One of the most widely respected of South Africa's wine estates, Stellenbosch revisited part 4

Kanonkop is one of South Africa’s legendary wine estates, widely respected for its traditional approach, and famous for its Pinotage and Paul Sauer wines. It has 120 hectares of vineyards, all of them red. 

I visited with owner Johann Krige (above) and winemaker Abrie Breslaar, who were both on good form. We were also accompanied by Abrie’s ridgeback puppy Max (12 weeks old and impossibly cute, below). 

Vintage was underway, so I got to see some punching down of the caps in action, as well as trying it for myself. Winemaking is very simple here, in part because it is just a red wine farm. All the wines are treated the same, and are fermented in small-ish open top fermenters that remind me of the lagares used for Port making in the Douro, except these are a bit taller. 12 of them take 10 tons each, and four of them take 5 tons of fruit. 

The fermentation takes place at 28 or 29 °C, and winemaker Abrie Breslaar likes the grapes to come in at 25 to 30 °C. There’s no messing around here: the fermenting must stays on the skins for 4 or 5 days before being drained off and the skins pressed. For Pinotage this may be even as short as 3 days; for Cabernet it is often a bit longer and will usually be the full 5 days. 

Old bush vines

The portfolio is Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paul Sauer (a Bordeaux blend) plus the less expensive Kadette (a blend ofPinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). A recent addition, since 2010 has been a Pinotage rosé: Johann Krige explained that they needed a rosé in the portfolio for cellar door and dinners, but it is made in a more structured style to keep with the tradition.

The old Pinotage vineyard that Black Label comes from

Kadette is a second label that comes from younger vines, and some fruit from neighbours’ farms. It is aged in older barrels and production is around 700 000 bottles. This is the smart buy here: as the tasting showed, it can age really well, and it is as cheap as chips (around 65 Rand on release; in the UK it’s a little more at £10).

Since 2000, each year they have kept back 6-7000 bottles of Pinotage to be released at 10 years of age. ‘It’s an educational thing,’ says Johann, ‘and it is interesting to see who buys it.’

‘When you try older Pinotage it is easier to understand young Pinotage,’ maintains Abrie. ‘You need to try the 10-15 year old stuff to understand the variety.’

Kanonkop’s Pinotage is grown as bush vines, unirrigated, in 8 different plots. In 2006 they started to keep one plot separate because of the age of the vines (59 years old) and the structure and maturity. This has become the 1000 bottle production Black Label Pinotage, which retails at 1100 Rand a bottle. ‘The vineyard dictated this wine,’ says Abrie, as it is made just the same way as the other wines.

Normally, each vintage 50 000 litres of Pinotage will be produced, 3000 of which is from the old block, from which 1000 bottles are taken each year for Black Label.     

Since the Kanonkop brand was established in 1973 there have been just three winemakers here. That’s remarkable, and it could help to explain why Kanonkop has such a strong identity as a wine farm.


Pinotage Rosé Dry 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Lovely fruity wine with sweet herb, cherry and berry fruit nose. The palate is rich and fruity with nice texture and some complexity. Smooth sweet cherry fruit dominates. Nice wine. 89/100 (R45)

Kanonkop Kadette 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Taut, minty and spicy edge to the vibrant sweet berry fruits nose. Lovely taut fruity character. The palate is sweet, lush and berryish with great definition and vibrant blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Sweet but structured, and drinking well, but with future potential. 91/100

Kanonkop Kadette 2004 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Some meaty warmth here. Open, ripe blackberry and plum fruit with some meatiness. Ripe, supple and spicy with some evolution and lots of sweet fruit. Delicious. 90/100

Kanonkop Kadette 2003 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Vivid, fresh and vibrant with sweet spicy berry fruits on the nose. The palate shows pure dark fruits with some cherry and distinctive spiciness. Serious stuff with a savoury side. 92/100

Kanonkop Pinotage 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Fine, pure blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Sweet, lush and pure with beautiful purity. The palate has lovely pure blackberry fruit with some chocolate and spice notes. Really rich, pure and sweet with great definition. 94/100

Kanonkop Pinotage 2001 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sweet, meaty, spicy and vivid with a hint of earth on the nose. The palate is vivid, spicy and tarry. Quite complex, but there’s a touch of mustiness on this bottle.

Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2010 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sweet, pure, ripe, elegant blackberry and blackcurrant fruit nose. The palate is fine, ripe, smooth and well defined with elegant cherry and berry fruit. Supple and stylish with good structure; fine but firm tannins. Great concentration and structure, but elegance too. 96/100

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Tight, focused, fresh blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Some plum and earth notes. Structured, fresh, taut and linear. Tannic and firm but not ungenerous. 94/100

Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Very stylish and still quite fresh with a savoury, structured personality. Taut, spicy, earthy notes as well as brooding plum and blackcurrant fruit. Taut and still youthful with lovely black fruits. 94/100

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2009 Stellenbosch, South Africa
Taut and fresh with sweet berry fruits and some spiciness. Lovely structure here: intense, vivid, spicy with lovely fresh sweet berry fruits coupled with taut structure. Pure and linear with real potential for development. A fabulous wine. 95/100

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1997 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is the Cape Winemakers’ Guild wine, which is a selection of 3 barrels from Paul Sauer. Taut and fresh with nice definition, some earth and spice notes and plum and cherry fruit. Grippy with some earthy notes, subtle hints of soy sauce. Good structure and attractive plum and blackberry fruit. Vivid and fresh still with some grip. 94/100

Kanonkop Paul Sauer 1995 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This wine is usually a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc. Savoury, spicy and earthy with nice mature plum, chocolate and blackcurrant fruit. Some tar and spice notes. Supple, dense and vigorous with some earthiness. Spicy finish. 92/100

See more photos from the visit

A short film of the visit:



Part 1, Waterkloof
Part 2, Waterford
part 3, Reyneke
Part 4, Kanonkop
Part 5, Rustenberg
Part 6, Meerlust
Part 7, Delheim
Part 8, Thelema
Part 9, Neil Ellis

Part 10, Tokara
Part 11, Oldenburg

Wines tasted 03/12  
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