Gyles Webb (who abandoned his accounting career in Durban to become a winemaker) bought Thelema, a dilapidated fruit farm, in 1983 with the help of his wife’s family. Fruit orchards were pulled out and vines were planted. The manor house was restored and the first wines under the Thelema label were released in 1988. Situated at the top of the Helshoogte Pass with elevations that range between 370 to 640 meters above sea level and mainly south-facing slopes, Thelema is one of the highest and coolest estates in the area.
François Rabelais was a monk, doctor and writer in sixteenth-century France who created a utopian abbey on the banks of the Loire. In stark contrast to the religious orders of his day, this community admitted both men and women and encouraged them to live together in great luxury. Only one law governed its members: “Fay ce que vouldras” – Do what thou wilt! This was the Abbey of Thélème, which has lent its name to the Thelema Mountain Vineyards on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountain.
‘Rabelaisian’ is defined as ‘displaying earthy humour; bawdy,’ and Rabelais spent a lot of time thinking and writing about wine. Among his more memorable quotes were: ‘Wine is the most civilised thing on earth’ and ‘Never did a great man hate good wine,’ so it is only fitting that this Thelema flagship wine is named after him.
The phoenix on the label appears in ancient Arabian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese and Indian mythology, but also symbolises the birth of Thelema, and is present on both sides of the Thelema family. The McLeans owned the Phoenix Garden Hotel in Kimberley, and there is a phoenix on the Webb family crest.
Rabelais is a blend of the best Bordeaux components (90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot) from the Thelema range from the 2017 vintage. During the annual vintage review, individual barrels were identified and earmarked for the Rabelais blend. Grapes are from wines planted in 2002 and 2003 on Hutton soils. Fruit was de-stalked, hand sorted, crushed, pumped into stainless steel fermentation tanks, cold soaked for two days, and pumped over twice a day for five days. After fermentation the wine was left on the skins for two days before pressing and, once pressed, was is racked to barrel for malolactic fermentation. Fermentation was with naturally occurring yeasts and the wine spent twenty months in 100% new 225 litre French oak barrels.