Mullineux has just eclipsed Sadie Family as South Africa’s top wine producer, according to a panel of local and international wine professionals. Other highlights of the vote – in which the pollsters were asked to name their Top 20 wineries in South Africa – include:
- Five new entrants to the top 20 list: Alheit, Crystallum, David & Nadia, DeMorgenzon, Savage
- Alheit, one of the 2014 poll’s just-outsiders (Crystallum was another) not only enters the 2016 list, but leaps immediately into the Top 5
- Kanonkop retains its status as one of only four wineries to have been on the list since it was first compiled in 2001 – and the only one to have been in the Top 5 every single time [see note at end]
Here’s the complete list, in ranking order:
- Sadie Family
- Newton Johnson
- Paul Cluver
- Cape Point Vineyards
- David & Nadia
- AA Badenhorst
- Klein Constantia
- Delaire Graff
Fifteen years ago, in 2001, as the Cape wine revolution moved to a new level, I conducted a poll for Grape magazine of local wine people to establish a top 20 list of producers. As the revolution proceeded, with exciting new wineries emerging, it was clearly worth frequent repetitions of the exercise – in 2003, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2014, and again now. The polls have fascinatingly and sensitively charted the changes that have marked
This list must inevitably be controversial and, In the nature of things, no-one could claim it as a definitive hierarchy, even for the moment. To make it as plausible as possible, I invited a few dozen people each time to cast their votes, people who are (to the extent possible) reasonably up top date with what is happening here. The panel has changed too, over the years, with eminent foreigners making up an increasingly significant proportion, and a whole new category (sommeliers) added to the critics, judges and retailers. A different panel of well-informed people might well have given a somewhat different result – but only, I suspect, with regard to the precise rankings in some cases, and excluding or including a few wineries just inside or just outside the list. Although no two voters shared exactly the same list, and no one’s list (I think) completely chimed with the final one, there was a great deal of consensus, especially at the upper reaches.
No criteria or directions were given to the voters, and the extremely difficult task of weighing up competing claims was left to them. They had to decide, for example, whether the producer of a single excellent wine made in small quantities outweighs the producer of half a dozen fine, but not as excellent, wines made in larger volumes. Few people found compiling this sort of challenge easy to resolve. “It’s excruciating!” one voter emailed me in the course of his struggle. And it’s testament to the depth of quality at the top end of Cape wine that so many undoubtedly first-rate producers do not appear on the final list.
The Top 5
To gain some nuance, I’ve always asked the voters to separately name their Top 5 separately from the next 15; this year, for the first time I asked them to rank those Top 5 (but not the next 15, whose final order depended entirely on the number of votes cast). In fact, the Top 5 ranking made no difference, and simply summing the number of votes would have given the same results.
Last year’s top winery, Sadie, was this year overtaken by Mullineux – and in fact these two Swartland producers were pretty far ahead of the next-placed winery, Kanonkop, which in turn well outpaced the next two. Kanonkop has, it should be noted, the great distinction of having been in the Top 5 every poll since 2001 (when it was actually in first place, followed by Vergelegen, Veenwouden, Neil Ellis and Rustenberg – three of which have fallen off the Top 20 list entirely, while three of the current Top 5 had not released any wines in 2001!). Boekenhoutskloof is in the same position as it was last time, while newcomer Alheit Vineyards replaces Chamonix.
The only other winery that scored a significant number of Top 5 votes was Newton Johnson. Another dozen or so wineries received one or two votes.
The next 15
With Crystallum, David & Nadia, DeMorgenzon and Savage joining Alheit as newcomers to the list (and how could they not?), five had to go. Those exiting include three excellent wineries that in fact had been there since as far back as 2001: Hamilton Russell, Thelema and De Trafford. The other two to go were Cederberg (which joined the list only in 2014) and Meerlust. De Trafford and Meerlust were this year only just outside the Top 20, along with newcomer Keermont. It will seem absurd to many that these (and some other) producers don’t find a place – but if they did, which should they replace?
These losses mean that, remarkably, only four wines remain in the Top 20 list that were there in the 2001 list: Kanonkop, Boekenhoutskloof, Jordan (though its position has declined), and Klein Constantia. Change in reputation is an inevitable part of the process we have seen in the past few decades in South African wine. [See note at end]
It’s worth noting that nearly 100 wineries featured among the voting – but very many of these received only one or two votes.
- Sommeliers: Gareth Ferreira; Neil Grant; Higgo Jacobs; Pearl Oliver; Francois Rautenbach
- Retailers: Carrie Adams; Roland Peens; James Pietersen
- Local writers and critics: Hennie Coetzee; Michael Crossley; Pieter “Kwispedoor” de Klerk; Christian Eedes; Michael Fridjhon; Edo Heyns; Tim James; Angela Lloyd; Cathy Marston; Ingrid Motteux; Christine Rudman; Cathy van Zyl
- Foreign writers and critics: Tim Atkin; Tom Cannavan; Jamie Goode; Matthew Jukes; Neal Martin; Greg Sherwood; Chris Waters
John Smelcer, a Director of law firm Webber Wentzel, but acting in his private (wineloving) capacity, kindly agreed to audit the process pro bono, and was supplied with the original email communications from all the voters as well as the spreadsheets on which I recorded the votes. He confirms: “I have completed my review of a random sampling of a substantial number of voting scorecards. There were no material errors from my review.”
Correction (27/03/2016): I miscounted, and there were in fact FIVE, not four, of these wineries who appeared in the original list. I omitted Boekenhoutskloof.