Most people head for the beach when in Plettenberg Bay, but that's changing as the region's winelands break into the mainstream.
Wine has been part of the tourism attractions of Plettenberg Bay since the early 2000s. Today, the number of farms and estates provide interest and a diversity of activities to keep new visitors engaged for more than just a few days.
Traditionally, the region's busiest time is over summertime school holidays. "Plett's number one unique selling point is the beach; we have six blue flag beaches," says Plettenberg Bay Tourism Acting CEO Patty Butterworth. The establishment of wine farms brought visitors an alternative while providing an attractive reason to visit this part of the world outside of high season.
There are some 10 wine farms in the area, eight of which are open to visitors: Bramon Wine Estate; Newstead, home of Lund Family Wines; Kay and Monty Vineyards; Lodestone Wines; Luka; Plettenvale Wine Estate; Bitou Vineyards; and, Packwood Wine Estate. Those not open to the public include De Villo Boutique Wine, which lays claim to producing the first and only Merlot in Plettenberg Bay. This wine was first harvested in 2015. Perched on a hill overlooking the Keurbooms River and the Indian Ocean, it is owned by Olof and Marlita de Villiers.
By national standards, Plettenberg Bay winegrowers are small. The current spread currently comprises just under 60ha. Any perceived deficiency in size however, is made up by diversity of experiences to be had and off-the-beaten-track location.
The wineries and their produce can be experienced as self-drive or through specialised tours by car, on horseback or horse-drawn carriage. The farms themselves have also expanded offerings to include restaurants offering tapas and picnics, and accommodation and outdoor activities like birdwatching, fishing, hiking and MTB.
The region's wine has spawned a series of popular events too. The most prominent is the Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival – a get-together that highlights the local industry's strategic focus on white grape varieties for which the climate and soils are well-suited, and MCC.
The Truck & Vine is a food truck and wine festival that traditionally takes place twice a year to showcase individual farms.
The region has consistently racked up wine accolades associated with well-known brands and championships including Amorim Cap Classique Challenge; Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards; Veritas; Platter's South African wine guide. An important part of the journey has required investment in wine training for staff, with support from wider industry organisations.
The Plettenberg Bay farms enjoy relatively cool climate thanks to their proximity to the oceans and the mountainous backdrop – a situation often compared to wine regions of New Zealand. The climate throughout the year is temperate, meaning fruit takes slower to reach maturity and sensory character development is prolonged. While Plettenberg Bay has been known for producing mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, more grape varieties have now been planted, like Merlot, Chenin Blanc and Semillon.
Many of the wine farms have a past association with polo, a sport that took hold in Plettenberg Bay in the 1990s and which explains the pronounced equine presence.
If you're planning a trip to the area, useful resources are located at www.plettwinelands.com and www.plett-tourism.co.za.
If you're passing through, local businesses with a large selection of the Plett wines include Nice Neighbour at Old Nick Village, on the N2; and, the Beacon Island Hotel.
1. Bramon Wine Estate
It was the establishment of Bramon – the enterprise of Peter and Caroline Thorpe - that awakened interest in Plettenberg Bay as a wine region.
Fish scientist Peter grew up on a wine farm in Rawsonville but followed his love of the sea, with a brief detour in geology, as a career. When the opportunity to farm arose, Peter tried what he'd known and so the first vines – Sauvignon blanc - were planted in 2000.
He'd his sights set on MCC – a category in which he felt Bramon could do well – and engaged the help of esteemed bubbly-maker Pieter Ferreira at Graham Beck Estate. The grapes were initially trucked to the Robertson farm and vinified there, with the first Bramon MCC made in 2004. A year later, after consideration by regulatory authorities, Plettenberg Bay was officially recognised under the industry's Wine of Origin scheme. Other wine farms followed.
Bramon built a cellar and appointed winemaker Anton Smal, who was with Villiera at the time and jumped at the chance to return to the Garden Route. As the pioneers, they became the source for local winegrowing advice for many owners who don't come from wine farming background.
In more recent months, the Thorpes were bought out by one of the winery partners and Anton has moved on, producing wine for Kay & Monty, Bitou Vineyards and Newstead Wines.
Tel: 044 534 8015
Until 1997, Vicky and Peter Gent farmed in the UK. Moving to South Africa, the Gent's were drawn to property in Harkerville, east of Plettenberg Bay. They established a dairy, but a wine interest took hold in 2006 - soon after Peter Thorpe's pioneering work at Bramon.
Packwood's first vineyard was planted, and Vicky took the lead, producing the first four vintages with acclaimed winemaker Teddy Hall. Sollie Sauerman was appointed winemaker in 2019, and has brought an enthusiastic new approach to wine making on the farm.
Today, wines and bubbly are made from Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot noir cultivars on the farm. The wines can be enjoyed at its tasting room, and as part of pre-ordered breakfasts and lunches. There's accommodation as well as freshwater fishing, bird watching opportunities and trails for hiking and MTB.
Tel: 083 999 9521
3. Newstead, Home of Lund Family Vineyards
In The Crags, on Redford Road, just up the road from Bramon lies Newstead – a farm known almost equally for its wines as its delightful, country-style restaurant.
Owners Doug and Sue Lund have a background in sugar and dairy farming, and Doug is a former SA national polo player. It was on a trip to New Zealand years earlier that they were inspired to turn their talents to wine. Doug says when they came across Plettenberg Bay, he noted the similarity and looked deeper. "Terroir and soils were a close match, but the farm was a wasteland," he says.
They acquired the 11.6ha property in 2006 and set about planting Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot noir vines. Every year since its first vintage in 2012 the wines – made by Anton Smal - have met with critical acclaim.
Among the accolades, Newstead Wines became the first producer outside of the traditional Western Cape winelands to be crowned overall winner of the Amorim Cap Classique Challenge, taking top spot in the 2020 edition.
In fact, 2020 was a big year for the winery, which completed construction of its new wine cellar in March.
The area's polo association put Doug – a former national player – in good company while Sue put the style into the place with her talent for décor and gardening.
Newstead is open 11:00 to 16:00, Wednesday to Sunday. Wine sales Monday and Tuesday, by arrangement.
Tel: 076 300 974
4. Kay & Monty Vineyards
The vines at Kay & Monty down Redford Road at The Crags were planted in 2004, when the farm was acquired by the late Johannesburg property manager and developer John "Chick" Legh. His aim was the establishment of a polo estate.
The first wines were produced in 2012 and today, Kay & Monty Vineyards comprise 5ha. They produce a Cap Classique called Champu, and a Sauvignon Blanc called Sav. New grape varieties planted are Shiraz, Mouvedre and Grenache noir
Visitors get to experience them in a large, contemporary tasting room-cum-restaurant. Formerly a greenhouse for orchids, the venue has wall-to-floor windows that look out over sprawling lawns, paddocks and a farm dam. Couches around a large fireplace are quickly taken up when the weather turns chilly.
Across the way, stables provide home to the Pecherons used for the 15-seater horse-drawn carriage wine tour between the farm and Lodestone.
Kay & Monty is part of Rare Earth Retreats hospitality group, of which Legh is a shareholder.
The farm is open to visitors Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00 to 16:00.
Tel: 044 534 8387
Jon and Ingrid Tonkin had been coming to Plettenberg Bay on holiday for over 30 years before settling permanently at The Crags in 2012. Their reason for establishing their wine and olive farm is declared on the winery's website: "The area was already home to some of the best vineyards in the newly established Plettenberg Bay wine of origin district. It also has similar geographic and climatic characteristics to those of the famed Marlborough area of New Zealand, known in particular for its Sauvignon blanc, Pinot noir and sparkling wine. Above all it is an area of considerable natural beauty."
The farm was named after the naturally magnetized mineral magnetite – Lodestone – because of the attraction it held for the owners. Its first harvest came in 2014.
Lodestone's vineyard lies some 250m above sea level, in the foothills of the Tsitsikama Mountains. Vines planted include Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Semillon and produce bubblies and still wine. Winemaker Jaco Van Der Watt joined Lodestone in 2019, and now makes wine for Bramon, That Wine and De Villo.
Adjoining the tasting room at Lodestone is a restaurant, which overlooks a lily-filled farm dam.
Visitors are occasionally also treated to a glass of cold, refreshing honeybush tea, which Lodestone farms along with olives and king proteas.
Lodestone is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11:00 to 16:00.
Gloria and Martin Strack moved to Plettenberg Bay in 2003, acquiring the 2,3ha farm that is today Plettenvale Wine Estate. The first vines – Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Syrah – were planted in 2008 with harvest coming three years later.
Plettenvale's first wine was an MCC Brut Rosé. Just a year later, the farm completed construction of its own cellar and Gloria took over from Anton Smal as winemaker.
The wine tasting venue is open Saturday from 10:00 to 13:00, although appointment can be made outside these hours. Food pairings and winery tours are also available by prior arrangement.
Its logo, a pansy shell, highlights the cool maritime influence of the ocean – located just 2km away – on its wines.
Tel: 044 533 9146
7. Bitou Vineyards
Once a prominent polo field, the wine enterprise is located on the N2 just as you leave Plett towards Keerboomstrand. Its vineyards were first established under the previous owner in 2008, with the first vintage produced four years later.
The grapes then were sold as bulk and it was only after the farm was acquired by Irish-born Ronald Leacy, that the farm launched its own-label in 2015.
The beautiful old polo building, which housed the stables, has been converted into a new wine cellar where Anton Smal makes the wines of Bitou and nearby Kay & Monty.
Construction is underway on a tasting room and restaurant, but Cap Classique and Sauvignon Blanc is already available for online order. New grape varieties that have been planted are Malbec, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay.
Tel: 082 927 6179
8. Luka Vineyards
Luka Vineyards is situated in the Harkerville area, 10km west of Plettenberg Bay.
The 7ha-property includes 1.5ha under Sauvignon blanc, which delivered its first harvest in 2011.
The property is owned by Phil and Laura Harvey who recently acquired it from Mark Barnard.
The farm adjoins the Knysna Elephant Park which, Luka's website says, makes elephant and zebra sightings a regular occurrence.
A new bistro has opened with the kitchen headed by chef Ritchie Rorich. A big selling point is the diverse menu for vegans and vegetarians.
It also stocks a Malbec produced by Lombard Loubser. The tastings include the latter as well as the Plettenvale Brut Rosé MCC and Luka Sauvignon Blanc.
Luka's tasting room is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10:30 to 15:30.
Tel: 083 767 6218