Organic Wine From The South Africa! Upland Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Let’s talk South Africa. That sounds simple enough. Its hot, it’s dry and they do Chenin Blanc and invented pinotage. Done…right. Wrong! The wine producing regions of this part of the continent is so diverse that you’ll have a perfect Bordeaux style climate in one area and have to rely on outcropping fertile and advantageous soil only a hindered and twenty miles inland. And pinotage only scratches the surface of the history of viticulture in South Africa. The Dutch were the first to bring vitis vinifera (European vines such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) to the regions in the mid fifteenth century. This inspired vine growth and influenced local political figures to endorse and establish the first major wine estate just north of Cape Town. Following this the wine industry began to flourish and in 1788 the above-mentioned estate called Constantia became the focus of the wine industry making dessert wines that wowed the aristocracy in South Africa and abroad. And if you read viticultural histories from around the world you’ll find the aristocracy seems to be the driving force in the development of wine trade. All that money flying around and falling into the pockets of ship builders and exploration expeditions it just makes sense when you think about it.
Then in 1866 that nasty, devastating, hungry mite, phylloxera came around and destroyed the industry almost as quickly as it started and South Africa began to rebuild. But by the 1980’s the majority of the region was drinking primarily beer and spirits and the wine industry; which was now making still wine as well as grappa and dessert wine was mostly producing quantity instead of quality and mostly ignored. But with the ending of apartheid tourism increased and producers popped up everywhere they could grow vines whether it was in the soil or from outcroppings of lime, sand and clay or low lying riverbank soil. Laws were already put in place by the wine growers commission named the KLW and yields were controlled. By 2003 the wine regions of South Africa were on the export and trade map showing up sporadically on the American market. I actually remember a Fancy Food Show at the Javit’s Center in 2003 with a whole section of the floor dedicated to South African wines. I remember being very excited and confused at the same time. Excited that a new wine region of the world was emerging on our market and confused because there was a dizzying amount of knowledge and history to take in. Simplicity is lost in truth. South Africa is much more than what we may think.
With that being said I would like to talk about a wine we have at the shop that is truly unique and shines with individual expression. East of Cape Town and north of Paarl is the Province Wellington. This is the home of the Upland Organic Estate where Edmund and Elsie Oettle specialize in certified organic farming. They cultivate almonds, naartjies (a kind of tangerine) and olives as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. Pretty cool. From the cab they make still wine (what we have in our shop), an Italian-style grappa and a brandy (very reminiscent of what started the viticulture of South Africa). The advantage of organic farming is that it produces smaller yields due to natural fertilizers which in turn results in more concentrated flavors. And that comes through in spades with their cabernet.
We have Upland Organic Estate’s 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. And it’s not just any cabernet it is truly a South African Cabernet. Why? Well if you think about cabs in general there are few things we can identify with. In Cali they are powerful and extracted with a prominence of oak and vanilla. In France Cabernet tends to be a bit more refined with phenolic harmony even in the more rustic examples. In South America Chilean cabs are bright and full of natural acidity clearing up the wine allowing the fruit to show its colors. In Wellington South Africa cabs also have individuality. Here they are the definition of earthiness. If you were on farmland and picked up a handful of soil and shoved you nose right in there that is what you smell first off with this wine. This is also a result of organic farming and lower yields. After the soil aromas of sweet fruit and berries waft up gently. There is a subtle power to this wine. It is dark and opulent but it holds itself together well and opens nicely over a meal. It is definitely a food wine with the natural acidity swimming around breaking up the body of wine. This is definitely a wine of the earth.
To top it all of (and this is very cool) Edmund is a veterinarian and is very fond of raptors or birds of prey such as hawks and falcons. Along with the farming and harvesting he also owns a raptor sanctuary. This is where it gets really cool. The vineyard is in the sanctuary and for every bottle of wine sold proceeds go to wildlife preservation and research. So even though the wine is twenty bucks at least some of that is going towards a good thing. So come on into Alphabet City Wine Co. and check out the Upland Estate’s 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. And look out for my post next week when I ramble on about another of our wines. I love that all I have to do is sit in the shop, contemplate, look around and choose a wine I want to talk about. I love sharing this kind of information with you guys and I hope I helped a little on your wine journey. So until next week, Cheers.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by WineCountry - Henre on January 10, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Hi, thanks for this wonderful post on South Africa and our unique wines. Even being South African myself, you have taught me something about our own wine culture.

    We have just launched where we’ll soon be combining all the wine regions in South Africa in a central website for our international and local friends and travellers to organise, learn, book and experience everything they want to know about our region.

    Hope to see you there. You can also visit the blog at

    Thank you again!


  2. Posted by EVWG on January 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the comment! We love South African wine at Alphabet City Wine Co. Actually I did a tasting on three of our South African wines a couple of weeks ago and realized how many people do not know about pinotage and if they do know about it they have maybe just heard about it. I was great watching peoples faces light up with a little background while sipping. We will be doing more of these. I think this area of the world is quite unique for viticulture and things can only get better. Thanks again.



  3. Posted by JS on January 29, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    In a blind tasting of over 30 wines last week in Manhattan, this wine was tied for #3. It was my contribution, so I was very pleased. It has a “burnt rubber” nose that people liked. One person’s tasting notes read “Amarone on crack”!


  4. Posted by real estate supplies on September 15, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I used to live in Worcester, in the Western Cape South Africa, with a population of 76,894, is the largest town in the Breede River Valley. Located 120km north-east of Cape Town on the N1 highway north to Johannesburg, it is the administrative capital of the Breede Valley Local Municipality and the hub of the Western Cape interior’s commercial and retail activity. Worcester was founded in 1820 after the amalgamation of two farms, Roodewal and Langerug and named after the Marquis of Worcester; he was Lord Charles Somerset’s brother.

    I am in love with this post!
    It is definitely amazing!



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