Kanonkop: 50 years of bottled history

Kanonkop: 50 years of bottled history

Kanonkop Estate, situated in the Simonsberg region of Stellenbosch, is internationally recognised as South Africa’s leading wine brand, as well as being one of the oldest, this year marking 50 years since the first Kanonkop bottled wine was released.While 50 years is just a blink in the eye of the wine world’s 6 000 year history, the half-century mark is something only a handful of South African wineries can lay claim to. The main reason for this is that up until the 1970s the industry was controlled by large corporate wineries such as the KWV, Distillers and Stellenbosch Farmers Winery who owned a wide range of wine brands made from the grapes and wines they sourced from wine farms throughout the Cape. Kanonkop’s decision to make its first wines under an own 1973 vintage label – Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage – has an interesting background. 

Wine had been made in Kanonkop’s Simonsberg cellar since the 1940s under supervision of its legendary founder Paul Sauer. In 1969 a young winemaker named Jan Boland Coetzee was employed and was soon becoming known as an astute, focussed and knowledgeable wine man who planted new vineyards on the farm, producing exceptional quality wine in the process. Yet, these wines were sold to Stellenbosch Farmers Winery for blending into the corporate’s big brands, including the ubiquitous Chateau Libertas.

Jan Boland was, though, not only a winemaker but also an incredible rugby player. And with South Africa set to host the British and Irish Lions in 1974, word on the street had it that Jan Boland would be selected for the national Springbok team.

Here Jannie Krige, husband to Sauer’s daughter Marie and father of Johann and Paul who are today the Kanonkop owners, entered the picture. By planting a seed: what if Kanonkop for the first time released a wine under its own label. For the fact that the maker of this wine was a national rugby hero would surely instantly give the Kanonkop brand a profile and a dynamic back-story.

Jannie received Paul Sauer’s blessing to for the first time introduce two bottled Kanonkop wines onto the market from the 1973, just in time for Jan’s Springbok debut against the Lions in 1974. The rest, of course, is history.

The extraordinary quality of those first bottlings paved the way for the creation of arguably South Africa’s most famous and most critically acclaimed red wine producer. Since that 1973 vintage, Jan’s commitment to wine quality from the famous Kanonkop vineyards has been followed by winemakers Beyers Truter and the incumbent Abrie Beeslaar, each having played a role in taking this Cape estate to further heights where it now lies in the top echelons of the country’s wine offering. Between Beyers and Abrie they have four times been named IWSC Wine Maker of the Year.

As Kanonkop celebrates its 50th vintage, the estate continues to stake its claim at the top-end of the Cape’s wine offerings with consistent quality and critical acclaim showing no sign of slowing down. Along with the unique terroir of Kanonkop’s Simonsberg home, ideal for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Bordeaux Blends made here, the owners Johann and Paul Krige follow an ethos based on focussing on red grape varieties as well as using traditional cellar practises followed by the Kanonkop winemakers since the very first vintage.

This includes open-tank fermentation in cement tanks and manual punch-downs to best extract the essence of the fruit from every harvest, as well as a disciplined maturation regime in French oak ensuring each bottle exudes an expression of terroir cloaked in a veil of classic quality. Terroir and the trusty guidance of generations allow today’s consumer to be a part of Kanonkop’s tradition of excellence that has prevailed for 50 years and is set to continue as a vital part of South Africa’s premium wine offering.