Why Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon will always be a sure bet

By , 9 June 2020

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6

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).

Proudly Stellenbosch.

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.

Mere speculation or is this born out in reality? According to a reliable source, Stellenbosch Cab has recently undergone a significant and fast increase in price achieved, moving from an average of R4 952.63 per ton in 2014 to R8 638,79 in 2019 – nearly 40% of it last year selling for over R10 000 per ton. You can be pretty sure the new US-based owners of Warwick and what used to be Uitkyk won’t be planting anything too exotic, nor the French owners of Cordoba nor the German owners of Ernie Els Wines…

Cabernet Sauvignon succeeds because it maintains a recognizable style and character wherever it is transplanted and not for nothing is it the most widely occuring red variety in the world. Moreover, Cab is seen as investible by punters – it is associated with Bordeaux on the one hand and Napa Valley on the other, the best of these regions producing wines with a proven ability to show price growth over time, far more so than what comes out of the Rhône, the traditional home of Syrah. As such, the disappearance of Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon from the world of fine wine is pretty much inconceivable.

Entries for the ninth annual Cabernet Sauvignon Report sponsored by multinational financial services company Prescient are now open. To enter, click here.

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  • Christian Eedes10 June 2020

    Via email from Francois van Zyl of Laibach: “Interesting observation about Cab in Stellenbosch. From working in the Simonsberg for more than 20 vintages this is how I feel: To make really great Cab you need not a lot of vigour in the canopy and a North-South row direction otherwise you will have too much pyrazine character. Yields for Stellenbosch Cab are consistently low and leaf roll virus is a big problem. You need roughly R45 000 to R50 000 per hectare to break even if you sell grapes. We get around 4 – 5 tons per hectare so you would need roughly R11 000 per ton to break even. No money yet to invest again in new plantings. Maybe that is the reason why we have so little Cab planted that is under 8 years old or so. If you work on new plantings costing around R25 000 per hectare there is no chance that you can make it if you do not bottle your own wine and sell at a reasonable price. The biggest buyers of Cab in Stellenbosch do not pay big numbers for it…

    My brother in law in Robertson that gets 35 tons per hectare for Pinotage and gets R3500 per ton is unfortunately much better off.”

  • GillesP9 June 2020

    Hello Christian. Is Cordoba back in business? Who are these French owners if you know?

    • Christian Eedes10 June 2020

      Hi Giles, Details remain sketchy but basically French investors acquired both Cordoba which will now become Taaibosch and Romond which is now home to Pink Valley Wines in 2018. Schalk-Willem Joubert, previously of Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons, heads up both projects.

  • KD Regajde9 June 2020

    What does this mean for the “Average Joe”, who can’t afford to spend R200+ on a decent Cab. Gone are the days basically? Which is what I find is happening more often, unfortunately. Of course nothing stays the same and everything becomes more expensive, but the trend is that wine as such, is becoming quite a luxury item when compared to 10 years ago.

  • Michael Fridjhon9 June 2020

    I’ve no doubt there’s a correlation between a marked decrease in cabernet plantings in Stellenbosch and the increase in the fruit price. Production cellars need the fruit: farmers are clearly noncommittal about the replanting investment

    • Christian Eedes9 June 2020

      Hi Michael, Regarding your comment, it’s concerning to note that in 2019 45% of Stellenbosch’s red wine variety plantings were 16 – 20 years of age and 22.9% were over 20 years. You have to wonder how much of that is virus-free…

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