PACKING IT IN: The grapes of Packwood looks good on the vine, and tastes even better in the bottle!
Article: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 5114
PeeBee’s Wine Column
Hitting the Plett Wine Trail – the dream lingers
PURSUING my aim of envisaging the parameters of a Southern Cape or Garden Route Wine Route, I found traces of a novel to match some of those built around the Napa Valley families in California. There is a mix of initiative, of gamble, of misunderstanding, of ambition, of investment, of focus – all very promising when one envisages holidaymakers on a cloudy day in December setting off to explore.
The Route could/should encompass Heidelberg (Jakkalsfontein), Klein Brak (Stonehill’s Cool Bay), Viv Harpur’s increasingly popular Herod (Montagu Pass, George) and The Goose (Langkloof) on the one hand, through to Bramon in The Crags where Peter and Caroline Thorpe are reaping the rewards of pioneering the region a mere decade ago, and where polo fields at Kurland are planted by Alexander Behr “to increase the value of the investment”.
From Gilbrook of Greg and Rae Gilbert, 5km west of Plett - as the biggest in the region with 12.5 hectares - and the organic plantings of Judge Annemarie de Vos and Hennie Kritzinger of Harkerville, to Russell Stevens and Linda Spears on the Airport Road, the cast assembles like an Agatha Christie novel.
I visited Peter and Vicky Gent twice at Packwood House, in Fisanthoek, on a 340-hectare farm between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains. They have owned the farm for 13 years, where – in order to diversify – they planted 4ha to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2006.
Vin Pro analysed the soils and advised, KWV provided the certified root stock, and the Gents got down to work. Experience of the family farm in Berkshire, England was a plus – but like all risk taking ventures, vine-growers’ help was sought, given, taken and assimilated.
The Agatha Christie sleuth analogy goes deep, as a Wine magazine journalist twisting a remark on Vicky and Peter’s “willingness to do their own thing, independent of others, but without disassociating with others” bluntly gave an impression of disregard, with a touch of journalistic largesse.
The plot thickened to the extent that I, as an interested consumer, was hoping that the wider picture – the Southern Cape Wine Route – does not become an impossibility. It would take thicker skins than the grapes of the extremely hot 2010 vintage to defuse the consequent misunderstandings.
“We have made a commitment for life. We did our own land clearing, ripping and trellising, and take the winemaking as a personal challenge. It is a lifelong focus.”
Packwood delivers 5 000 litres of milk daily to Butlers Farmhouse, who make select cheeses like the Blackstick’s Blue, extra strong mature cheddar and mature gouda, to name but a few. Packwood sells these cheeses to the local market, and through their country house to their guests.
In my own opinion, the better any one producer is, the better each and all will be. Gautengers on holiday should be prepared to explore the whole region. Bramon’s Peter Thorpe deserves credit as a pioneer, giving advice, dreaming dreams and for setting up the Plettenberg Bay Wine of Origin ward. He is busy now erecting the first cellar (250 ton) in the region.
It was the reading of a Country Life article on Bramon that kick-started the Gents into realising their dreams, and the possibilities of winemaking in this area.
The dynamics are very close to New Zealand 30 years ago, when opinion held that all they could produce was Muller Thurgau. The Plettenberg growers put emphasis on sparkling Sauvignon Blanc (Bramon produces Méthode Cap Classique) – to use Rae Gilbert’s words: “Watch this become the Bubbly Route!”
Packwood produced 3 000 bottles of their impressive refined maiden Sauvignon Blanc – the 2009 from last November. The grapes were taken to Winemakers Guild’s Teddy Hall for vinification. The 2010 Pinot Noir has already gone down to a delighted Teddy who said “these grapes are of excellent quality and we can make a fantastic champagne” (Teddy’s Guild MCC is the highest priced in SA).
Here then is dreaming of the Southern Cape Wine Route with its distinctive Plettenberg Bay Ward, the unique Harkerville Ward, the exciting Montagu Pass Ward, the flamboyant Langkloof Ward – with visitors aplenty seeking different experiences – and all smiling extra broadly because they know the bigger picture.
PeeBee lives in George, teaches at Oakhill in Knysna, and explores wines worldwide.
Author: Peter Bishop