Plett wines have fans fizzing

There are currently nine wine producing farms and they constitute the Plett wine route that extends from Harkerville between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay to the Crags.

Speak the words cap classique to South African wine aficionados and they immediately become bubble-headed about Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and even Elgin … throwing out such names as Simonsig, La Lude, Colmant and Charles Fox.

Relatively few, though, are aware that Plettenberg Bay is making a name for itself for producing some elegant sparkling wines, and visitors to the farthest reaches of the Western Cape this holiday season are in for a treat.

To call Plett’s vintners the “Johnny-come-latelies” of the South African winemaking industry is a remarkable understatement: while estates in the more traditional wine-producing regions can boast centuries of history, only one in the Plettenberg Bay area goes back more than 20 years.

You might think this means they’re making plonk but nothing could be further from the truth.

Several wines, specifically cap classique offerings, have been garnering prestigious international awards.

Trailblazer Bramon was established in 2000. Neighbours were sceptical but Bramon’s Peter and Caroline Thorpe persevered in making sparkling wine from sauvignon blanc grapes grown in the Crags, just 3km from the sea.

With Bramon’s experiments succeeding beyond expectations, they were followed in 2006 by Packwood and Newstead.

Unlike the Thorpes who had some exposure to winemaking (Peter’s parents had owned a wine farm in the Boland), the other farmers had none but decided to diversify anyway.

Packwood is predominantly a dairy farm, while Newstead’s Doug Lund cut his teeth on sugarcane in KwaZulu-Natal.

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The Plett wine route

There are currently nine wine producing farms and they constitute the Plett wine route that extends from Harkerville between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay to the Crags.

Plett wines
The Plett wine route / Picture: Jim Freeman

It is miniscule compared to its counterparts in Constantia, Durbanville, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and elsewhere, says Joanna Butler of That Wine, and “covers a mere 58 hectares, spread over 43 kilometres”.

“Mine’s the smallest. I’ve only got one hectare and don’t even have my own cellar.” The extent of land under vine, she adds, is growing rapidly as wines of Plettenberg Bay origin increase in popularity and producers add new cultivars.

The largest, at 14ha, is Bitou Vineyards, previously a polo estate just outside Plett. The stables have been converted into production and cellar space without detracting from its former equine identity. A large part of the success stems from the proximity to the sea and the breezes that waft into the nearby hills and valleys. The cool climate particularly suits white grape varietals, giving them intensity and a long life span.

To say demand – mainly from locals since they’re just about the only people in on the “secret” – outstrips supply is no exaggeration. I’m told this by Packwood winemaker Solly Sauerman as a group of us sit outside Carpe Vinum, a showcase for Plett wines, ostensibly doing a tasting.

In reality, we’re enjoying the contents of a variety of bottles and nattering about the constant fight between winemakers who want time to perfect their products and accountants who need to keep the business “liquid” by getting wine to market.

“I wanted to give this another six months on the lees,” he said glumly, pouring a glass of his Gilbert and Gaillard-awarded gold medal 2020 brut nature rosé bubbly, “but my previous vintage sold out early and we needed to keep sales momentum going.

”What makes sparkling winemaking almost easy, adds Sauerman, “is that not only do our grapes have the perfect ratio of sugar to acid, they aren’t exposed to intense heat … with the result, physiological ripeness keeps up with development of the fruit’s sugars”.

Plett Sparkling Wine
Picture: Jim Freeman

About Carpe Vinum

Carpe Vinum is a boutique sales outlet located next to the N2 in the Crags that not only offers tastings but stocks offerings produced by Plett wine route members. As great a place as it is to be introduced to local wines, it’s an ideal jumping-off spot for an estate tour.

For tourists, Newstead Wines has all the class and charm of the Cape Winelands but at a fraction of the cost and pretentiousness one often encounters.

Co-owner Sue Lundy was waiting for us at a table on which was an ice-bucket large enough to be described as a “wallow” for the several bottles that lay chilling.

“This farm was fallow when we bought it in 2006. We started planting two years later and harvested for the first time in 2012,” she says, pouring a glass of the 2017 blanc de blancs MCC* brut. The wine had recently won double gold at the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, an annual event that recognises and rates South Africa’s top sparkling wines.

In 2020, Newstead Wines became the first producer outside the traditional Western Cape winelands to be crowned overall winner at the competition.

*Methode Cap Classique (MCC) is the name used to refer to South African sparkling wines made in the traditional method after use of the word Champagne was prohibited for anything other than bottle-fermented wine coming from that region of France.

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