Celebrating 50 Years of Kanonkop: The Most Famous Wine in South Africa

It’s true; Wine Internet’s biggest question when it comes to the world’s latest Rugby World Cup Champion nation is: what is the most famous wine in South Africa? You needn’t look far for the answer because Kanonkop – maker of arguably South Africa’s most renowned wine – has just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first bottled wine.

The function traditionally held for the unveiling of a new vintage was a bigger affair, which upped the firing of one ceremonial canon to five.

Kanonkop Wine Estate
Kanonkop Wine Estate entrance

The Making of a Legend in South African Wine

The year 1973 had many watersheds. The US officially ends its involvement in the Vietnam War with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Australia’s dramatic Sydney Opera House opens. The Bosphorus Bridge is completed, joining Europe and Asia in Istanbul. The Bahamas gains independence from Great Britain.

At the southern point of Africa, an old farm takes the bold step of bottling its own label wine for the first time. It is situated in the Stellenbosch region, whose soils and terroir would eventually make this area a titan of South African red wine.

Indeed, the newcomer that year at Kanonkop signified the birth of what many regard the most famous wine in South Africa.

The passionate team behind Kanonkop Wine Estate

Kanonkop, Wine of Origin

“While 50 years is just a blink in the eye of the wine world’s 6 000-year history, the half-century mark is something only a handful of South African wineries can lay claim to,” writes Emile Joubert, author of Kanonkop – the making of a legend (2019, Tip Africa Publishing). The main reason, he says, was that for many years until the 1970s the industry was controlled by large corporate wineries that owned ranges of wine brands made from the grapes and wines sourced from Cape wine farms.

But the tide was turning. Farms began asserting their own identities, registering as estates under newly promulgated legislation and subscribing to the Wine of Origin scheme. Kanonkop was among them, eventually surpassing achievements to emerge into what South Africa’s most highly regarded wine critic, Michael Fridjhon, describes as “our undisputed First Growth estate”.

Kanonkop Wine Cellar.The most famous wine in south africa
Kanonkop’s Cellar oozes historical significance
Aged bottles of south african wine from Kanonkop cellar.The most famous wine in south africa
Kanonkop Cellars

Cornerstones of South Africa’s Most Famous Wine

Kanonkop’s status is derived from an intricate web of good fortune and consistent excellence over several generations. Most people first encounter Kanonkop (pronounced Kahn-on-kop) via its reputation and name. The latter is derived from a hill (kop) where a cannon (kanon) was stationed during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was part of a system to agitate local communities whenever the Cape Colony was under threat.

Following its name, are the wines that arguably most carry its reputation: Paul Sauer, the Bordeaux blend named after the estate patriarch; Black Label Pinotage, made from a single vineyard planted in 1953; and Cabernet Sauvignon. These make up Kanonkop’s flagship estate range.

Barrels of Wine in the Kanonkop Wine Estate Cellar. The most famous wine in south africa
Barrels of Wine in the Kanonkop Wine Estate Cellar
Kanonkop Wine Estate's Rolling Vineyards - Where they grow the most famous wine in south africa
Kanonkop Wine Estate’s Rolling Vineyards

Wines in this range that are available from Cape Ardor are: Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2020; Kanonkop Pinotage 2020; Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2020; and the Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2016.

A second label is bottled under the name Kadette, which was created at the point when widespread demand meant its 95ha of vines could no longer deliver. Kadette uses quality fruit sourced from elsewhere, but vinified the brand’s same stringent standards.

Kadette wines that may be ordered from Cape Ardor now, include Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2020; the Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage Rosé 2020; and the Kanonkop Kadette Cape Blend 2019.

Milestones to the Status of South African Wine Icon

The fourth-generation family winery under the Krige Family has enjoyed numerous milestones over multiple decades. Not least of these is achieving the reputation of being regarded by many as home to South Africa’s most famous wine. Among the many high points, significant achievements have included winning the trophy for International Winemaker of the Year four times.

These were achieved at the UK-based International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) in 1991 by winemaker Beyers Truter and his successor, Abrie Beeslaar, in 2008, 2015 and 2017. A year later, Kanonkop became the first South African producer to score full marks in a 100-point rating of Cape wines by internationally renowned critic Tim Atkin MW. The wine was the 2015 Paul Sauer.

Abrie Beeslaar claiming international winemaker of the year award. The most famous wine in south africa
In 2015 Abrie Beeslaar claimed the International Winemaker of the Year award at the International Wine and Spirit Competition, one of three times he has walked away with the prize. Here he is with Neil McGuigan, Australian winemaker and a past winner of the award

In 2022, Kanonkop received the IWSC trophy for Red Wine Producer of the Year.

These and many of the string of achievements by Kanonkop have elevated the estate and placed it among the world’s elite, especially when it comes to New World producers. It is this that will make few dispute its reputation as home of the most famous wine in South Africa.

Watch the video below to learn more about Kanonkop Wine Estate:

Recipe: Bolognese Mac & Cheese

This is a crowd pleasing family favourite recipe that can be made in
advance and then baked in the oven before serving.
Recipe – serves 4 – 6 people

Bolognese Mac & Cheese with Kanonkop Kadette Cape Blend

400gms macaroni pasta

Bolognese sauce:
Splash of olive oil
1 brown onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 star anise pod (optional)
500gms beef mince
70gms tomato paste
½ cup red wine
½ cup beef stock (use one stock
1 tin chopped peeled tomatoes

2 Tbsp of finely chopped parsley,
rosemary and thyme

Cheese sauce:
70 gms butter
70gms flour
2 ¾-3cups milk
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Grating of fresh nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground white
150gms Cheddar, grated plus
extra for topping


To make the Bolognese sauce:

Fry the onions and star anise in the olive oil until soft over a low temp. Add the garlic and fry for about a minute and then remove all from the pan and set aside. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and cook the meat until it starts to caramelize breaking it up all along as you go. This will take about 10 minutes as you really want to cook it past the stage where the meat in grey in colour and the liquid has cooked off. When it starts smelling like a grilled burger, add the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes until it darkens and starts sticking to the pan. Add the onions and garlic back to the pan and deglaze with the wine, allowing the liquid to cook-off. Add the rest of the ingredients and allow them to bubble away over a gentle heat for about 20 – 30 minutes. While the Bolognese is cooking away, preheat your oven to 180C and get a large pot of salty water and cook the macaroni according to the pack instruction and just al dente or a little before (do not overcook it).

To make the béchamel:

Melt the butter in a medium pot and then add the flour to form a stiff roux. Add the milk bit by bit, continuing to whisk all the time until the sauce has thickened and does not thicken any further. Add the mustard, nutmeg and seasoning. Once your béchamel tastes right, add the grated cheddar and stir to melt through the sauce. Mix the cooked pasta with the Bolognese sauce and add about 2/3 of the cheese sauce and mix evenly. Empty this into an appropriately sized oven dish. Spread the remaining cheese sauce over the top. Sprinkle additional cheese over the top and bake for 25 minutes until golden and

Serve with a glass of Kanonkop Kadette Cape Blend. Enjoy!

Kanonkop - Kadette Cape Blend, Stellenbosch - 2019
Kanonkop – Kadette Cape Blend, Stellenbosch – 2019
Kanonkop - 'Paul Sauer', Stellenbosch - 2020
Kanonkop – ‘Paul Sauer’,
Stellenbosch – 2020
Kanonkop - 'Black Label' Pinotage, Simonsberg-Stellenbosch - 2020
Kanonkop – ‘Black Label’ Pinotage, Stellenbosch – 2020

Kanonkop Estate is situated on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch Region of the Cape and confidently boasts some of South Africa’s most premium wines. Simonsberg has earned a reputation both at home and abroad as the area producing some of the best wines in the country. Click the button below to shop Kanonkop wines and have them delivered to your door in the US.

BY Clifford Roberts | November 16, 2023

Clifford Roberts (BTech Journ) is a veteran writer whose coverage of wine for leading publications over two decades has taken him from oak forests of Hungary to vineyards among the peaks of Reunion Island. He is a member of the invitation-only SA African Brandy Guild and is based on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, heartland of South African wine.

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