Elethu Wines, a unique South African enterprise has unveiled its inaugural wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, that received a pre-release double gold medal at an esteemed international wine competition.
The Elethu farm lies on fertile river-fronting land in prime wine country of the Breede River Valley, close to Bonnievale.
Elethu was established in 2007 and comprises black-owned land; black-owned and managed vineyards; and black-managed winemaking. Its complement of 33 beneficiaries includes staff of Bonnievale Wines and four permanent farm employees who know the vineyards intimately. Indeed, the name Elethu reflects this closeness with the land. Chosen by the beneficiaries, the word is Xhosa for “it is ours”.
Since it came into being, around 25 ha of vineyards have been established on the farm, the first in 2011. The focus cultivar is Cabernet Sauvignon. Others include Merlot, Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Nouvelle. All viticulture aspects – planting, pruning, harvesting and general management of vines – are undertaken by the beneficiaries themselves.
In its early days, the farm sold the grapes from its top-performing vineyards to Bonnievale Wines. Now, it has taken the next step, releasing Elethu Skalie Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 – an ultra-premium wine and the standard-bearer for this remarkable initiative.
Heading up Elethu’s winemaking is Christopher Filander who was born and raised in Bonnievale. He started working soon out of school in 2014, at one of the local wineries. By 2018 he was a fully-fledged winemaker. Elethu’s general manager is Kristin Johnson who cut her teeth heading quality control at a prominent Cape winery.
The wine’s label design and name are inspired by the shale – or skalie, in Afrikaans – that dominates the farm. Characterised by stony layers, this soil is rich in nutrients that feed the vines with the goodness required to create the very best quality fruit. Skalie is the foundation of these wines and the essence of the Elethu community story.
The fruit for Elethu’s first wine was selected from top-performing rows in the Elethu vineyards and harvested by hand, at optimal ripeness. In the cellar, the berries were cold-soaked for 24-hours before being fermented on the skins for three days. The wine was then racked to barrel, where it underwent malolactic fermentation. It spent a further 18 months maturing in new oak barrels, of which 70% were of French origin and the remainder, American.
The wine shows typical varietal complexity with notes of juicy, ripe blackberries and subtle wood spice. The palate is structured and elegant, with silky tannins that carry into the long finish. The result is a wine enjoyable now, but that will continue to develop in bottle for up to 10 years. It pairs very well with bold red-meat dishes and served with rich tomato-based sauces.
Prior to release, Elethu Skalie Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 was submitted to compete in the prestigious Gilbert & Gaillard International Challenge. It received a score of 91 points out of 100, and a double gold medal.
The wine is currently available to order directly from Elethu, for door-to-door delivery, at R200 a bottle. It will be available in the retail and in restaurants, in due course.
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