Bramon Beside the (Plettenberg) Bay
BRAMON WINE ESTATE
Monday 30 December 2019
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 4/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wines: 3.5/5
Sat in a Tasting Room beside a motorway was a new experience for me. So too was tasting wines from the Plettenberg Bay Wine of Origin. I have long wanted to visit the emerging wine estates in the Plettenberg Bay region, located towards the Eastern boundary of the Western Cape, but the more than 500 kilometres and 6 hours from Cape Town had until now made it difficult. Fortunately, a Xmas/New Year round-trip to Jeffrey’s Bay via Route 62 and the N2 gave me an opportunity to visit (as well as De Krans and Karusa earlier). There are now 10 estates in the Cape’s newest wine area – self-billed by some as ‘South Africa’s newest champagne region’ and with a vision for a ‘Sparkling Wine Route’. Of these, Bramon is the first and oldest.
Blink whilst speeding along the N2 in The Crags district of The Garden Route some 20 kilometres East of Plettenberg Bay and it would be easy to miss the small white-washed Tasting Building beside the road. It was an uncharacteristically damp and dreary December day too but good for the vines on the edge of veraison. Most of the neighbouring wine estates were closed for the festive season or open ‘by appointment only’ which made Bramon all the more attractive to visit.
Bramon was started in 2000 by pioneer Peter and Caroline Thorpe and named after son Bram and sister Maron. The 20th anniversary has just passed. The estate in is new hands but the name remains. The first wine made in this new cool region that is just 3 kilometres from the sea was a rare MCC made from Sauvignon Blanc – claimed to be one of just 4 made worldwide – under the craftsmanship of Peter Ferreira of Graham Beck fame. Sauvignon Blanc remains the majority grape grown on the 23 hectare property together with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 250-ton cellar was built in 2010 with 2011 being the official first vintage in the new District. Since then, the Tasting Room has been upgraded. There’s picnics, a wedding venue, self-catering accommodation and a Restaurant too, some 500 metres further down the entrance road and overlooking the Tsitsikamma Mountains.
The small Tasting Room with seating outside at the rear away from the traffic noise was busy and intimate. The clientele was noticeably younger than in many a Cape Wineland winery. My host was Bella who, coincidentally, was trained by my ex-Cape Wine Academy colleague Susan Marais, now at nearby Newstead Lund. Five wines were available for tasting at a cost of R10 each. There were no spittoons (I had to ask for) but judging by the young clientele this hardly surprised. I began with the Brut MCC that since 2010 has been made by Bramon winemaker Anton Smal. This was the second Cap Classique Sauvignon Blanc I have tasted (the other being from Steenberg). Pale lemon and with fine rising bubbles in appearance, the citrus and apple aromas and flavours showed none of the characteristic Sauvignon Blanc green or tropical fruit profile. The yeasty nose surprised, aided by 15 months on the lees and reinforced by over 3 years of bottle age, whilst the appley nose hinted more at a Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs. The lemon flavours strengthened on the palate to be balanced by a firm acidity and slight minerality to make for a pleasant and unusual wine with modest alcohol content (12.0%).
The second and third wines I tasted were also Sauvignons Blanc, albeit not side by side to compare. The Crags Sauvignon Blanc, priced just R20 less than its Reserve sibling, was of similar colour to the MCC. The wine showed obvious New Zealand character with aromas of gooseberry, kiwi and guava with some herbaceous, fennel greenness. The palate was less intense than the nose with a bright acidity and a modest finish.
I just preferred the Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, made from grapes in a different vineyard closer to the ocean. Whilst less grassy and tropical fruity complex than the Crags SB, the wine showed better and more intense lemon, lime and herbaceous flavours, with a greater depth and acidity that balanced a higher alcohol (13.5% compared with 13.0%) for a more defined length.
Such is the popularity of Bramon wines that their Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Rosé was sold out. The Miss Lottie wine from neighbouring Lodestone estate was offered in its place. The wine was made from Pinot Noir which is most unusual for a South African Rosé or, indeed, elsewhere. Unusually too, the wine was far deeper in pale ruby colour than most due to 12 hours skin contact. This gave a bright intensity of raspberry, red currant and Pinot Noir red apple aromas on the nose. The palate did not quite match the same concentration and showed only medium depth, intensity and length. The wine needed greater crispness and oomph for my taste.
The last wine of the tasting was made also by a neighbouring estate, called That Wine, owned by relatives of the previous Bramon owner. The boutique and pioneering winery specialises in Pinot Noir for table wine with just 1.5 hectares of vines to make 1,000 bottles. The Demesne was a pale and watery ruby colour with an average intensity of spicy red fruits on the nose – redcurrant, red cherry and cranberry – together with more oaky cinnamon, clove and burnt caramel aromas. Notwithstanding the relatively high price (R270) I was prepared to buy as a Pinot Noir from an uncommon region, until I tasted the wine. Like the Lodestone Rosé, the medium acidity and thin fruits did not meet the promise of the nose as new oak flavours dominated the palate.
I was pleased to have visited Bramon. It is always a pleasure to taste wines from a new region and increasingly harder to do so as I explore the South African wine estates. Bella was pleasant and knowledgeable and (sadly, this is not guaranteed) the wines were served at the correct temperature to show them off at their best. I sensed Bramon to be at the forefront of new winemaking and a new industry in the new region. The wines showed an immaturity of intensity and depth, with some freshness, that can only improve as the vines grow older and winemaking experience improves. Bramon, for now, is certainly leading the pack and benefitting from being the first winery to gain the Plettenberg Bay Wine of Origin.
Wines tasted (bought *):
2015 Sauvignon Blanc Brut MCC – R190*
2018 The Crags Sauvignon Blanc – R130
2018 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve – R150 FAVOURITE WINE
2019 Lodestone Miss Lottie Rosé – R113
2018 That Wine Demesne Pinot Noir – R270