Thelema is Greek for “God of Will” and this is pretty much what must have helped the Webbs install their wine dreams on their new farm (which used ot be an orchard earlier), back in the early 1980s. And that, by the way, is a Phoenix on their logo, not a duck or eagle or any other aviary apparition.
Today, the Thelema brand is a superboutique winery from the Stellenbosch region (think cool Southern slopes of the Simonsberg mountains) and, between their two estates (other one being in Elgin further South) they have a wide range of grapes planted. They do not have Chenin Blanc however, and neither do they have Pinotage. That last one doesn’t come as a surprise at all for, it was never quite that popular with the good winemakers in South Africa anyways.
South Africa makes some fun wines. In terms of style, think of them as somewhere between the Old and the New World. They have fruit but it wont be jammy, there is minerality but not austere, the price figures are in dollars and the currency symbol isn’t the Euro, thankfully!
Stellenbosch has plenty of decomposed granite lying underneath with a clayey mix as the top soil and that makes for some great water retention. Sure they can irrigate but even that is carefully measured out to the last drop. But they do have abundant rainfall and thankfully, all during the winter months when the wines are dormant as it is. Summers are pleasantly dry. Although it doesn’t seem so, the area is pretty cold (you wouldn’t swim in it so easily) and even the winds from the sea help lower temperatures. (Elgin may benefit from this, but the other estate is much further from the coast to enjoy this.)
Thelema isn’t biodynamic, nor organic, but they are admittedly sustainable. But they do have their share of quirky farming defences. For e.g. when a certain bug was found climbing up the shoots and destroying the spurs, they came up with the ingenious idea of wrapping some cotton wool on the base of each plant and putting some sticky tape around it (with the sticky surface on the outside) and this was enough to discourage the little nasty critters from climbing up the vines. Another time, they used milibug-traps to ascertain which part of the vineyard had a higher concentration and then they released the respective predator to control the population only in that area of the vineyard.
Another interesting story related to how the winery, in spite of its small size was fairly popular as the family hadalways been involved both-hands-in. From making the wine to delivering it to their clients, everything was handled by one of the family members. This is why, in spite of their boutique size of operations, they have managed to establish quite the name in the area.
And finally, to finish off this little rant of ours, allow us to share a rather unforgettable episode as recounted by Thomas. Now, Thomas is the kind of a person who can put you at ease, imbibe in you a sense of comfort even after just five minutes of knowing him. He will happily talk not just about his wines but about wines and South Africa in general. It so happened that, at one point, while working the tasting room at their winery with his grandmother, a visitor chanced by and asked if they had any Sauvignon Blanc. Having sold out their entire stock, Thomas coolly recommended the fellow to try the house next doors which also had a good SB. Later Thomas was reprimanded by his mother for promoting competition. Thomas responded, “Well we didn’t have any and, to be fair, they are good wines too.” to which, his gran retorted, “Well sex is good too but you don’t talk about it to everybody!”
2007 Thelema Shiraz – Stellenbosch (Red):
Opaque core with fading purple rims. Soft intense nose with iconic peppery, red fruits, cherry, and earthy notes and hints of vanilla and gentle sweet oak from the aging process. The palate is much sorted against the heavy spicy New-World avatar and brings elegance and richness. Ripe fruits, hints of olive, tobacco, licorice, and cloves. Velvetty soft mouthfeel with matured round dusty tannins. A great sipping and India food-worthy red. A must try!!
Rich ruby core. Warm nose with dark spices, sour cherries, earth, red fruits, and floral aromas. Refreshing palate with burst of flavours ranging from sweet wood, tobacco, jamun, olives, meat, chalk, and black pepper. The wine has an edge of rustic appeal and great elegance. Not an easy-drinking style but a wood-worthy one.
2010 Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc – Elgin (White):
Water-pale appearance. Green rich nose with intense gooseberries, asparagus, capsicum, grass, and mild musk. Dry palate with refreshing round acidity, candied white fruits, water stones, hint oily, under-ripe gooseberries, golden apples, and peardrop. The wine, unlike most new-age Sauvignon Blancs, was much subtle, classy, round, complex yet approachable. Aperitif style wine but very appealing.