South Africa’s small, special secret
Newstead has just been awarded its sixth double gold at the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards. This in just seven years since the release of its first Cap Classique.
It’s tempting to think of Newstead’s story as a fairy tale: grown from nothing, in a then unknown wine-producing region, it’s gone from zero to hero in what feels like the blink of an eye. But that version of events would do a disservice to a decade and a half of courage, challenge, and small steps taken the only way they can be – by simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Along the way, each accolade (and there have been many) has felt, to the characters in the story, like a happy ending; something to be appreciated and acknowledged – but only briefly, before resuming the early mornings, long hours and writing of the next chapters.
The story has a beginning, of course. Doug and Sue Lund bought fallow land in The Crags, in South Africa’s gorgeous Garden Route, in 2006 – the same year the Plettenberg Bay Wine of Origin district was established. In terms of distance, it’s just a 6-hour drive from the famous Cape Winelands. But in terms of credentials, the region was a world apart; its winemaking history and tradition at the time was precisely none.
In the second act of its story, Newstead released its first wines. That was 2012. Guided by Sue’s curiosity and inspiration, a modest tasting room became a restaurant, which became a venue, which became an attraction for locals, tourists and wedding parties from around the world. Hosting solstice events, picnics and markets, the estate has continued to grow and morph in form and function.
Meanwhile, the farming philosophy, winemaking approach and family character have remained constant and true: small is still special, and quality still counts over quantity.
No costs or corners are cut for the sake of economy and efficiency. Evidence of this is seen in the unusual use of netting over the vines, which results in some of the most blemish-free grapes any winemaker will ever see.
At Newstead, that winemaker is Anton Smal, who extends the ethos to the cellar. Together, he and the Lunds made the decision to keep the sparkling wines on lees for years.
“We are now releasing vintages that have been on lees for 52 months,” Anton says. “That patience has been worth it, and we’ve seen the bubblies develop beautifully – the biscuit flavours of the first Blanc de Blancs have given way to marmite and toasty notes.”
The restraint is refreshingly rare. And it has been worth it.
As Doug said: “Our Blanc de Blanc sold out in three months, and the Rosé sold in three weeks. The following year the crop was presold. The temptation is to produce more, go bigger, but that’s never been why we did this. And I doubt we’d have had the recognition we have.”
The recognition he’s referring to is dozens of awards in a pages-long list that has grown in a characteristically low-key way.
“A lot of wine farms, who’ve been going for decades, enter multiple wines into multiple competitions,” Anton says. “We enter a few wines into two or three competitions.”
On the most recent acknowledgements – the double gold at the Michelangelos, gold at the Amorim Challenge, and a score of 94 in the Prescient Cap Classique Report – Doug acknowledged that, “of course awards are affirming, and of course they’re good for business.” But, he says, “it’s not about awards for awards’ sake. What the accolades have done is give us a proven track record of consistency.”
Keeping up that consistency means doing it again, and doing it better. “Sure, you take a moment to enjoy having your head in the clouds, and then you quickly have to get your feet back on the ground,” Doug says.
How will things unfold from here? Sue’s take is that “in a good story, the plot is unpredictable but strong themes run throughout. I’d like to think our themes are quality, consistency and humility.”
If you have questions, queries, comments or just want to drop us a line, we’d love to hear from you. Better yet, visit us in person so we can meet you.
Wednesday to Sunday, 11am – 4pm.
Wine sales Monday and Tuesday by arrangement.
Newstead Wine Estate
Redford Road, The Crags, Plettenberg Bay