselves. This provides private natural-dining rooms when the vines proudly wear their summer greens.
Having holidayed in Plett for 30 years, Jon Tonkin finally realized his dream of farming and regales his Plett wine journey with a hint of pride in his eyes. The fruit of his labour is now a beautiful working farm, where vineyards and olive orchards are joined by honeybush and proteas fields. He’s a big thinker for sure, but I most admired his neighbourly-minded philosophy, living the philosophy: “… we have a nice farm and great facilities, but come and enjoy all the farms”.
The first harvest was 2014, and the farm has now grown to four hectares under vine. I was impressed with both their Stonechat (the beautifully presented Pinot Noir/Chardonnay MCC), and their crisp and elegant white Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) blend. We were treated to the first vintage of their Pinot Noir which already shows promise and is sure to be a favourite in years to come.
Another proud feature of Lodestone is their olive oil production: currently 280 litres per annum but working towards 1000 litres. The restaurant offers a full menu in season and platters out of season; with picture-perfect views, you’ll want to languish away the afternoon at this extraordinary farm.
While on vacation in New Zealand, Doug and Sue Lund fell in love with the wine regions of the North Island. The desire soon grew to start something similar in South Africa. Fascinatingly, the lushly verdant environs of the Garden Route, particularly the Craggs where these farms are located, was the perfect place. After acquiring the land, Newstead’s first vines were planted in 2008, with the first bottled harvest in 2012.
Sue reveals their primary concern: “What will we do if the wine’s not drinkable?” The wine was sold out in the first year, and the Sauvignon Blanc achieved Michaelangelo double gold and a top international award – evidence enough that the wine was more than just drinkable!
The Méthode Cap Classique Brut is a showstopper and I was rather taken back by the beautifully balanced Chardonnay. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll also get hold of some of the Pinot Noir before it’s sold out.
Plush décor and well-designed spaces abound in the virescent tasting room and restaurant. Much needs to be said about the food offerings at Newstead. Sue says that in the beginning, “We just made wine, didn’t know there’d be people who’d come – and people who needed feeding”. With a background in food technology she very soon gave the farm the gourmet reputation it now enjoys.
Kay & Monty Vineyards
All four farms are positioned in a roughly five-kilometre stretch, and at the end of the country road connecting them, lay our final destination. Kay & Monty Vineyards is also a fairly new farm: the first harvest was in 2012, and the tasting room is barely a year old. Originally an orchid greenhouse, it’s now tastefully converted into a modern rustic venue.
It’s a large space, and even though it was the quieter winter season, the enthused staff, delicious wines and roaring fire kept us entertained. In fact, the lively music even had some of us dancing about the tasting room – we could just imagine the ambiance at weddings, weekends and in season. Mountains provide the backdrop for the farm, and a lilied-lake sets the scene immediately in front of the tasting room.
You’ll quickly notice that polo is rather in vogue in Plett, and several of the fields are located in and around the vineyards. As sparkling wine goes hand-in-hand with polo culture, and so it’s no surprise that all the farms produce exceptional MCC: Kay & Monty is no exception. Their MCC is affectionately dubbed Champu, English slang for bubbly, and you’ll be wise to leave with a bottle in hand.
Where to Stay
The Old Rectory
It’s barely a year old, but is sure to become one of the most spoken about Garden Route hotels. Everything about this tastefully restored 1777 heritage property is bespoke: each space has been carefully curated, and the lush gardens masterfully manicured. The hotel is in the town itself, only meters from the beach, where the staff gladly setup loungers and umbrellas for you to enjoy. Be sure to try the restaurant, and (since The Old Rectory is part of the same family as Kay & Monty vineyards) there’s sure to be good wine.
Newstead Polo Cottages
If you choose to stay on one of the farms, Newstead has brand new converted Polo cottages, offering luxury lodging two spacious units.
Bramon Waterfall Cottage
Sitting high on a ridge overlooking the adjacent valley and waterfall, you’ll find Bramon’s characterful wooden cottage: an affordable four-sleeper option with a sterling view.
The Secret’s Out
With such spectacular scenery and remarkable wines, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not in the Cape winelands of old, but in a part of the Garden Route I’d merely passed before. These Plettenberg Bay wine farms may be the new kids on the block, but judging by our experience, they’re to be taken seriously. Visit any time of the year; I’d particularly recommend diarizing 23-24thMarch 2019, for a beach and bubbly extravaganza at the annual Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival. Some secrets it seems are definitely worth sharing, and the Plett wine route may just be one.