Today I am releasing 7 new wines: The main one is the B.I.G. Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – a blend of 6 Cabernet vineyards, from 3 areas, vineyard sites ranging from 116 meters above sea level to 755m. I then also bottled all the components that went into B.I.G. separately – UNITY, HBK, TOOLBAG, Mr. VILLA, But Why? And LEAVING THE TABLE. So you can now buy the South African red blend B.I.G. 2015 and then also taste through its components experiencing the effect that height above sea level and proximity towards the ocean have on Cabernet Sauvignon.
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 35 varieties. Harvest 2015, I thought it a bright idea to do something for the neglected, fallen-from-grace Cabernet Sauvignon. I subsequently identified 6 Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards from 3 different wine areas, at 5 different heights above sea level: 2 near Somerset West (at 116 and 215 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 – commonly tagged as “overripe 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 Cabernets from more than one area and different height levels. I chose the following 6 vineyards:
UNITY: Somerset West – 116 meters above sea-level.
HBK: Helderberg mountain – 215 meters above sea-level
TOOLBAG: Tulbagh – 310 meters above sea-level
Mr VILLA: 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.
I assumed that UNITY and HBK would be more herbaceous in character, growing so close to the ocean and at a lower sea level. We picked UNITY at a general ripeness level, keeping in mind that we wanted to end up with a balanced wine. HBK, on the other hand, we picked completely ripe.
With the 2 Tulbagh components, we picked the same vineyard on the same day. We made TOOLBAG the way we usually make our wines. No additions like yeast, enzymes etc. Au Naturel. We left the wine on the skins for 3 weeks after fermentation, pressed into old oak barrels. With Mr VILLA, on the other hand, we manipulated the winemaking process by adding a bit of acid, enzymes to extract colour, 2 strains of specific yeast cultures, a limited time on the skins and aged in the newest oak we had in the cellar.
BUT WHY grows at 734 meters above sea-level and I was concerned that ripening would be a challenge. My initial thoughts were that the wines would be green. BUT WHY grows on sandy soils whereas LEAVING THE TABLE grows on rocky clay soils, at the highest elevation of them all. What we did not realize at the time was that the site’s radiation levels (sunlight) were off-the-charts high and the average temperature is low during summer. The grapes could therefore stay on the vines much longer, absorbing massive amounts of sunlight, whilst growing in maturity and getting rid of greenness. Resulting in ripe grapes with lower sugar levels. Sandy soils are also famous for producing more elegant wines…
To really get a true representation of a South African Cabernet Sauvignon, we then made a blend of all 6 wines. Not in equal percentages of the components, but rather a carefully worked out blend in order to get the best of them all together. We named it the B.I.G. Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. We then also decided to bottle them all separately as single vineyard bottlings – each a wine in their own right. So you can now buy a mixed case of 6 bottles where you can taste each component separately plus a bottle of B.I.G Cabernet Sauvignon as the blend of them all. Cabernet Sauvignon from sea-level all the way to 755 meters above sea-level.
B.I.G. 2015 – R210 a bottle.
MAGNUM (1.5 liter) B.I.G. 2015 – R420 a bottle
Mixed case of 6 – UNITY, HBK, TOOLBAG, Mr. VILLA, But Why? And LEAVING THE TABLE – R1200 a case of 6.
3 MAGNUMS (1.5 liter) B.I.G. 2015 in a wooden box – R1600