Stellenbosch: Putting Cabernet Sauvignon in the Spotlight

Stellenbosch vineyards with a view of the Simonsberg.

© shuttterstock

Stellenbosch vineyards with a view of the Simonsberg

Stellenbosch vineyards with a view of the Simonsberg.

© shuttterstock Stellenbosch: Putting Cabernet Sauvignon in the Spotlight In South Africa's Stellenbosch region, winemakers have come together as the Cabernet Collective to highlight the quality – and value – of their Cabernet Sauvignon.

South Africa is a very happening wine country: there are old vines and hip young winemakers, there are far-flung regions and previously unsung grape varieties that finally get their place in the spotlight. But amidst all this excitement there also is Cabernet Sauvignon – the grape that makes some of the most expensive, prestigious and famous wines in the world.

A jewel

It was in 2018 that a band of Stellenbosch winemakers decided that Cabernet Sauvignon – the old stalwart – also needed some love. So they founded the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective. Abrie Beeslaar, the winemaker at Kanonkop Estate, says the Collective was established to “put a bit more focus on the jewel of our industry which is Cabernet. The Collective decided it was about time to showcase Stellenbosch Cabernet, its quality and value.”

Opportunity and economic reality

“We are sitting in one of the exceptional areas for Cabernet production in the world,"  Beeslaar says, pointing out that various styles of Cabernet that can be and are made – from classically restrained to opulent: “We have a fruit spectrum in South Africa that is very special.” He then points to the mountainous terrain of Stellenbosch, the vicinity of the ocean and the decomposed granite, sandstone and shale soils. “These soils, together with the rainfall, produce low-yielding Cabernet vineyards – we cannot overcrop.” He also points to the dedication of the farmers – at least some farmers, as the economic situation means that others feel compelled to grub up such low-yielding Cabernet vineyards in order to plant varieties that will give them a much higher crop. How else to compete in a global market driven by price. Such is the commercial reality in a country beset by political instability and a weak currency. But for Beeslaar the upshot is clear: it is only with quality that you can make headway. “Cabernet deserves to be made into something special,” he says with conviction.

Quality and value

Having nailed his colours to the mast, Beeslar asks an apt question: “With so many influences from all over the world stylistically, what should a Cabernet look like today? Where does Stellenbosch fit it?” This is his cue to start the tasting of eight Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignons. There are stylistic differences – there are taut and generous styles but they all have one thing in common. Sadly for Stellenbosch – happily for us – these wines are excellent value. Ronell Wiid of Bartinney sums it up: “We are blessed in Stellenbosch to have fantastic Cabernet soils and weather – and that is why we have to elevate it.”