Cabernet may be its trump card, but the origins of Thelema owe more to the wines of Burgundy than Bordeaux: it was a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet that lured Gyles Webb away from accountancy in Durban to winemaking in Stellenbosch.

Armed with a winemaking degree and influenced by travels in Tuscany, Bordeaux and California, Gyles and his wife Barbara – a noted triathlete – bought Thelema, an old fruit farm high on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountain, in 1983. This is the wilder side of Stellenbosch, where spotted leopards roam the vines and a combination of elevation and eucalyptus trees creates a much-prized style of Cabernet with a distinctively minty freshness.

It’s a 157 hectare property (45 hectares under vine) with an elevation of 370–640 metres, with most of the slopes south facing. This makes it a cooler climate farm, which in combination with decomposed granite soils, helps to make fresh, expressive wines. It is a beautiful place, both for growing grapes and for admiring the stunning views of the Drakenstein and Jonekershoek mountains. In 2000, Thelema added the cool-climate Sutherland estate located in Elgin to its properties.

These days Gyles is Cellar Master, with the talented Schultz brothers (Rudi and Werner) responsible for the winemaking and vineyards respectively. But the philosophy remains true to Gyles’ original vision, centred on the principle of what he calls ‘benign neglect’ – minimal fining and filtration, and no use of commercial yeasts in the red wines. True too to the Thelema name, taken from the idealised concept of a new world order imagined by 16th century French monk, physician and writer Rabelais.

As Jamie Goode of the wineanorak notes “Thelema is one of the star names in Stellenbosch. When I first started exploring South African wines in the late 1990s, this was the top dog, at least in the circles I was frequenting. On my first visit to South Africa, in February 2003, I rocked up at the cellar door, to find everything was sold out, except for the Riesling. From the mid-1990s, pretty much everything sold within a month of release. These days, there are lots of new stars, and Thelema can get forgotten about, which is a shame.”
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