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Abrie Beeslaar of Kanonkop set to depart the iconic estate

Abrie Beeslaar (2nd from left) is due to leave Kanonkop later this year.

The Stellenbosch estate is often compared to a ‘First Growth’ for its track record of excellence ever since the first estate vintage of 1973. Most recently Kanonkop secured the coveted accolade of Decanter’s Classic Red Wine of the Year for its 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Half a century of exemplary winemaking doesn’t happen by accident. Since the get-go, the focus has been on the production of fine red wine, namely Pinotage, Bordeaux-style blends and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Krige family inherited the home farm in 1929 from Paul Sauer, the namesake of the famous wine. Today, Kanonkop is run by descendants, brothers Paul and Johann.

Since that first vintage only a few winemakers have been at the helm. And, like his famous predecessors, Jan ‘Boland’ Coetzee and Beyers Truter, Beeslaar is also leaving to concentrate on his own brand, Beeslaar Wines.

Not surprisingly the focus for Beeslaar Wines is premium single-vineyard Pinotage, and the estate also produces Chardonnay.

‘It was, and still is, very difficult,’ said Beeslaar when asked about the decision to leave. ‘It’s like cutting an umbilical cord. Though it was just no longer possible to stay on at Kanonkop and further grow Beeslaar Wines.’

The impact in his tenure has been significant. While the accolades are manifold, some stand out more than others. Among them winning the IWSC’s Winemaker of the Year accolade as well as clinching South Africa’s first 100-point score from Tim Atkin MW for the Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2015.

‘There have been too many to mention,’ said Beeslaar when quizzed about his highlights over the years. ‘The biggest success has been growing the brand from 300,000 bottles to three million. To produce these serious volumes, and to still elevate the quality was challenging.’

The growth has been steady from the first 1,000 tonnes in 1973 to 3,000 in 2023. The Simonsberg estate provides 580 of these, while the rest is sourced from a network of 22 growers.

‘I’m going to miss the grapes, the people and the beautiful environment,’ said Beeslaar on his imminent departure, billed to be at the end of August 2024.

Beeslaar and the Kriges have come to an agreement that he will continue to consult and ‘spend time at Kanonkop whenever needed’. Though Johann laments that it is sad to see Beeslaar leave the team, he cites the arrangement as ‘gentlemanly’.

There is no industry heavy-hitter waiting in the wings, rather Kanonkop will continue internally. ‘We have a team that has been working together for a couple of years: winemakers Francois Van Zyl, Christelle Van Niekerk and Ruan Van Schalkwyk,’ said Beeslaar. Suzaan Krige, Paul’s daughter, is also joining the team as assistant winemaker from 2024.

‘Neither was Jan Boland Coetzee or Beyers Truter a figurehead when they started at Kanonkop, they made it their own,’ said Johann of the younger generation now at the coalface. ‘If you create an environment where someone can flourish in their own way, then we have everything laid out on a red carpet at Kanonkop.’

He went on to say that ‘nothing will change’ and that the systems are in place for continued success.

‘I believe you never stop growing a company, as soon as you do there is no more innovation for the youngsters.

‘Watch this space,’ he concluded. ‘There are a few new projects in the works.’

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