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Neil Ellis Wines, 35 years later


29 March 2019  -  Neil Ellis Wines

This year Neil Ellis Wines celebrates its 35th anniversary since the first vintage of his namesake label. A first for the industry, Neil set out to identify vineyards that would best express a certain style of wine, affirming the importance of origin in winemaking.

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. A total of 437 cases were produced, released in 1986 and retailed for about R7-R8,50 per bottle.

This wine, the first release of the well-known vineyard selection wines, best tells the story of soil, climate and the art of winemaking; another first for the local industry. The vision, for the 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. 

By 1990, wine appellation regulations changed and Neil launched the first certified Elgin Sauvignon Blanc of the same vintage from a vineyard planted in 1981 on the Whitehall property. Shortly after, in 1991, the Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc from Darling made its debut as another first for the industry.

The vineyard selection soon grew into a stellar range of wines sourced from the four primary sites, Stellenbosch, Elgin, Groenekloof and Piekenierskloof. While Stellenbosch grapes remain pivotal for quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage, this vision allows for a style of varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Grenache that are best reflected in origin.

Warren has since taken over as chief winemaker and with a masters degree in viticulture has taken on the quest of exploring and identifying new sites for winemaking. “To make a site-specific style of wine you need to be specific about the site,” says Warren. The story lives on as Warren spends the majority of his time researching and exploring new sites, gaining valuable information and experience that will ultimately serve the objective of the company to continue to produce wines of distinct style.

The experience and knowledge of the past 35 years are applied 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