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 exclusively from Thelema Estates' vineyards, which were planted in 1997 in decomposed granite soils at a density of 1970 vines per ha. The vines are spur pruned to 2 buds every 12cms with a vertical hedge trellis and yield 6 t/ha, irrigation is with a supplementary drip system.
Hand harvested during the middle 2 weeks of March, the whole bunches were de-stemmed, crushed and pumped into stainless steel tanks where fermentation takes place at 28 degrees C for 6 days with pump overs and 5 days static. After a gentle pressing and malo-lactic fermentation the wine ages for 18 months in 225 litre barrels, 80% French oak, 20% American, 30% of which are new.
Spicy, powerful South African Shiraz that pours over the tongue like a cascade of ripe fruit, rising to the nostrils in waves of blackberries, currants and liquorice.
Drink with grilled meats, meaty casseroles and mature cheeses.