Boschendal’s celebrated Appellation Series has gained a new member: a Cabernet Sauvignon from the cultivar’s prime terroir and an outstanding vintage.
Boschendal Estate, founded in 1685 at Groot Drakenstein between Paarl and Franschhoek, is known for going that extra mile in its search for vineyards from which to make the best wines possible for its extensive range. In its Appellation Series, the estate seeks to bottle grape varieties that have become associated with parcels of Cape Winelands terroir that are recognised for giving distinctive characteristics to cultivars especially suited to these regions. And when it came to extending this series to include Cabernet Sauvignon – the king of red wines – Boschendal looked to Stellenbosch, South Africa’s most famous wine region, since over the past five decades it has become world-famous for wines made from this Bordeaux variety.
According to Shirley van Wyk, Boschendal’s marketing manager, until now Boschendal winemakers have focused on Elgin, selecting grapes from long-term grower vineyards as well as Boschendal’s own Highfield Vineyards for their Appellation Series. “These site-specific wines with their focus on terroir and vivid expression of varietal character have established the Appellation Series as one of Boschendal’s acclaimed premium offerings,” she says. “In looking to find a wine to bolster this range, the excellent reputation of South African Cabernet Sauvignon came to the fore. When you look for Cabernet Sauvignon, there is really only one region that springs to mind and that is Stellenbosch.”
The search for the best vineyards from which to make the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon led Boschendal viticulturist Heinie Nel and Jacques Viljoen, cellar master and red wine winemaker, to Stellenbosch’s Helderberg appellation. Famed for its legacy of Cabernet Sauvignon wines, the Helderberg lies in the south-east of the region and is characterised by ancient soils of decomposed granite, steep slopes that face west and bask in the afternoon sun, and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean at nearby False Bay.
Jacques maintains that the Helderberg terroir is a dream for any winemaker aspiring to produce a fine Cabernet Sauvignon. “It is as if Cabernet Sauvignon and Helderberg, Stellenbosch, were made for each other,” he says. “You sense this when you are in the vineyards and see the bunches of grapes developing in ideal conditions. Then, once the grapes have been harvested and you begin working with the fruit and the juice, the developing flavours and aromas exude a Cabernet Sauvignon character that comes only from that part of Stellenbosch.”
The maiden Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon was made from the 2017 vintage, which is becoming recognised as one of the best red wine vintages the Stellenbosch region has seen in the past few decades. “The 2016 winter was slap-bang in the middle of that infamous Cape drought,” explains Jacques, “and as the 2017 harvest got underway, it was hot and dry in the vineyards. However, the weather cooled down considerably in March. This produced ideal conditions for a late-ripening variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, as the cooler temperatures led to that special thing a winemaker seeks: even ripening.”
The grapes were harvested by hand on the Helderberg and brought to the Boschendal winery in cooled containers. After being destemmed, the berries were meticulously sorted to remove any green or shrivelled fruit. Fermentation was carried out in stainless steel tanks, with regular pump-overs to ensure aeration and optimal extraction during the 12-day process. “With fruit of such quality and from such a great vintage, you want to make sure you get the best out of it,” says Jacques. “So when the grapes had fermented dry, we did a post-fermentation maceration, allowing the wine to lie on the skins for a further month before pressing. This process really polished the wine with bright fruit flavours and well-rounded tannins.”
Maturation took place in 300ℓ barrels of French oak ranging from first- to fourth-fill wood for 15 to 16 months. “The team and I kept an eye on the barrels throughout the wine’s time in wood,” Jacques continues, “constantly tasting and keeping tabs on its development. When it came to selecting the best barrels from which to make up the final blend, we had a clear idea what the end product demanded. Now, tasting the wine from the bottle, it has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
Jacques describes the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 as a great example of Cabernet made on one of the best sites for this variety in the New World. “It is all about giving the wine a sense of place, which is something the terroir of our Stellenbosch vineyards has truly done,” he says. “There is a commanding presence in the completeness of the wine on the palate, the muscular yet supple tannins and the long, elegant finish. What I am truly pleased about is the bright, sunny fruit elements that complement the classic complexity. Discernible notes of cherry and blackcurrant add to the wine’s regal features, what I call the jewels in the crown.”
Shirley adds that the Boschendal Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 is a welcome addition to the winery’s range. “This wine is destined to become a classic and underscores Boschendal’s position as a leading house of premium South African wines. The Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is an important milestone in Boschendal’s journey to continued excellence in wine quality, provenance and legacy. And we all look forward to it being part of the next chapter of this estate’s illustrious history.”