Cabernet may be its trump card, but the origins of Thelema owe more to the wines of Burgundy than Bordeaux: it was a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet that lured Gyles Webb away from accountancy in Durban to winemaking in Stellenbosch.
Armed with a winemaking degree and influenced by travels in Tuscany, Bordeaux and California, Gyles and his wife Barbara, a noted triathlete, bought Thelema, an old fruit farm high on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountain, in 1983. This is the wilder side of Stellenbosch, where spotted leopards roam the vines and a combination of elevation and eucalyptus trees creates a much-prized style of Cabernet with a distinctively minty freshness.
These days Gyles is Cellar Master, with the talented Schultz brothers (Rudi and Werner) responsible for the winemaking and vineyards respectively. But the philosophy remains true to Gyles' original vision, centred on the principle of what he calls benign neglect', minimal fining and filtration, and no use of commercial yeasts in the red wines. True too to the Thelema name, taken from the idealised concept of a new world order imagined by 16th century French monk, physician and writer Rabelais.
Sourced from established vines which were planted in 1988 in Hutton soils (decomposed granite) at a density of 3200 vines per ha. Vineyard practices include vertical hedge trellising, spur pruning to 2 buds every 12cms and supplementary drip irrigation. Harvesting was by hand from 19th February to 11th March and yielded 7t/ha.
The whole bunches were de-stalked, hand sorted and crushed into stainless steel tanks where fermentation took place at 28 degrees C with pump overs for 6 days and a further 5 days maceration followed by 100% malo-lactic fermentation and pressing into 30% new French barriques where ageing was for 20 months before bottling.
Juicy, rounded Merlot with a spicy nose, sweet with cinnamon and freshened by liquorice and a pleasant mouthful of red and black berries.
Drink with mushroom risotto, rich pastas and grilled meats.