Against the odds? Five Generations Cab one of South Africa’s very best!
THERE ARE PARTS of the South African winescape that for various reasons dominate particular categories. Sure there are exceptions to the rule(s), but Calitzdorp is the Port capital and the Breede River Valley districts of Breedekloof, Robertson and Worcester are where most of the fortified Muscat champions are based. The Cape’s best Pinot Noir tends to come from the Cape South Coast and particularly from farms in Hemel-en-Aarde and Elgin. The Franschhoek vignerons would have it that they are at the centre of Cap Classique sparkling wine production, albeit that most of the top bubbly houses are in Stellenbosch and Robertson. Mention Sauvignon Blanc and one thinks of Durbanville, maybe Darling, although these days Stellenbosch, Cape Agulhas (Elim), Cape Point and Elgin are right up there in the pecking order.
However, if there’s one district that stands out as pretty much unchallenged when it comes to its strong suit, it’s Stellenbosch in terms of Cabernet – Sauvignon or Franc. Virtually all of the top so-called Bordeaux-style red blends led by Cab and/or Merlot are from Stellenbosch, and when you talk single-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, WO Stellenbosch applies to seven of the country’s Top 10 and around 90% of the Top 50. The three exceptions among the front-runners? Boekenhoutskloof Franschhoek Cabernet Sauvignon (they also have a Stellenbosch version), an auction reserve in the form of Nederburg Private Bin R163 from the neighbouring district of Paarl, and Cederberg Five Generations, from a ward some 200km north of Stellenbosch, inland rather than coastal and over 800m higher above sea level.
Cederberg is an exception to the rule in more ways than one! The brand also features among the Top 10 Sauvignon Blanc and Top 10 Shiraz, and so successful is the Cabernet from cellarmaster David Nieuwoudt’s outfit that besides the flagship, even the ‘standard’ version ranks among South Africa’s Top 20. It’s not as if the flagship scrapes into the SA Top 10 – it’s easily among the top half dozen; a shoo-in.
One of the Top 20 wineries in the country, Cederberg Private Cellar has a unique ‘terroir’, and, being so isolated in the mountains, the vines benefit from being less prone to virus and bugs. The claim on the labels of being the highest in South Africa is no longer true, not since the planting of vineyards in Sutherland up on the Roggeveld of the Northern Cape and near Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg of KwaZulu-Natal, but at 1000 meters or so there are no SA ‘wines with altitude’ to have performed better than these.
Eighteen months in French oak adds complexity to the Five Generations Cabernet, which Nieuwoudt describes as having “multi-layered blackcurrants, cassis and roast coffee bean flavours with a hint of cigar box on the nose… silky finish… balance between ripeness, richness and elegance.” It’s his favourite variety, which in the Cederberg is usually only ready for harvest mid-April, weeks after the Stellenbosch crop is generally in the cellar already.
Cabernet was first planted in the Cederberg in 1972. This has since been replaced with new clones and the average age of the vines is now 17 years. Production of the Five Generations Cab amounts to just 12 barrels a year, with the 2015 vintage released at R480 a bottle – the ‘standard’ Cederberg Cab selling from the farm at R160pb for the same vintage. One of South Africa’s Top 100 wines over the past 10 years; Top Wine SA Hall of Fame. Amazing that there isn’t more of a fuss about it!