“Pinotage is the juice extracted from women’s tongues and lion’s hearts. After having a sufficient quantity one can talk forever and fight the devil.” – written anonymously on the wall of the Paul Sauer cellar at Kanonkop Estate

A uniquely South African grape varietal, Pinotage was created by Dr Abraham Perold. Pinotage is a light to medium bodied wine which is often high in acidity and can exhibit beautiful red fruit notes such as strawberries, raspberries, plums and cherries; floral notes such as roses, violets and lavender and can show secondary flavours from oak such as cinnamon, pepper, cloves, chocolate, coffee and vanilla. One of the more interesting notes often picked up on Pinotage is that of caramelized banana!

Kanonkop Estate

In 1906 Dr Perold was sent abroad by the Cape Government with the goal of collecting grape varieties which could be established in South Africa.  He brought back with him 177 different grape varieties which were planted in the Welgevallen Experimental Farm at the University of Stellenbosch. This is where he was appointed as the first professor of Viticulture in South Africa.

Dr Perold cross-pollinated Pinot Noir and Cinsault, and with this produced the first four seeds of a variety we now know as Pinotage. We were rather confused back in the day, and for a while we referred to Cinsault as Hermitage, hence the name Pinotage. “Pinot” from Pinot Noir and “tage” from what we though was Hermitage. Hermitage is actually a wine appellation in the northern Rhône region of France which produces Syrah, Roussane and Marsanne and has nothing to do with Cinsault.

Kanonkop Estate Image Catalogue

In 1925 these four little seeds were planted in Dr Perold’s garden at his residence at Welgevallen. In 1927 he took up employment with KWV in Paarl and his residence at Welgevallen remained unoccupied for a period of time and became rather overgrown.  The University eventually sent a team to clean up the garden, and whilst doing so, Dr Charlie Niehaus, a young lecturer, cycled past the clean-up operation. He knew about the four seedlings and was able to save them before they were thrown out. Professor CJ Theron re-established them in the nursery at Elsenburg Agricultural College.

In 1935 Prof Theron grafted the seedlings onto disease resistant rootstock and showed the grafted vines to Dr Perold who wanted to have the new variety propagated immediately. The first Pinotage wine was produced in 1941 by CT de Waal, a lecturer at Elsenburg and in 1943 the first commercial vineyard was planted on the farm Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry’s Pass. Pinotage first appeared on a wine label in 1961 when 1959 wine from Bellevue was labelled under the name Lanzerac Pinotage. In 1961, the second commercial Pinotage was produced by Kanonkop.

Kanonkop Estate

In the 60’s Pinotage proved rather successful and farmers planted a lot of the varietal. Unfortunately lack of knowledge of Pinotage and over-production resulted in low quality wine, which in 1976 saw a party of British Wine Master’s describing Pinotage as having notes of “rusty nails”, “acetone” and “nail varnish”. In the 80’s there were very few new plantings due to the negative publicity.

In 1991, Pinotage received international recognition for the first time when Beyers Truter won the Robert Mondavi Trophy for “International Winemaker of the Year” at the International Wine & Spirit Competition for his 1989 Kanonkop Pinotage. In the 90’s the British Wine Master’s returned, and had nothing but praise for Pinotage.

Kanonkop Estate Image Catalogue

Kanonkop Estate

After sanctions against South Africa were lifted in 1994 the world wanted something uniquely South African, and so a lot of Pinotage was produced and exported. Unfortunately as quantity increased, quality declined, once again giving Pinotage a bad score sheet. In 1995 the Pinotage Association of South Africa was formed to look after the quality of Pinotage, which has improved drastically.

Some of the oldest Pinotage vines in South Africa can be found at Kanonkop, where they were planted in 1953.

Kanonkop Estate

Kanonkop Estate is located on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch region of the Cape winelands. The farm was originally purchased by JW Sauer, a cabinet member in parliament of the Union of South Africa, and has been handed down from father to son for over 40 years. The farm is currently run by fourth generation descendants, Paul and Johann Krige.

Kanonkop Estate

Kanonkop directly translated from Afrikaans means “cannon head” and the name for the farm is derived from a hillock (locally known as a kopje) from which a cannon was fired in the 17th century. The cannon was fired to alert the local farmers that ships sailing between Europe and the far East had entered Table Bay for a stopover at Cape Town. This of course meant business opportunities for the farmers, and I would like to think that these farmers would quickly harvest a few cabbages, slaughter a few sheep, and load this with the jerseys their wives had been knitting, as well as their young daughters in to the wagons, and head to Table Bay to sell the goods to the sailors.

At Londolozi, one can inclusively enjoy the Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage which has a beautiful nose of raspberry, strawberry and black plum. The fruit follows through on the palate and is balanced with sweet spice, vanilla and subtle tannins.  When it comes to pairing with food, Pinotage is extremely versatile and the Kadette pairs well with BBQ chicken, pizza and venison. I personally enjoy drinking it in the evenings whilst having a little braai (barbecue), mesmerized by the flames from the fire.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on Pinotage, do you enjoy it or not? And which one is your favourite?

Filed under Wine

About the Author

Kim Drake

Wine Curator

“When a winemaker gets the wine right, it is pure joy, like sipping a wonderfully painted artwork from the Louvre.” These are the words of Kim Drake, Londolozi’s Procurement Manager turned part-time Sommelier. Kim’s love of wine first started developing in 2010, shortly ...

More stories by Kim


on Wine, Women & Lion’s Hearts – A Focus on Pinotage
    Dina,Guido says:

    we love Kanonkop and we enjoyed the visit of the winery in Afrikaans!!

    Kim says:

    It is lovely estate, hope you could understand most of the tasting, in Afrikaans

    Jeff Rodgers says:

    A great article about one of my very favorite varietals from one of my very favorite producers. It also goes well with no food, and sharing a bottle with the one you love.

    Kim says:

    It definitely is an all occasion wine, even in summer just chill it slightly and it’s still stunning.

    Senior Moment says:

    Kanonkop is very good, never had the Kadette variant. Having a bottle of Flagstone with Sunday lunch

    Kim says:

    You will definitely have to try the Kadette as soon as you can, lovey everyday wine

    Anna says:

    Great blog Kim!

    Kim says:

    Thanks Anna

    Marinda Drake says:

    Lovely history, well researched and told. Kanonkop kadette pinotage is such a great, well loved South African wine. Awesome blog.

    Kim says:

    Thanks Marinda, our wines sure do have a great history in South Africa

    Judy Guffey says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I always try to have some pinotage in my house. A favorite wine. One no longer available (that I know of) is a Graham Beck pinotage. Drank it inCape Town and it was like velvet on my throat.

    Kim says:

    Hi Judy, unfortunately Graham Beck has stopped their still wine production, they want to focus on sparkling wine and be the best at it, they sold the Game Reserve label to a co-op called Rooiberg, so you will still essentially see the same wine under that label. But with our ethos of keeping with family run and owned farms we had to move away and the Kadette is a great replacement!

    Jill Larone says:

    I loved hearing the history Kim, and of course enjoy Pinotage as well. I haven’t tried the Kanonkop Kadette yet but I currently have a nice one from Robertson Winery, which is always good.

    Kim says:

    Hi Jill, happy that you enjoy Pinotage, hopefully you’ll discover some other great ones as you taste some more

    Bronwyn Laburn says:

    Wonderful stuff Kim!

    Kim says:

    Thanks Bron

    Kim says:

    It is lovely estate, hope you could understand most of the tasting, in Afrikaans!

    Saskia says:

    Hi Kim – is this the lovely wine we had with dinner in middle of the bush? Would love to track some down in the UK!

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