Today, the 2nd of September, the wine world celebrates the undisputed king of red varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon – the most widely planted red grape variety in the world.
To celebrate International Cabernet Sauvignon Day, we have focused our attention on Cabernet Sauvignon specifically from the Stellenbosch region in South Africa and to highlight the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective – A collective of Stellenbosch wine producers to whom quality is paramount.
The story of the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective begins with a tale of passion and creativity. Rising out of an alluring landscape, rich history, vibrant culture and unparalleled architecture, Stellenbosch is one of South Africa’s most prominent wine producing regions and desirable tourist destinations. Today, the region has become the focus of many profoundly adept oenologists and agronomists who use their unique premium local African terroir to produce top quality Cabernet among other wines.
A love for country, community and producing fine wine has given rise to a collaborative group of 35 members that desire to see this regions Cabernet Sauvignons performing against the best on a global platform.
About the Region
Stellenbosch is classified as a Wine of Origin region, is home to more than a third of the Cape’s wineries and has the largest vineyard area under Cabernet Sauvignon in South Africa. Stellenbosch is divided into 5 sub-wards namely Stellenbosch Berg, Greater Simonsberg, Stellenbosch Valley, Bottelary Hills and Helderberg. Each ward is differentiated by soil types, aspect and area. This allows the wines of Stellenbosch great diversity but each with a commonality from whence they came.
The area of Stellenbosch, because of its diverse variety of terroir, has fondly become known in South Africa as the ‘Kingdom of Cabernet’. Due its array of soil types, which amounts to as many 50 different types, winemakers in this region have been able to produce some of South Africa’s top Cabernet examples. The ancient soils in Stellenbosch are acidic with decomposed granite and shale in the mountainside vineyards, interlaced with alluvial deposits in the valley floors. The soils in this region are well drained and are comparatively able to retain the right amount of water needed for the vines to thrive. These factors make for an ideal medium in which to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. The heat retaining capacity of the warm soils in Stellenbosch are also of paramount importance as temperature plays an important role in ripening the grapes. While Cabernet is definitely produced using a wide variety of soils, it has been said that many people enjoy the minerality of Cabernets produced from the more granite based mountainous areas in Stellenbosch. The soils in this region, among other factors, have allowed winemakers to produce Cabernet in a uniquely African way. Although South Africa is classified as a New World wine producer, stylistically the wines have an old world character; they are more austere, with dry tannins and a slightly herbaceous character.
The climate in Stellenbosch is most certainly one of the most important contributing factors to the growth of noble wine cultivars. The cooler, wet winters and the dry, hot summers in Stellenbosch are characteristic of a Mediterranean climate. The characteristic thick skin of Cabernet is indicative of a grape that ripens comparatively late in the year compared to other varietals. The warm climate and daylight hours, approximately 14 hours in summer and 10 hours in winter, in Stellenbosch is therefore paramount to the growth process of the Cabernet grapes which would otherwise not be able to reach their optimal ripeness. The average temperature in Stellenbosch is 16.4 degrees with temperatures reaching the mid-high 20s during the summer months. Although the vines struggle in extremely hot temperatures, the maritime climate with close proximity to the Indian and Atlantic oceans means that cool prevailing South Easterly wind allows the vineyards some relief from the hot weather during the summer months. These winds also inhibit the development of disease in the vineyards. With an annual rainfall of between 600mm – 800mm, Stellenbosch vineyards receive plenty of rain. The good annual rainfall means that while there might not be sufficient rains during the summer periods, winemakers are able to store excess water for irrigation when necessary. In essence, the combination of maritime influences such as ocean breezes and coastal fogs, coupled with a warm Mediterranean climate, makes Stellenbosch one of the most ideal places to cultivate Cabernet with a unique and complex character.
The majestic mountains and undulating rolling hills in Stellenbosch are not only a portrayal of its beauty, but are important factors in cultivating the vines that grow here. The hills in Stellenbosch are not steep, meaning that farmers can plant vines in rows up to the top, some of which are as high as 250m above sea level. Stellenbosch lies in a mountainous valley with an average elevation of 136m above sea level. The Stellenbosch mountain is South of the area, whilst the Jonkershoek, Drakenstein and Simonsberg mountains are in the East and Southeast. The highest point of elevation is Victoria Peak at 1590m.
Various Cabernet clones are planted in Stellenbosch with the most common being CS 46 for its consistent good quality. Other clones used are CS336/337 , CS 37, CS 338, CS 359/360, and the less yielding CS 169. Clone planting depends greatly on sites and soil types as well as personal preference. In South Africa almost all of the vineyards are grafted onto root stocks due to the presence of phylloxera which was discovered in the Cape in 1880.
“If you haven’t already discovered Stellenbosch Cabernet, its time to seek some out and experience it for yourself” – Anthony Mueller, The Wine Advocate
“Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc is blessed with some of the finest and most suitable terroir anywhere in the world” – Greg Sherwood MW
Click here to view the exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon’s from our Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective Producers