Thelema Receives Double Legend Status in Tim Atkin South Africa Report

Top image: Thelema’s founder and cellarmaster Gyles Webb

Two legends from the Thelema wine estate were included in this year’s highly anticipated South African Report by British Master of Wine Tim Atkin – one in a bottle, and the other of the legendary wine personality kind.

Besides the 97pts Atkin accorded Thelema’s iconic red blend Rabelais 2015, Thelema’s founder and cellarmaster Gyles Webb was named Atkin’s South African Winemaking Legend for 2019.

According to Webb, the award of Winemaking Legend from Atkin is an honour of which he is truly humbled. “As long as this is not an indication that I am put out to pasture,” quipped Webb who in 1983 founded Thelema Mountain Vineyards in the Banghoek Valley and released its first wines in 1988. 

“It is a huge honour, especially from Tim who I got to know since his first visits to the Cape in the early 1990s,” says Webb. “Since then he has become a tremendous ambassador for South African wine and his annual report does an important job of informing the rest of the world about the quality and diversity of the wines being made in the Cape. With Tim’s respect as a seasoned critic and MW, his role is an important one for the entire industry.”

But, stresses Webb, in reports such as these it is all about the wines and he is pleased to see good ratings Thelema received in this year’s report. Some 20 wines from Thelema’s Stellenbosch and Sutherland (Elgin) properties were awarded 90pts and above, with the stand-outs being red wines.

The 97pt Rabelais 2015 was made from a superb vintage, led by Cabernet Sauvignon with a 7% splash of Petit Verdot. This rating puts the wine in the top-echelon of Cape red wines, exactly the ideal Webb had set for it from the wine’s first vintage in 2007. 

 Thelema head winemaker Rudi Schultz said he could see something special was in the pipeline when the 2015 grapes came into the cellar. “The early analysis, the structure of the fruit, the total balance in the juice….we knew this Rabelais was going to be something great.”

Both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot components are from low-yield vines of nine tons per hectare and lying between 430m and 480m above sea-level. Planted on Hutton soils and the decomposed granite for which the Simonsberg region is so well-known, both varieties achieve superb varietal expression, led by Cabernet Sauvignon for which Thelema has become especially well-known.

The Atkin Report agrees about the Cabernet Sauvignon – the Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 scored 94pts, while the 2016 vintage came in with 93pts.

“These scores are truly rewarding, as we have always believed Cabernet Sauvignon to be the trump-card for Thelema Mountain Vineyards due to the incredible Simonsberg terroir,” he says. The consistent showing of the Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2019 report from Atkin vindicates our belief this variety.”

Another stand-out red wine was Thelema’s Merlot Reserve 2016 which received a 94pt rating, with the Merlot 2016 closely behind on 93pts.

The Sutherland vineyard in Elgin also produced a 93pt score, this going to the Petit Verdot 2016.

Commendable 92pt ratings went to Thelema Sauvignon Blanc (2018), Semillon (2015) and Shiraz (2015), as well as Sutherland Chardonnay (2018) and Pinot Noir Reserve (2016).

Sutherland`s other 90pt and over ratings:

Sutherland Viognier/Roussanne (2016) – 91pts

Sutherland Cabernet Sauvignon (2016), Grenache Reserve (2016), Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Syrah 2016 – 90pts.