"The Swartland Revolution was exactly that: a revolution initiated by Swartland farmers which turned the premium wine market upside down. Suddenly premium higher-priced Bordeaux-style Stellenbosch wines had to share the stage with premium Rhone-style Swartland blends. And so it happened then, that for the past 8 years, the media stuck Cabernet Sauvignon in a dark and dusty corner - not “cool” enough.
As some of you might know, at the moment I make wine from 24 varieties. I thought it a bright idea to do something for the neglected, fallen-from-grace Cabernet Sauvignon. I subsequently identified 8 Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards, 2 Cabernet franc and 1 Petit Verdot with vastly different heights above sea level: 7 near Somerset West (at 32 to 391 m), 2 on the outskirts of Tulbagh (both at 310 m) and 2 in the Witzenberg’s Koue Bokkeveld (at 734 and 755m).
When I first started speaking to the masters of Cabernet here at the Southernmost tip of Africa, the first thing mentioned by most was the dreaded Greenness in Cabernet Sauvignon - a very unwelcome herbaceous / vegetative character. This develops due to high levels of Pyrazines present in the wine - something that's determined by the ripeness level of the grapes. The longer the grape bunches get exposed to sunlight during the growing period, the less Pyrazines - resulting in less greenness in the end product - reducing herbaceousness and amplifying fruit.
Here in South Africa we have a unique situation: although we have plenty of sunshine, it is hot and dry. In most instances, by the time the grapes are ripe for picking, it hasn't had long enough sun exposure for the Pyrazines to get to an acceptable level. And if you leave it on the vine for longer, the sugar level gets too high. These sugars are then transformed during fermentation into alcohol resulting in rather high alcoholic wines.
So in general, Cabernet creators are in fact chased by the Green Monster. Defended by some, feared by most. What confuses me, though, is that one could argue that this greenness is a stylistic characteristic of wines closer to the ocean, which makes it acceptable. Or does it? Where the exact point lies where herbaceousness turns into greenness - I am not sure.
That’s why I decided to make a Cabernet Sauvignon led blend and identified the following 11 vineyards from different heights above sea levels. The closest vineyard to the ocean is 3km and the furthest 3 hours drive.
My eie plaas - Cabernet Sauvignon: Valley floor Firgrove - 32 meters above sea-level.
UNITY - Cabernet Sauvignon: Lower slopes of the Helderberg Somerset West - 116 meters above sea-level.
LAN - Cabernet Sauvignon: Firgrove (slope facing towards the Helderberg) - 60m meters above sea-level.
COR-CS - Cabernet Sauvignon: Higher slopes of the Helderberg Somerset West - 308 meters above sea-level.
COR-CF - Cabernet franc: Higher slopes of the Helderberg Somerset West - 320 meters above sea-level.
Sigh of Relief - Cabernet franc: Higher slopes of the Helderberg Somerset West - 391 meters above sea-level.
Black Nectar - Petit verdot: Blaauwklippen Road Stellenbosch - 279 meters above sea-level.
TOOLBAG Cabernet Sauvignon: Tulbagh - 310 meters above sea-level
Mr VILLA Cabernet Sauvignon: Tulbagh - 310 meters above sea-level
BUT WHY?: Ceres Plateau - 734 meters above sea-level
LEAVING THE TABLE: Ceres Plateau - 755 meters above sea-level
We made them all separately and aged them all in French oak for one and a half years - picked mainly when we thought the grapes tasted best. Interestingly enough, the first vineyard on the Helderberg ripened in late February whereas the last vineyard in Ceres Plateau (about 3 hours drive from the first) reached optimum ripeness on 22 April - 100 days into harvest and also the very last grapes to hit the cellar." -Producer’s note