There’s an impossibility of criteria when deciding on a list of South Africa’s top 20 wine producers. I’m sure each of the 25 wine writers, commentators, retailers and sommeliers invited by my colleague, Tim James to undertake this task for his website, Grape, did employ a variety of yardsticks to arrive at their list. Yardsticks might even have differed between those for the Top 5, which we were requested to rank and the other 15, which needed only alphabetical order.
For myself, I start with quality, but quality across the whole range, not just the flagship. That’s one reason none of the volume producers would get a look in from me. KWV Mentors, Nederburg Ingenuity, DGB Bellingham Bernard Series: these are all quality wines, but they represent a tiny proportion of the whole range. Most of the rest is commercial – good, but still commercial and, therefore, precludes the producer as a whole from being worthy of consideration for the Top 20.
Then it’s no good having a one-vintage wonder, a track record needs to be established. This is not a stage maintained once one is at the top of the ladder, it’s also a reflection of improvement every year as that ladder is climbed.
Alright, these are two fairly easily measurable qualities, even though each judge will apply them to different producers. Much then depends on each judge’s familiarity with the wines.
Because there are way more than 20 producers who fulfil both those demands and more than 700 producers in the Cape, this is where other indeterminate factors come into play. Perceptions might seem irrelevant, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who takes them into account.
What do I mean by perception? Visibility of the producer, how it stands out from the crowd and whether it is viewed in a positive light.
My list goes as follows:
Cape Point Vineyards
David & Nadia Sadie
Of those that made it, Badenhorst, Crystallum, Klein Constantia and Savage were on my Reserve list, as were Lismore, Raats and Sijnn.
So, why these and not others? Vergelegen had to be in my top five because I believe the wines are among the country’s best, they’re consistent and distinctive. Perception is possibly its downfall. When Andre van Rensburg has something to say, we all know about it, otherwise, apart from a few surges, Vergelegen is pretty quiet on social media, of late, in the awards’ medals too and little seems to be written about the wines.
Much the same situation applies to Eagles’ Nest, though they do seem to regularly pick up awards locally and internationally, but there’s little public relations on the local market. Haskell and Eikendal both make really good wines, but, Eikendal especially, has no image in the media stratosphere. In fact, if I hadn’t tasted their wines for Platter for the past two years, they wouldn’t be in my list either. Waterford enters no competitions, and, like Eagles’ Nest interacts very little with the media, which doesn’t help their awareness, but I’ve always liked their classic style and consistency. It’s quite possible we hear little of these producers as they sell out without making a song and dance of their existence.
The dropping of Thelema is the one that really puzzles me. I’ve been a loyal customer since the start and remained a fan, buying the cabernet virtually every year and other wines from both farms less regularly.
If the non-appearance of Thelema is a surprise, think of other, highly visible producers who haven’t made it: inter many alia Steenberg, Beaumont, Ernie Els, Rust en Vrede, Ken Forrester, Morgenster, Fairview, Villiera, Glen Carlou, Graham Beck, De Toren, Neil Ellis, Rustenberg, Vilafonte, Warwick, Saronsberg, Rijks. I’m sure many if not most of them got a vote or two but the results just go to show how easy it is to make a list like this one year and be dropped two or four years’ later.
I don’t imagine Grape’s Top 20 2018 will be any easier to compile or less controversial.