Can you believe that Neil Ellis has been making South African wine for 35 years!? Today I’m drinking the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate international Cabernet Sauvignon Day!
As a pioneer wine producer in site-identification and vineyard selected wines, the company celebrates its 35th anniversary since the first vintage of this namesake label.
The 1984 Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from grapes in Banghoek and Firgrove, in the Stellenbosch district, and meant a lot of nosing around the restrictive quota system prevalent at the time. This was considered a first for the South African industry where regulations restricted grapes from crossing district borders and where wine cellars were considered reflective of origin rather than the vineyard.
This wine, the first release of the well-known vineyard selection wines, best tells the story of soil, climate and the art of winemaking. A total of 437 cases were produced, released in 1986 (my birth year!) and retailed for about R7-R8,50 (woah!) per bottle.
The vision, a pursuit of quality, extended out of the cellar and into the vineyards where varieties would excel and best express a particular style of wine reflective of their environment. The ideal was to identify the individual vineyards on the labels but, at the time, legislation prevented him to do this.
While known for producing world class Cabernet Sauvignon from the Jonkershoek Valley for the coveted vineyard selected range, the Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon shows what Cabernet can do as a vineyard site collective. This award-winning wine celebrates the noble variety within a multi-vineyard blend and pays tribute to the culture-rich town of Stellenbosch from which grows a reputation of innovation, originality, resourcefulness and creativity; the core principles of winemaking.
The Cabernet produced from the Neil Ellis has many a time sparked enthusiasm, once deemed by winemag.co.za as the “most exciting in SA”. With three consecutive Double Golds at Veritas, Prescient Report Top Ten in 2017, 2018 and again in 2019 and consistent good scores from Tim Atkin’s South Africa Report, it just goes to show that Neil Ellis is currently one of the top performing Cab producers in Stellenbosch.
According to Warren Ellis, head of winemaking, you need to be specific about site before you can start to produce premium quality wines that are expressive of their site. “And while the vineyard should always dictate the style of wine, winemaking magic in the cellar happens when you blend the wines of two vineyards together. Then, nature art and science meet in the bottle.”
Warren spends the majority of his time researching and exploring new sites, gaining valueable information and experience that will ultimately serve the objective of the company to continue to produce wines of a distinct style.
As the company celebrates 35 years of pioneering excellence, the objective remains to apply the experience and knowledge of the past 35 years to current techniques and technologies for a new generation of winemaking. “Our vision remains to make distinctive, refined wines that are expressive of their terrain and rank amongst South Africa’s finest. A pursuit of quality, nothing less.” Neil Ellis.
For more information on Neil Ellis Wines, visit www.neilellis.com.