South Africa does wine well. Be it the elegant wines of Elgin or the rustic innovations of the Swartland, this is a country that can produce a bottle to suit anyone’s inclinations. The international media has gone into spasms of delight about the New Wave of winemakers in up-and-coming areas but Stellenbosch, the largest Wine of Origin region in South Africa is still responsible for more than a third of the Cape’s wineries.
The Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective are supporters of the New Wave, after all, says chair Christo Le Riche, “A rising tide lifts all ships,” but they are taking steps to ensure focus is also drawn to that premium stalwart, the classic Cabernet Sauvignon. Stellenbosch enjoys long daylight hours and warm sunshine, which reduces the threat of tart ‘green’ notes found in underripe Cabernet. It also benefits from cooling sea breezes and the altitude range of its many picturesque mountain slopes, making this prime wine-making country.
The last two years have been disastrous for South Africa’s wine industry but “covid taught us that when things get tough, that which we are best known for is what will sell most easily,” says Le Riche. The Collective, formed of 31 members, is here to maintain and promote the reputation of this wine on the international stage because “this is a grape that can sustain Stellenbosch.”
Every member must undergo rigorous quality control, be on Stellenbosch’s tourist wine route and be committed to Cab.
“Stellenbosch produces the most internationally relevant Cabernet Sauvignon in South Africa,” says Jean Engelbrecht of Rust en Vrede, explaining how he has seen the wine here develop over the last 25 years thanks to the opportunities afforded by overseas travel and education and predicting “in the next decade producers will micromanage Cabernet with even greater success”.
The diversity of the countryside within Stellenbosch means the wines from this one district can vary hugely in style. Estates in warmer sites such as Kleine Zalze and Kanonkop create powerful, rich wines with bold ripe tannins and blue-black fruits whereas those in slower ripening, cooler sites like Oldenburg and Delaire-Graff create bright wines with fresh red fruits, spice and fine tannins.
There are over 170 wine producers in Stellenbosch alone and within all that variety “Cabernet Sauvignon has really stood out and put its hand up as one of our leading varietals,” says Le Riche, explaining that they produce premium level wines at competitive and comfortable prices. This is a wine he (rightly) hopes that Stellenbosch will be renowned for globally. “We’ve been doing it for a long time and we will be doing this for a long time to come”.