THE NAME IS GREEK,a philosophers’ term expressing the end of a goal-driven process. And this definitive wine from Tokara named Telos is all about the goal and the vision GT and Anne-Marie Ferreira had when they acquired this piece of blessed earth on the cusp of Stellenbosch’s famed Simonsberg.
Back then in 1994 not one grapevine was growing in the dusty red Tukulu and Oakleaf soils of what was to become Tokara. What was there, however, was an aspiration: GT’s aim to oversee the creation of a single wine that would represent the vision that brought him and his family to call this place home. And in the process a wine would be crafted that demonstrates what South Africa – and specifically Stellenbosch – is capable of. Because unless excellence can be achieved, it is simply not worth mentioning.
Aidan Morton, the viticulturist who oversaw the vineyard plantings at Tokara more than two decades ago, is quick to remind me that the wine in the statuesque bottle of Telos lying in a gleaming wooden and suede-lined cradle is essentially not new.
“Yes, the label was introduced in 2018 from the 2015 vintage,” he says. “But the wine has been in the making since we put the first vines in the ground. From day one it was our goal to craft a wine that embodied GT’s vision and showed what Tokara as a wine farm is truly capable of.”
And yes, confirms Aidan, Telos was to be Cabernet Sauvignon. “Cabernet Sauvignon was always going to be the cornerstone at Tokara,” he says. “Stellenbosch, and especially Simonsberg, has shown that if you are going to make great red wines here, you have to plant Cabernet. The nature of the soils plus the varying pockets of climate and aspect allow the variety to express itself in a manner that over the past few years has made the international wine world sit up and take notice.”
To underscore Tokara’s commitment to Cabernet Sauvignon, 23 vineyard blocks on the property represent 11 clones. Each clone is matched to a vineyard planted to a holding of terroir aimed at providing fruit of as near-perfect focus as possible. And of this, the best is kept for Telos.
“Obviously, the outstanding quality of the 2015 vintage for Stellenbosch helped us make the call to release the maiden Telos,” says Karl Lambour, Tokara’s GM. “It was just one of those superb years in which every vineyard cycle seemed to be perfect. And when the grapes came in, we just knew: this is it.”
The foundation for Telos 2015 comprises 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 5% Malbec and 3% Merlot contributing additional colour to the palette. Although no white gloves were worn in creating the wine, with a limited production of only 1 000 bottles the whole approach was unashamedly fastidious. But not overly scientific or impersonal, says winemaker Stuart Botha.
“Nature is not concerned with human expectations,” he says. “The ethos behind Telos is still one of minimum intervention, enabling the extraordinary quality of the fruit to come to the fore by allowing the grapes to manage themselves.”
After being picked, the fruit was put into a cold-room overnight before each berry had to pass three selection processes: once on the mechanical sorting machine and twice by hand. The berries underwent a four-day cold maceration and were allowed to go through spontaneous fermentation triggered by natural wild yeasts.
Lasting 22 months, maturation took place in the best French oak Tokara could lay its hands on. “One of the barrels we used is not even available on the open market – it has to be offered to you,” says Stuart.
The Tokara Telos 2015 was launched in London in 2018, a gesture by GT Ferreira to return the compliment the UK market had shown in its support for Tokara wines over the years. The reception from the respected critics was nothing short of rapturous, with Masters of Wine Tim Atkin and Greg Sherwood both bestowing on the wine scores of 97 points out of 100.
Back in South Africa, on the slopes of Tokara, an aura of reverence descends over the room as an opened bottle of Telos 2015 is brought and poured. Talk of goals and visions, dreams and excellence, terroir and cellars no longer counts; the wine itself has taken over.
The colour of a melted garnet in the glass, it emits an aroma of the exotic and surreal, yet has the strikingly familiar tones of a fine red wine. The taste nullifies the unavoidable hint of preconceived expectation. An energetic burst of red and black fruit settles down to an extraordinary display of sensory refinement that is as intoxicating as it is vivid.
You have to lean back and think about what you have just tasted, which is something extraordinary. It is a wine that, you realise as you look out over the vineyards and the magnificence of this place called Tokara, has found a true home.