This is my fifth attempt to classify the Cape’s best producers, an annual exercise that has stimulated considerable debate in South Africa. This is very loosely based on the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, although quality rather than price is the sole criterion I use. There are six different bands: first, second, third, fourth and fifth growths, consisting of 20 wines each, and a larger group of 100 crus bourgeois. I’ve increased the number of wines included from 150 to 200 in 2017.
My 2017 classification is a snapshot of the Cape wine industry. Mindful that a critic should attempt to reward talent, irrespective of a long track record in some cases, I have chosen my favourite producers, rather than parroted the opinions of others. Track records can be overrated in my view. Some of my classified producers have only made a few vintages – Alheit, Beeslaar, Blackwater, David & Nadia, Lismore, Patatsfontein, Storm and Thorne & Daughters, for example – but I think that’s irrelevant. I think these wineries will help to define the Cape wine industry over the next quarter of a century.
As ever, there are significant changes, not least my decision to expand each growth to 20 wines. This has enabled me to include 30 new wineries in the classification, which either didn’t feature at all last year (Constantia Uitsig, De Krans, Elemental Bob, 4G, Joubert-Tradauw, Oldenburg and Leeu Passant) or have been promoted from Crus Bourgeois status (Arendsig, Ataraxia, Avant Garde Wines, Beaumont, Boschendal, Bouchard Finlayson, Catherine Marshall, Delheim, Gabriëlskloof, Jordan, Kaapzicht, Le Lude, Lemberg, Le Riche, Opstal, Radford Dale, Rijk’s, Rustenberg, Shannon, Solms-Delta, Spier, Stellenrust and Waterkloof). Le Lude deserves special mention for moving from a Cru Bourgeois to a Second Growth. Of the 100 classified producers, only 41 have the same status as last year, so there has been a considerable degree of movement.
Inevitably, the greatest focus will be on my 20 First Growths, although there is a degree of consensus about the Cape’s finest producers. The biannual Top 20 that the South African journalist Tim James published on Grape in March 2016, based on the views of a panel of local and international wine professionals (including me), has 16 names in common with my list. There are six new names among my top tier in 2017: Beeslaar, Kershaw and Restless River appear for the first time, while AA Badenhorst, Crystallum and Chamonix are returning to the top flight.