The Cabernet Sauvignon in the Marathon is sourced from specific parcels of vines in a unique region of the Cape Winelands called Tulbagh.
The region lies in the north-western corner of the Breede River Valley and is enclosed on three sides by mountains to the north, west and east, leaving the south open to cooling winds. This lay of the land creates many unique micro-climates which collectively experience a Mediterranean climate with hot days, tempered from the south, and cool nights as air descends from the mountains. The combination of a warm climate that is tempered is reminiscent of Napa Valley’s diurnal changes and the cross-water cooled air in Bordeaux’s Gironde Estuary, and the Southern Ocean for the Coonawarra. These cooling effects are vital to each region, ensuring the berries ripen steadily which supports the tannins to ripen fully resulting in soft textures that elevates the fruit character.
Tulbagh’s soils are comprised of decomposed shale and loamy sand with moderate fertility which helps slow the vines natural vigour, which left unchecked will overproduce fruit that will be shy in character. There are similarities here with the loamy sand found in Napa and the famed Terra Rosa of Coonawarra, as well as the widespread sands in the Medoc, Bordeaux’s left bank, all with moderate to low fertility.
Almost all wine-producing vines are grafted onto rootstock since the natural roots are highly vulnerable to Phylloxera, a type of louse that attacks the root network. Phylloxera is native to easter North America and was introduced to Europe through cuttings in the 1860s. eventually, it was brought to South Africa and identified in 1866, vineyards across the globe were decimated.
Two solutions arose, one was crossing American vines that were resistant to Phylloxera with traditional wine cultivars, the results were semi-successful as many hybrids carried through some unpleasant characteristics of the American vines. The second solution was to graft the traditional European wine-producing vines onto the rootstock of resistant American varietals. This is the preferred method today, as the genes that create the character of the wine cultivar is in the upper parts of the vine and not the roots. This need to graft vines onto rootstock created a new element to balance in making wine, in choosing the best rootstock to support the desired cultivar and the ultimate wine to be produced.
Martin Smith, Paserene’s winemaker, identified a specific clone of rootstock that most resembles the natural root of the Cabernet Sauvignon known as 101-14. This clone grows well in hot climates while moderating yields and supports fruit set which leads to healthy grape bunches. The result is the closest to the natural pre-phylloxera wine, capturing the purity of Tulbagh’s terroir and this noble cultivar.
The Tulbagh vines grow berries that are surprisingly small resulting in a higher concentration of character. This character is a result of the vines working hard in moderately fertile soil, with mediated ripening from the cooling influence and considered vineyard practices. This unique character carries through to the Marathon under the careful stewardship of Martin and gentle vinification.
When you drink this handcrafted wine, you are creating a moment in time that translates into so much more than just a bottle of wine.