Plett’s secret garden
Plett may be one of South Africa’s smallest wine of origin regions. In less than 20 years, the Plett Winelands have gained national attention thanks to the success of the vineyards and their award-winning wines.
My Golf was well acquainted with the journey from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay, but she was rather perplexed when we didn’t take the usual offramp onto Marine Way. Instead, I pressed on to a new and unique destination: the Plett Winelands. As a travel writer part of my focus over the past months has been writing pieces that cover the food and wine offerings of some of the Western Cape’s premier wine regions. I’ve had the privilege of tasting my way through Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Robertson, and many more.
Had I been told a year ago I’d now be sampling my way through Plettenberg Bay I’d have stared in disbelief. A conversation with Anton Smal, Bramon’s winemaker, helped ground my visceral disbelief. I asked him what his initial response was to the task of winemaking in the new region and he answered: “I thought it was obviously going to be a big challenge as no one ever planted here, after looking at the climate we realised the sav blanc will definitely work here. It was and still is very exciting.”
Over four days, I, along with three friends, explored four of the local farms and here are five of the reasons why it is, as Anton says, very exciting. If you’re thinking of a Garden Route breakaway, come to Plett for the beaches, and now stay for the wine.
5 REASONS I’M LOVING THE PLETT WINE REGION
- Newer regions and fresh creativity
Established wine regions often carry an allegiance to their long history with great heritage to be celebrated and continued, but are often tied to traditions that are hard to break away from. Newer farms and wine regions have the ability to carve their own way forward, guided by the fresh thinking and personal leanings of their owners. In essence, the opportunity exists to create new traditions from scratch and then watch them flourish and grow. On visiting the farms and hearing the owners share their stories, it was obvious that the farms were born out of a dedication to both place and preference. I distinctly remember a walk through the Lodestone estate and pausing as owner Jon Tonkin talked about this farm. His respect for the natural environment was palpable – one of the reasons which lead him to plant honeybush, which you’ll find growing happily alongside the vineyards and olive groves. This was a scene I’d never seen before. Creating something from nothing gives you the license to let not only place but also preference and passion nurture the way forward.
- Intimate offerings
There’s something to be said about boutique wine offerings. As a visitor or consumer, I feel like I’ve been let in on something very intimate and special. Leaving the wineries at the end of our four-day stay I had the distinct desire to shout from the rooftops about my magical new discovery, or with a jealousy for this newfound love, seal my lips and hold onto the secret garden I’d found. Hands-on involvement from owners is often synonymous with boutique offerings and we were able to see this clearly reflected in the attention to detail, eclectic variety of styles and spaces, and of course the world class service. There were moments when it felt we were being welcomed into a home garden, rather than a commercial wine farm. From one beautiful garden to another, the tasting room at Kay and Monty is a converted orchid greenhouse, now tastefully converted into a modern rustic venue. The lively music literally had us dancing about the tasting room. I could now envision the marriage of friends here, and could just picture the festivities, with of course, glasses overflowing. It’s also worth pointing out that in boutique contexts, often the service is very personal and attentive. This is the case with the Plett farms where the sense of pride over the region and its fruits is very tangible from those who curate and facilitate the experiences.
- Of course, the wine!
I quickly discovered, that one of the reasons I loved the wine region most was, thankfully, the wine itself. The cool climate lends itself to crisp and flavourful wine, reminiscent of some of the cooler terroirs I was used to. Here are some of my favourites from our four days of tasting: • Newstead’s first Rosé is an elegant showcase of the lauded MCCs to be found in the region and has received a Michelangelo Gran D’or (double gold) award • Lodestone’s noteable Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Blend is a clean and elegant white Bordeaux blend • For the Sauvignon Blanc lovers, Bramon’s Sav is a pleasant surprise with an unusual but welcoming acidity and fruit balance • Kay and Monty’s MCC is affectionately dubbed Champu and is a fresh and lively MCC. I also loved the label which sports a stencilled image of the owner’s grandparents after whom the farm is named. In conversation with winemaker Anton, he pointed out that an interesting note on the region, is that as a result of the lower soil pH less sulphur is needed in the wine production; good news for those with sulphur allergies. He is particularly excited about seeing the growth in the area, commenting “we are already busy developing Pinot Noir, Merlot and Shiraz. I would like to see Plett as a ‘complete’ wine area, we are already doing amazing white wines and bubblies so the red varieties will complete the picture.”
- Let’s not forget the food
Of course what would good wine be without good food, and of that you’ll find no shortage in the region. The tasting rooms all have their own gifts to bring to the table, with even the off-season serving delectable platters to complement the wine. Bramon’s restaurant has a well-established reputation and I quickly realized why there are so many returning visitors. A dazzling variety of mezze-styled small plates await your choice including: dips, salads, cheeses, cold meats and preserves. Don’t forget to try the Babotie Cigars and freshly baked bread. What’s more is if you’re early enough grab one of the tables that are actually set in the vineyards… who wouldn’t want to dine in the vines? At Newstead, expect tables over season to be booked months in advance. That’s how serious the food fame is. Sue’s skilled approach to food and décor would put some of Cape Town’s trendy eateries to shame. “I travel quite a lot, so there are always things I’m seeing that spark ideas. But mainly inspiration comes from how we’re feeling on the day and in the moment, as well as by the season and what we have growing at Newstead. We grow most of our own veggies and herbs and try to keep it local. And we like to keep it simple, authentic and welcoming – we love that sense of relaxing in a place you feel comfortable in.” The focus also goes much further than the food, but also the local community. After noticing how fondly Sue spoke of her staff I asked what role community upliftment plays on the farm. “Well, we believe in ‘being the change you want to see’. So when we hire, we look more for heart and attitude. Those things are hard to teach, whereas you can teach skills. So for example, our baker used to work for the municipality. She’s now an unbelievable baker. We have guys who worked in the vineyards who are close to now having management roles at Newstead. Because we liked what they had inside. And because of that they wanted to learn new skills. We don’t put a ceiling on anyone’s potential. It’s basic humanity. When you see people fulfilling their potential, it’s very gratifying.”
- Something for everyone
The beauty of the wine route is also its proximity to a variety of other tourism options. There really is something for everyone. Some of the family or your travel party not wine lovers? The chances are they’ll have their fancies tickled by something else in the area. For animal lovers there’s the Elephant Sanctuary, Birds of Eden, Monkeyland, and for action there’s Africanyon River Adventures or Hog Hollow Horse Trails. I was interested to also discover that for those not wanting to drive between farms a vintage 10-seater horse carriage can be arranged. The carriage is drawn by two beautiful Percherons and there are packages available including the ride, wine tastings and lunch – something I’ll have to try on my next visit! With the variety of wine experiences on offer we chose to stay and also sample some of the accommodation options. A highlight was staying on the farms themselves and you don’t have to look much further than Newstead’s brandnew converted Polo cottages, offering luxury lodging in two spacious units. At Bramon, sitting high on a ridge overlooking the adjacent valley and waterfall, you’ll find their characterful Waterfall Cottage: an affordable foursleeper option with a sterling view. If you’re looking for an option in town, the Old Rectory is barely a year old, but is sure to become one of the most spoken about Garden Route hotels. It is a tastefully restored 1777 heritage property with each space and room carefully and beautifully curated.