An annual highlight in the South African wine calendar, the new release of Kanonkop Estate’s iconic Paul Sauer Bordeaux-style red wine harnesses the challenges of the 2019 Stellenbosch vintage in a wine that will go down as one characterised by focussed refinement.
According to Abrie Beeslaar, cellar master of Kanonkop Estate situated on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg region, 2019 still saw the crop showing the effects of the Cape’s drought despite the preceding winter being blessed with the first substantial rainfall in five years.
“We will remember being overjoyed as the cold fronts moved in over Stellenbosch during the winter of 2018, drenching the parched vines and their soils,” he said. “But it takes more than one wet season to replenish the earth, so despite the generous rains, the vines still showed some stress from the preceding years’ drought.”
Kanonkop: challenging 2019 harvest
Bud-break was early due to a warm spell in early spring, after which temperatures fell during a cold snap in October. “From then we were on both-ends of a see-saw, with spring and early summer temperatures nudging the deep 20°C’s for a day or three, before dropping again.
From February 2019 a hot-spell settled-in, but when it was time to harvest the late-ripening varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the weather turned uncharacteristically cool. Some parts of Stellenbosch saw wineries struggling to get their red grapes to phenolic ripeness, but on Kanonkop all the cultivars used in Paul Sauer – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot – hit perfect levels of ripeness, with the extended hang-time leading to developed complexity in the fruit.”
Kanonkop’s emphasis on berry-selection saw the computerised sorting system having its work cut-out removing a lot of off-par berries in a harvest delivering low tonnages to the scales.
The grapes for the Paul Sauer originate from vineyards averaging 30 years in age set in Kanonkop’s famous soils of decomposed granite, Hutton and Clovelly.
Winemaking adheres to the traditional principles that have made Kanonkop South Africa’s most renowned red wine producer. Hand-harvested, the fruit went through three sorting processes before the berries were placed in open concrete fermenters.
Fermentation took place over five days at 29°C, with the cap punched down every two hours to ensure a continual and gentle extraction and harmonious interaction between skins, flesh and juice.
The Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc components were blended after malolactic fermentation where-after the wine was placed in new 225l French oak barrels. As per each vintage of Kanonkop Paul Sauer, barrel-aging was done for 24 months.
“I do the blending of the various varietal components straight after malolactic fermentation, so I spend a long time scrutinising the various components,” says Beeslaar.
“Cabernet Sauvignon will always be the cornerstone of the Paul Sauer, but now and again the roles of the other two components change. For the 2019 vintage we used more Cabernet Sauvignon than per usual – 75% – with 14% Cabernet Franc and 11% Merlot. The influence of the two Cabernets on this wine is evident showing a long, cool refinement with sleek tannins.”
After two years in barrel and ready for release, Beeslaar describes the wine as seamlessly elegant and truly accessible, even in its current youthful state.
“Bunches were small and tight with immense concentration in the fruit and the juice showed balanced chemistry from the onset of fermentation,” he says.
“The most important contribution of terroir lies in the structure of the final wine. And here Paul Sauer 2019 shows a genteel purity, reverberating with a brisk freshness driving an array of classical red wine flavours.”
The cellar master’s note read as follows: The saturated ruby colour is complemented by a dense and interwoven complexity of, tilled earth, nutmeg, bouquet garni, with classic cedar and red and black fruits.
The wine remains refined, with an elegant structure. Tannins are precise, and together with the use of new oak, creates the perfect backdrop to host the complex fruit spectrum. A long, and – at this stage – youthful finish.
If stored correctly, this wine will mature gracefully for 20 – 25 years.