Why Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Will Always Be A Sure Bet

Consider such fine examples of Syrah as of Boschkloof Epilogue, the Mullineux Single Terroir wines, Porseleinberg and Rall Ava, and it’s difficult to deny that this is the most exciting red wine category in the country right now. That said, you’d be mad to think that deluxe Cabernet Sauvignon is simply going to disappear off the scene.

In this regard, what’s happening in the South African national vineyard at a macro level is insightful. According to South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS), total hectares for 2019 stood at 92 067ha, down 9 192 ha from 2009, equivalent to 9.1% decrease. There are 109 different varieties planted of which the top 10 (Chenin Blanc, Colombar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Merlot, Ruby Cabernet and Cinsault in that order) make up 85.8%.

Of the top 10, only Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage are more widely planted than they were a decade ago. Cab has decreased by 19.1% over the period in question to 10 087ha and yet it remains the most widely planted red variety overall (second-place Shiraz/Syrah fell by 8.3% to 9 178ha).

Here’s where things get interesting: No other district has a greater proportion of red to white grape varieties than Stellenbosch, this being 62% relative to 38% and no other district has more Cab planted, total area being 2 995ha or 29.7% of the national whole (Paarl comes in second with 22.7% and Swartland third with 17.3%).

To many, intensively farmed Stellenbosch remains the wine capital of South Africa and Cabernet is most definitely its calling card. It’s a moot point whether straight Cab or Cape Bordeaux Red Blends (Cab in some combination with the other four Bordeaux varieties) are more successful (see Tim James’s article in this regard here) and those producers who make both a straight Cab as well as a blend are usually inclined to position the latter above the former in price but regardless of this, I’m inclined to think that Cabernet plantings have fallen too much relative to market demand.

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