“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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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?