The Cape’s top wineries … in 2026?

Every couple of years since 2001 I’ve conducted a poll among a few dozen wine critics, retailers, sommeliers and the like (increasingly including foreigners) to get a line on what are the Cape’s top 20 wine producers. Another one of the polls is on the go right now (I hope to announce the results within a few weeks). I’ve glanced through the votes that have come in so far, and actually it’s the answers to one of the ancillary questions that I’m finding almost more interesting – especially as it is the question that I’m having an unprecedented problem with myself.

I also ask people to vote on their top individual wine labels in the obvious categories (reds, whites, sparkling, dessert, fortified), but this is the question that I’m talking about now: “Name up to three wineries that you consider to be seriously up-and-coming, but which have so far delivered no more than three vintages.”

Try answering that one yourself, and you’ll see what I’m getting at. It’s hard enough these days to pick out a top 20 from the array of leading Cape wineries (and particularly difficult when you’re weighing the claims of, say, a producer of just one great wine against producers of a larger range of really good stuff without one total standout). That difficulty is good news, of course, and the reason why it’s useful doing this poll as frequently as every few years: it nicely reflects the pace of the South African wine revolution in the last two decades. Just think that only seven wineries in the last Top-20 list (conducted in 2014) were also there in the first, 2001, list. Four wineries joined the list for the first time two years ago, and there’s every chance that there’ll be some new entrants this year – and some falling off.

But I’m already wondering about the 2018 list, given what we have in this category of newish wineries just on the outside, but establishing their claims to be among the Top 20 pretty soon.

(Actually, I must point out that there was no reason for pollsters to not include brand-new wineries among their top 20 – and some have indeed done so: it will be perfectly possible for a winery with only about three achieved vintages to end up in the main list – it happened in 2012, for example, when Mullineux entered in a spectacular way.)

There’s already been a large number of different wineries voted for in this up-and-coming category this year. In the words that one voter appended to his list of three: “aaaaarghh, again there are so many….”

And there are. I suspect no one is going to be checking too closely to count the actual number of vintages released, but the principle is clear: we’re looking at newish labels, of real excellence. I haven’t answered this question myself yet, but just think of the choice that confronts me (let alone whether one or two of them should make it into my overall Top 20 list). I’ll mention (in strictly alphabetical order!) just some of the names that I and the other voters have to choose between. Try these, and see which you could find it in your hearts and tastebuds to exclude (remembering that some of these names certainly appear in some Top 20 lists):

  • Beeslaar
  • B Vintners
  • Craven
  • The Drift
  • Fram
  • Hogan
  • Le Lude
  • Momento
  • Porseleinberg
  • Richard Kershaw
  • Storm
  • Thorne & Daughters

That’s a round dozen (please don’t count the vintages too closely!), and I’m sure I’m leaving out some names that undoubtedly would be there if my mind worked a bit more to order…. But surely that’s enough of a list to point to the voters’ problem – and to the continuing strength of the Cape winemaking revolution, which is quite the opposite of a problem.

It would be a brave person indeed who’d take a bet now on what a serious, if-not-consensus Top 20 list is going to look like in ten years from now.

4 thoughts on “The Cape’s top wineries … in 2026?

  1. I’m sure producers like Kanonkop will still be there in ten years’ time, which speaks volumes for their integrity. Then there are also other relative newcomers with more than three vintages under the belt (The Fledge & Co, Spioenkop, Savage, Swerwer, Skinny Legs, and quite a few others) that ensure the image in the crystal ball is decidedly hazy. Nice.

  2. It’s been pointed out to me that I clearly hadn’t checked the first-vintage dates of the wineries on my list, as a couple of them have been around for a bit more than three vintages. Sigh – doesn’t time pass quickly? Nonetheless – especially given those I’m sure I’ve ignored – the essential truth remains….

  3. A question…what qualifies as a ‘winery’? Do you just need a brand, or a cellar, or vineyards and a cellar…does the term ‘winery’ need to be revisited with reference to current trends in SA?

  4. Oh wow, Grant. Tricky question. Probably I would generally quote the Sawis Wine Industry Statistics booklet, which refers to “Wine cellars which crush grapes”. That is, 49 producer cellars (co-ops etc), 485 private wine cellars, and 25 producing wholesalers”. I presume that if a winemaker makes an own brand in the same cellar as the boss’s brand, that counts just as one cellar in Sawis terms. But for purposes such as the present one I would casually and vaguely accept any distinct producer/brand as a “winery”, I suppose. Platter lists over 900 “wine producers” and that would be a more useful term I suppose. Clearly some of those 900+ must be distinct brands of wines made in producer cellars and wholesaling cellars, and others must be operating out of shared “winery” space. Does that make sense?

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