Notes on Cabernet Sauvignon

Our next wine cultivar that we’re exploring in our Notes on South African wine series is Cabernet Sauvignon. This much loves red wine is South Africa’s most widely planted red grape varietal and is made from two parent grapes, sauvignon blanc (white grape) & cabernet franc (black grape).

Surprisingly, there wasn’t a ton of very clear information online so our wine makers have helped us learn more; starting with answering the most obvious question: How is Cabernet Sauvignon made?

Also available in this series:

How is Cabernet Sauvignon Made?

  1. Grapes are grown on various estates or farms.
  2. Grapes are harvested from the vines, often hand picked.
  3. Grapes are sorted and destemmed with unripe berries, stems and low quality berries removed.
  4. Grapes are then crushed and turned into “must” (the crush, juicy, liquid, pulp mixture).
  5. Sulphur is added either to the bins during the picking process or to the must. The sulphur prohibits bacteria growing and must browning from oxygen contact. 
  6. Some producers choose to leave the crushed grapes for a day or two for cold maceration.
  7. The fermentation process then begins, usually between 1 to a few days after crushing.
  8. Fermentation happens in two ways: inoculated or spontaneous. Inoculated fermentation is when yeast is added to the crushed grapes. If yeast is not added, the liquid is left to ferment with whatever organisms are organically in the air around the liquid (and usually takes longer to ferment). 
  9. The grapes bits that float to the top of the tanks is known as the “cap”. If open-top fermenters are used, this makes it easier to access the cap to mix it up (punch down or pump over).
  10. The must is then “punched down” or “pumped over” where the must is pumped from the bottom over the cap and top of the wine. This creates as much flavour and colour as possible. 
  11. After fermentation, the wine is left on the skins for up to 3 weeks for tannin polymerisation and extraction, that is, to develop the body and the flavour of the wine.
  12. The wine is then drained and the grapes are pressed again. The initial drained wine is known as “free run” and “press fraction” is the name for the wine that comes from being pressed. 
  13. The “free run” and “press fraction” are either blended or kept apart – depending on the winemaker. 
  14. The wine is then moved into French or American Oak barrels for maturation; from one year up to 18 months, in which the oak influences and contributes towards the flavour of the wine. 
  15. The wine is then “racked” a few times. This is when the wine is siphoned from barrel to barrel to assist in discarding any sediment that may have built up. 
  16. The wine is then filtered before bottling to remove any inconsistencies. 
  17. The wine is then bottled and left to mature from 6 – 12 months before being ready for sales.
  18. Wines then leave the cellars or bottling locations and are ready for sale and consumption.


Why is South African Cabernet Sauvignon Unique?

I asked a few of our Cabernet Sauvignon wine makers about how they make their Cabernet Sauvignon and why theirs is unique, this is what they said:

Roelof Lotriet of Delheim

The hard work gets done in the vineyards and that makes life that little bit easier in the cellar. We start the vinification process with quality handpicked grapes. For Cabernet Sauvignon I prefer to use open-top fermenters with punch downs and the extraction method.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are smaller than most berries, but have a lot more to give that’s why I focus a lot more on extraction.

After fermentation I leave the wine on the skins for 3-4weeks before I drain the wine and press the skins. Malolactic fermentation is done in barrel.

The wine spends a further 12-18 months in barrel.

Edmund Terblanche of La Motte

La Motte try and pick early enough to manage a lower alcohol for good drinkability. We are, however, aware that too much herbaciousness can be a problem with Cabernet Sauvignon if picked too early. We avoid that by doing careful hand and mechanical sorting to get rid of unripe berries and stems.

We use open fermentation tanks and do gentle pump overs. We also time the skin contact with regular tasting.

We believe Cabernet Sauvignon loves oak so 100% of the wine is matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for around 16 months. This adds flavour, complements the tannin structure and stabilize colour for a perfect result.

Kristopher Tillery of Noble Hill

Our Cabernet Sauvignon is made from estate grapes. The wine is grown, selected, sorted, crushed, fermented, matured, and bottled in respect of natural processes.

Up to 10% stems included per maturity and taste. Spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tanks, aerative extraction by rémontage and délestage during fermentation, malolactic fermentation in barrel, 18 months maturation in oak barrels (<10% new).

Bottled without fining or filtration. Some sedimentation may occur in bottle.

Dirk from Saxenburg

The picking date is one of the most important aspects in producing Cabernet Sauvignon. Therefore we look at a combination of factors – chemical analysis, taste, pip colour, skin firmness, etc. to decide when our Cabernet is perfectly ripe.

The grapes are hand-picked and de-stemmed into open fermenters. After a day of cold soaking, fermentation is started.

We generally do a combination of pump overs and punch downs and extraction is managed according to taste.

After fermentation the wine is left on the skins for another week before being pressed. After MLF the wine is transferred to French oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months.

Riaan Moller at MANN Wines

We use pretty traditional winemaking practices.

Grapes are harvested at optimal ripeness and given a 2-day cold maceration.

Fermentation took place over 5 days in stainless steel tanks with regular pump-overs.

5% of the wine was matured in new American oak barrels, with an additional 25% in older oak. Barrel maturation of 12 months total. The wine is then fined and filtered before being bottled and sold to the consumer.

Kevin from Bevintners

“Very little intervention, all done by hand with 50% new French oak barrels and in the bottle for at least a year before release.”

What Makes Your South African Cabernet Sauvignon Unique?

While South African is known for producing quality cabernet sauvignon, we asked each wine maker why theirs was so unique, how the terrior influencers their wine and what their aging is like? Here’s what they said:


Every farm that produces wine is unique; for Delheim it’s the location and our sustainable approach towards farming through to vinification.

The estates terrior and South Westerly slope has a huge impact on the direct sunlight received by the vineyards, which then has a big influence on the microclimate within the vines. To optimise this we planted the vines as bush vines (not trellised).

The tannin we get from Cabernet Sauvignon are second to none in South Africa. If aged correctly it can age for much much longer than 4 years.

Roloef went on to add,

“I try to release vintages only when they are ready to be drunk. So they should have a vibrant expression of terroir with a good tannin compliment to elegantly powerful when aged.”

La Motte

La Motte’s Cabernet Sauvignon are made in Franschhoek, but we have access to 3 totally different terroirs. Each make a unique contribution and quantities can be adjusted every year to produce the best combination and result for the particular season.

 The terrior impacts the grapes through the sandy slopes (from sandstone and granite), which produce intense bright red fruit with a creamy texture.

Vineyards from Walker Bay (standing in shale soils) produce a firm tannin and structure together with good darker colour and plummy fruit. Grapes from the Helderberg area in Stellenbosch give good volume with lots of varietal character.


Our unique spot on the Polkadraai Hills means we have close proximity not only to False Bay, but also Table Bay, ensuring we are much cooler than most of Stellenbosch. This, combined with our decomposed granite soils, makes for elegant expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon, that retains a high level of freshness.

Our cooler terroir and granite soils allows for more elegance in the Cabernet Sauvignons we produce. It also ensures that the grapes have naturally higher acidities and retains beautiful freshness. We have wines dating back to the early 1990’s in our Vinoteque and they are still in wonderful condition.

Our wines can definitely keep for at least 20-30 years, but it is important to note that good cellaring conditions are vital. It is also a matter of personal taste, as some people prefer the charms of younger wines and won’t necessarily enjoy these older wines.


There are lots of varietals in Franschhoek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon seem to do the best in the area.

The estate’s terrior assists in creating our cabernet sauvignon as it keeps the crop level down, which intensifies the flavours.

The crops were already on the estates when I purchased it so they had been growing for quite some time.

Cabernet Sauvignons are known to age well and ours are no different. They can easily be kept for 10 – 15 years.

Straight from the vine to the bottle with as little intervention as possible. Keeping it simple and efficient.

Noble Hill

Cabernet Sauvignon has been growing well on the Simonsberg for quite some time with the region falling between a cool climate region and warm region; we have a nice middle-point in average temperatures that allow us to get ripeness and fullness in our red wines and still pick at reasonable sugar levels.

At Noble Hill, we are one of a shrinking number of estate wineries, whereby we don’t buy in any grapes for our wines from elsewhere. I think this is special and unique and makes our wines a true reflection of their Simonsberg terroir.

Speaking of our terroir, it’s hard to omit the influence of the mountain, which is basically a giant granite rock that has been decomposing over millions of years.

This decomposed granite is among the most important things in understanding our wines as granite soils are not very nutrient-rich, forcing grapes to sink deep roots and scavenge for nutrients, in the processing puling out complex flavours and characteristics.

“We are not a maritime microclimate, but our microclimate is very much sea-influenced. This is a nice moderating characteristic that allows for full-bodied and structured Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Man Wines

MAN wines are unique in that we are supported by a dedicated group of growers in the Agter-Paarl region of South Africa. This means that we can source the absolute best grapes from the region year on year.

Grapes for this Cabernet are sourced from several dry-farmed vineyards in the Agter-Paarl region. The Malmesbury Shale soils have excellent water retention ability and give concentrated, flavourful grapes with small berries making for juicy wines with balance and elegance.

The founders of MAN Family Wines have each had great success producing award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon at their own boutique, family-run wineries, which gave us a good backbone to build this Cabernet on.

Our Cabernet Sauvignon has also been named as a Best Buy in Wine Enthusiast magazine for two years running now, so we’re well on the road to creating a Cabernet that we love to drink, but also offers great value in terms of price!

Kleine Zalze

The grapes for this wine were sourced from selected parcels of fruit from across the Western Cape.

2018 was yet again a very dry season and a relatively warm winter. This posed a few problems that the winemaking team had to manage carefully in the winery and at blending.

All in all though the grapes were very healthy at harvest and had a good concentration of flavours at harvest.






Facts About South African Cabernet Sauvignon




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