South Africa’s Top 20 Wineries

I’ve introduced this year’s poll on the Top 20 Wineries in South Africa in my article for the Mail & Guardian, now available online. Here I want to tease out a few more interesting statistics, and add something particularly about the “up-and-coming” wineries. Soon, in separate blogs, I will also be looking at the top actual wines that the panel voted for – in the categories of red, white, sparkling and dessert/fortified wines.


Eben Sadie of Sadie Family wines, with his Old Vineyard Series

  • Sadie Family
  • Mullineux Family
  • Kanonkop
  • Boekenhoutskloof
  • Chamonix

The rest of the Top 20

  • Paul Cluver
  • Newton Johnson
  • Cape Point
  • Hamilton Russell Vineyards
  • Vergelegen
  • Tokara
  • Thelema
  • Jordan
  • Cederberg
  • Delaire Graff
  • Badenhorst Family
  • Klein Constantia
  • Meerlust
  • Reyneke
  • DeTrafford

In the M&G article I gave some background, and made some comparisons with the first of these polls, held in 2001. Notably, only 7 wineries in the 2014 list were also there in 2001: Kanonkop, Boekenhoutskloof, Hamilton Russell, Thelema  Jordan, Klein Constantia and De Trafford. Of the Top 5 this year, only Kanonkop was similarly situated back then (and Kanonkop has been in the Top 5 list every single poll since then – there have now been 6 of them.

I should perhaps explain more about this Top 5 business. I have always asked the voters to give me two lists: a top 5 and another list of 15, to complete the Top 20. In fact, if I just asked for a Top 20, the result would be slightly different at the highest level. This is because there are wineries than just about everyone agrees should be in the Top 20. To do a Top 20 on this base, ranking from 1 down to 20 simply on the basis of the votes cast would be plausible.

But I get a bit more useful nuance this way. For some of the most popular wineries are generally felt not to be at the highest level, and it seems to me important to also identify the most absolutely highly regarded wineries. It makes some difference. On a straight vote, for example, both Chamonix and Paul Cluver Estate actually got more votes than did Boekenhoutskloof. But Boekenhoutskloof fared much better than them in the vote for the Top 5.

So I respected the vote for the Top 5, listing the wines in the order of the number of votes they received in this section. Positions 5-16 were then filled in according to the total votes cast.

Four wineries joined the list for the first time in 2014: Cederberg, Delaire Graff, Badenhorst and Reyneke. De Trafford had somehow fallen off, but scraped in again this year.

Those who were ther in the last, 2012, list but fell off this year were: Waterford, Bouchard Finlayson, Rustenberg, Steenberg and De Toren. All of them except Steenberg didn’t come near the Top 20, in fact.

More statistics
The origins of the wines is fascinating. Seven areas featured, showing the spread of great quality in South Africa, from cool coastal to warm inland. There were 9 wineries from Stellenbosch; 3 from Swartland; 2 each from Franschhoek, Hemel-en-Aarde and Peninsula (Constantia and Cape Point); one each from Elgin and Cederberg.

Also indicating a spread of quality, a total of 84 wineries were nominated by the 29 judges, but 22 of these got only 1 vote each. Three or more votes went to 46 wineries. But only 9 received more than 20 votes – that is, there seems to be a broad concensus about the top part of the elite. The highest-scoring winery got votes from 28 of the voters; the winery in 20th position got only 10 votes.

It seems a bit bizarre to me, frankly, that neither of the two wineries that ended up in a very tight finish were voted for by everybody. How, I wonder, can there be people amongst this list of eminent wine professionals who can honestly imagine that Sadie Family and Mullineux are not amongst the leading 20 wineries in the Cape? (By the way, my discretion about the secrecy of peoples’ votes was guaranteed – they are welcome to release their own lists if they wish.

Just outside the Top 20, within a few votes of each other, were the following: Alheit, Crystallum, Le Riche, Steenberg, Stark-Conde, Morgenster, Raats (including Mvemve-Raats label).


Chris Alheit: up and coming – fast!

I also asked voters to name the three wineries that they felt could easily soon be amongst the Top 20. This could mean both “reinvented” wineries and new ones. In fact 2 of the 3 top-scorers in this category were also just outside the Top 20 list: Alheit and Crystallum (interestingly they share rented winery space!); the third was Fable – which had also received a few Top 20 votes (including from me, I might mention).

So. There was actually more change this year than I’d expected – the Cape wine revolution seems to be building new reputations at a great pace still. We’ll try it again in another few years, and see….

Thanks to the voters. I must say that there was a great response, and just about everyone I invited was keen to participate (though one important American didn’t even bother to acknowledge my invitation or reminder, however!). I think the balance this year was the best yet, with more sommeliers and more foreigners. How great is it that there are a number of eminent foreign critics who know South African wine well enough to make confident, well-informed judgements – incidentally, on the whole, there was little generally to distinguish the choices of the different groups. Perhaps the foreigners were more willing to nominate tiny, newish producers; perhaps many of the retailers tended to go in the opposite direction – to bigger, well-established ones. There were some nominations that I myself considered pretty eccentric coming from all the categories! Anyway, these were the voters:

Sommeliers: Hansi Joakim Blackadder; Gareth Ferreira; Neil Grant; Higgo Jacobs; James Pietersen; Joerg Pfuetzner; Francois Rautenbach

Retailers: Carrie Adams; Carolyn Barton; Mark Norrish; Roland Peens; Caroline Rillema

Local writers and critics: Michael Crossley; Christian Eedes; Michael Fridjhon; Edo Heyns; Tim James; Angela Lloyd; Melvyn Minnaar; Cathy Marston; Maggie Mostert; Ingrid Motteux; Christine Rudman; Cathy van Zyl

Foreign writers and critics: Tim Atkin; Tom Cannavan; Jamie Goode; Neal Martin; Anthony Rose

7 thoughts on “South Africa’s Top 20 Wineries

  1. I did, Jonathan, as I have every time. Not a priest or accountant in sight. I guaranteed the voters no-one else would know their vote. I guess they just trusted me again, in the old-fashioned way. If you don’t, I’m sure the voters wouldn’t mind you sending a mutually trustworthy person to check the votes and the spreadsheets.

  2. Always fun to read this.

    So there are people who didn’t include all three of the top 3 producers in their list of 20? The mind boggles…

  3. I bet any of the big (and small)auditing houses would gladly do it in exchange for a mention – as is befitting of the intended gravitas of the list.

  4. You may be right Jonathan. It makes me realise I’m an amateur at heart, as it didn’t occur to me. BTW, all the voters have been sent the complete spreadsheets without any voter names. They will each recognise their own votes recorded correctly and can see the tallies done by Excel.

  5. A very interesting exersize Tim, on so many levels. Applause for being the driving force and continuing to steer the conversation towards quality.

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