Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, its time to shine | Britt on Forbes

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South Africa has a total of 92,000 hectares of vines. 10,000 hectares are cabernet sauvignon. It is the most planted red grape. The country’s most prominent wine region, Stellenbosch, is also the most important Cabernet region. More and more we hear winemakers voice the opinion that Stellenbosch cabernet deserves more attention. There’s now even an association to promote it. It is time to shine for Stellenbosch cabernet sauvignon. We talk to some of the leading winemakers.

“Cabernet is king”, declares winemaker Danie Steytler Jr at Kaapzicht in Stellenbosch. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape in this South African wine region, and Danie wants people to take note. He is not alone. Some of the most prominent Stellenbosch wine estates have joined forces to promote their principal grape.

This article was originally published in a shorter version on Forbes.com.

In 1679 Simon van der Stel, the second governor of the Cape founded the town of Stellenbosch. Today, 340 years later, Stellenbosch is the biggest and the most famous South Africa wine region. The town’s university and wine research institute are renowned throughout the wine world. Wine tourists in South Africa visit Stellenbosch to admire the well-preserved and beautiful Cape Dutch buildings from the time of van der Stel. It is a beautiful and very lively university town.

An old house in Stellenbosch in Cape Dutch style, South Africa
An old house in Stellenbosch in Cape Dutch style, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

Not surprisingly, Stellenbosch is home to some of the oldest and most famous wine estates in the country. Meerlust, Rust en Vrede and Rustenberg were all founded end of the 17th century. Meerlust was created in 1693. Here, Giorgio dalla Cia, the winemaker at the time, made South Africa’s first Bordeaux blend in 1980. The wine was called Rubicon, and it has been a success ever since.

Rubicon was quite a revolution at the time as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot were not very much planted. Now things have changed. Cabernet Sauvignon has proved to be well suited to Stellenbosch. It likes the heat and is drought tolerant. Today it is the most planted variety in Stellenbosch with almost 3,000  hectares. In total Stellenbosch has approx. 15,000 hectares. It is the biggest Cabernet Sauvignon region in the country.

Grocery delivery in Stellenbosch to a Cape Dutch style house, South Africa
Grocery delivery in Stellenbosch to a Cape Dutch style house, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

“We need to promote it more”, says Danie Steytler Jr at Kaapzicht, “it can do very well here, and people tend to think only Bordeaux and Napa when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon.”

He is happy about the creation a couple of years ago of the “Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective”. Around 35 prominent producers aim to promote Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon as a top-quality wine on par with its French and American counterparts.

Stellenbosch is hot and dry in summer, but seldom too hot and the vineyard enjoys cool breezes from False Bay in the afternoon. It rains mainly in the winter. Some producers irrigate their vineyards, some do not, depending on the soil which is very varied in the region. The surrounding mountains also give the vineyards varying degrees of exposure to wind and sun. There are seven sub-regions, called wards, to show off these differences.

Danie Steytler Jr at Kaapzicht Winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Danie Steytler Jr at Kaapzicht Winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

A ward is a smaller area with, presumably, a homogenous soil and climate. Some of these names are now starting to be recognized by wine lovers, such as Banghoek, Bottelary, Jonkershoek Valley, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, Polkadraai Hills. Still, many prefer to put the more famous name of Stellenbosch on the label instead of a yet pretty unknown ward.

Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

We find Kaapzicht in the Bottelary Hills to the west of the town of Stellenbosch. When the weather is favourable you can, as the name indicates, see Table Mountain in Cape Town (Kaapstad in Afrikaans). It is a family vineyard; Danie is the 4th generation. He makes some outstanding wines (not only from Cabernet Sauvignon) on the farm’s 160 hectares of vines. Kaapzicht Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 has a rich black currant fruit with wild herbs, very fresh with firm tannins in the background for structure.

Stark-Condé is beautifully situated in the Jonkershoek Valley, south-east of Stellenbosch town. The winemaker José Condé is particularly fond of Cabernet Sauvignon. “Cabernet Sauvignon is what we are most known for”, he says, “it has always been our focus”. He makes his top wine Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes grown on slopes in decomposed granite with a fairly high clay proportion. “Three Pines combines power and elegance”, says José. It is also quite aromatic and floral, with soft tannins, and intense black fruit.

José Condé of the Stark-Condé winery on the last day of harvest, Stellenbosch, South Africa
José Condé, owner and winemaker of the Stark-Condé winery on the last day of harvest, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography
At Stark-Condé Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa
At Stark-Condé Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography
Stark-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon Jonkershoek Valley wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Stark-Conde Three Pines Cabernet Sauvignon Jonkershoek Valley wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

Another superb producer in Stellenbosch known for its Cabernet Sauvignon is Thelema, situated on the south-east side of the Simonsberg Mountain on the ridge leading towards Franschhoek. The vineyards are at quite a high elevation, 1700 feet above sea level. Look for stylish Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 with hints of cedarwood and Thelema Rabelais 2018, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend.

Rudi Schultz, winemaker at the Thelema winery in the middle of harvest, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Rudi Schultz, winemaker at the Thelema winery in the middle of harvest, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography
Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

Boschkloof is in the south-west, in the Polkadraai ward. Jacques Borman, the owner, worked for Simonsig (another famous Stellenbosch winery) before starting on his own in 1995. His son Reenen is ow the winemaker. “Polkadraai is a bit cooler than many other parts of Stellenbosch”, says Reenen, “the maritime influence is more pronounced, we get freshness and ripe but never overripe grapes.”. Although Boschkloof is more known for its excellent Syrah, the spicy Cabernet Sauvignon is impressive and excellent value for money.

Reenen Borman, winemaker at the Boschkloof winery in the middle of harvest, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Reenen Borman, winemaker at the Boschkloof winery in the middle of harvest, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography
Boschkloof Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Boschkloof Cabernet Sauvignon wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

Giorgio, the creator of Rubicon and the father of the South African Bordeaux blend, spent 25 years at Meerlust. He and his son George has developed their own successful winery called Dalla Cia, a stone’s throw from the Stellenbosch city centre. Dalla Cia Classico is an elegant 100 % Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dalla Cia Giorgio is, of course, a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Their Italian heritage has also inspired them to produce excellent grappa.

This article was originally published in a shorter version on Forbes.com.

Travel

You can discover many of the fabulous Stellenbosch wines on a wine tour to South Africa with BKWine Tours, also including Franschhoek, Walker Bay and much else.

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Giorgio and George Dalla Cia in the winery restaurant in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Giorgio and George Dalla Cia in the winery restaurant in Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography
Giorgio Cabernet Sauvignon Dalla Cia winery wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Giorgio Cabernet Sauvignon Dalla Cia winery wine bottle, Stellenbosch, South Africa, copyright BKWine Photography

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