Capensis: high-end Chardonnay from South Africa that’s re-setting the bar


Back in 2013 the Jackson Family were looking to begin a wine project in South Africa. The idea was to start by buying grapes, but then purchase land. They opted for a partnership project with Anthony Beck (owner of Graham Beck wines), and initially Pieter and Ann Ferreira (Pieter is the cellar master at Graham Beck) helped them source vineyards. When it came to buying vineyards, they were quite interested in Uva Mira, but pulled out because the price wasn’t right. Then, at the end of 2014 a farm in the Banghoek Valley in Stellenbosch came on the market that was ideal, and had already made important contributions to the first two vintages of Capensis. It was 49 hectares, with the highest vineyards in the area. Bartinney were keen on this vineyard, too, but the Jacksons managed to make the deal. This is now the heart of Capensis, and is called Fijnbosch, and makes up half the blend. (The vineyard is pictured above.)

Graham Weerts, who at the time was heading up the wine division for Jackson Family, was very excited about the project when I spoke to him about it shortly after its inception. ‘I think this is the best vineyard site I have every worked with,’ he says. Capensis is solely a Chardonnay project. ‘We really believe that South African Chardonnay is world class,’ he says. ‘It will be the calling card from this country.’ Since then, the project has gone from strength to strength, Graham has now moved full time to South Africa to look after Capensis, and the Jacksons have bought out Anthony Beck.

The first vintage of Capensis was in 2013. Now there are five vineyards in the project (including the famed Kaimaansgaat vineyard in the Overberg), and a second wine called Silene was released in 2017. I caught up with Christopher Jackson to taste through some of the wines in London, and I’ve added notes here from wines I tasted in October at Cape Wine, and at Ann and Pieter Ferriera’s home in Franschhoek.

Christopher Jackson, Jackson Family Wines

Of the Banghoek Vineyard, which they have named Fijnbosch, Christopher Jackson says that it has extraordinary coastal influence plus elevation. The result is small berries, with thick skins and phenolics, which conspire to give longevity to the wine. ‘The tannins, acidity, brightness, fruit and oak integration is like making a city skyline,’ he says. ‘We are not tampering anything down, but getting harmony among these elements.’

The high pricing of these wines ruffled a few feathers in South Africa. ‘When we came out in 2013 we were a bit controversial,’ Jackson says. ‘I love being controversial,’ he adds, because, he says, it means people talk about you. ‘South Africa has always been about value: relatively cheap wine that overperforms. We think this wine is profound: we see the merit of the site.’ He feels that the problem isn’t that they are too expensive, but rather that some of the competitors are too cheap.

These are wines for ageing. ‘The 2013 is drinking beautifully right now,’ says Jackson. I agree!

Capensis Silene Chardonnay 2020
Lime and citrus, with nice intensity and notes of pineapple and pear adding richness. This has crystalline fruit with good acidity, and fine precision and focus, showing layers of flavour. Powerful and intense. 94/100

Capensis Chardonnay 2019
Lively, intense and complex with bright pear and white peach fruit, as well as some subtle toasty richness. Finely spiced with hints of marzipan and toast. This has richness but also precision. Very fine and expressive. 95/100

Capensis Chardonnay 2018
Very expressive, fresh and taut with lovely almond and pear notes, some green apple and lovely intensity. Pineapple, peach and lime in the mix. There’s keen acidity and also quite a bit of complexity. Taut and focused with great precision. 95/100

Capensis Chardonnay 2013
This has developed beautifully with lovely toast, marzipan and butterscotch notes as well as some bread and spice. There’s a richness here with some citrus and peach fruit, as well as nice acidity. Lovely complexity. 93/100

Capensis Fijnbosch Chardonnay 2018
This is solely from the Banghoek property. Lovely intensity here, showing real complexity with nuts, spice, aniseed and a great acid line. There’s a remarkable focus to this wine, which is very stylish and incisive. 95/100

Capensis Fijnbosch Chardonnay 2019
Fine, crystalline and juicy. Energetic, with pear, pineapple and lemon fruit, showing such focus, and amazing energy and precision. There’s a core of pure lemony fruit and a touch of pithiness, with some nice structure. Great focus and purity here: really alive. 96/100

UK agent: Fells