October 10th is International Pinotage day and with that in mind BWT recently decided to embark on a Pinotage Pilgrimage of our own. There are various styles of Pinotage and we were on a mission to spot as many of the typical taste characteristics associated with the grape. Flavors like plum, berry, prune, cassis, cherry, red and black berries. On the nose we were hoping for red and dark fruit aromas, a bit of spice, tobacco, licorice or bacon and perhaps even a hint of banana or mango.
We were also on this excursion to uncover the story behind Pinotage, a uniquely South African story that all began with Prof Abraham Izak Perold. He was the first Professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, a respected Academic with excellent knowledge of the worlds grape varietals and it was he, who began experimenting with the cross breeding of Pinot Noir and Hermitage(Cinsaut) to create what later became known to the world as Pinotage. In 1927 Prof Perold left the University for a Post at KWV and in fact was never to actually taste the fruit of his experiment, passing away in 1941 the very year that CT Dewaal, a lecturer at Elsenberg Agricultural College eventually made the first Pinotage wine.
My tour begin's at Kaapzicht Wine Estate on the Bottleray Hills rd, a quiet part of the Stellenbosch wine route that is home to several well known farms. Kaapzicht is found up a long dusty and bumpy rd, there is no grand entrance but a throng of activity, this is a working farm not a show piece like many of the modern farms further afield. The tasting room is in a quiet corner and decorated with the many awards that Kaapzicht have consistently achieved over the years. The Steytler family, have a history of making great Pinotage, so this is a perfect place to begin our pilgrimage.
CT De Waal, who as previously mentioned made the first Pinotage wine also played regular rugby with PK Morkel ,winemaker of Bellvue Estate and Paul Sauer of Kanonkop. De Waal shared his experimental Pinotage with his friends, who were impressed enough to became among the first farmers to plant it commercially. The first Pinotage to be bottled and sold as Pinotage was a blend of the 1959 vintage from Bellvue and Kanonkop and was called Lanzerac Pinotage 1959.
Bellvue Estate is situated just a little further down the road from Kaapzicht. It’s easy to spot the white washed walled entrance that leads to the tasting room and restored Cape Dutch Homestead (1803) which has been declared a National Monument. Bellvue Estate is now run by 4th generation family member, Dirkie Morkel who continues to produce great Pinotage and Malbec for that matter.
There is something very charming about the Bottleray hill road farms, they don’t see as many visitors as some of the other wine routes and have maintained more of a relaxed small town feeling. The farms are down to earth, no frills, the hospitality is warm- some farms don’t even charge for tastings.
A short drive from Bellvue you’ll find a number of great Pinotage Estates that would make for good lunch stops. You could try L’ Avenir, for a picnic and a tasting in their Pinotage lounge or Simonsig, for casual lunch at Cuvee restaurant accompanied by a bottle of their Red hill Pinotage. Delheim offers delicious cheese and meat platters in the tasting room to go side by side with your wine tasting.
However you can’t really embark on a Pinotage Pilgrimage without a stop at Beyerskloof. Beyers Truter is Chairman of the Pinotage Association, part owner of Beyerskloof and ex cellar master of Kanonkop. He comes from a long line of family members who have farmed at Beyerskloof and his son Anri Truter is now at the helm. To say that Pinotage is in the Truters blood would certainly be an understatement.
Those first pioneering Pinotage producers had an uphill battle; consumers were reluctant to try an unfamiliar varietal and many international wine critics were very judgemental. This all changed at the 1991 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London when Kanonkop’s Pinotage 1989 was awarded the world’s Best Red Wine and Beyers Truter was named The International Winemaker of the Year. Later in 2004 at the same competition, Kaapzichts Steytler Vision Cape Blend 2001 was awarded the trophy for the world’s Best Blended Red Wine, made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage (40%) and Merlot.
Beyerskloof is always busy and very popular with the local Stellenbosch crowd, probably due to its casual atmosphere and diverse selection of Pinotage. There is something to suit most palettes and pockets from the budget friendly Chenin Blanc/Pinotage and Pinotage dry Rose through to their flagship Diesel Pinotage.
The Red leaf restaurant at Beyerskloof was also our lunch stop, where one can indulge in a hearty Pinotage feast to sustain a full days worth of red wine drinking. On the menu today is the famous Pinotale (Blend of Pinotage and Irish Red Ale) and the Pinotage burger. The burger is a thick ground beef meat patty that has been slowly stewed in Pinotage and topped with a sweet onion relish served with potato wedges and salad garnish.
The final stop for the day was another iconic Pinotage producer, Kanonkop. Apart from being one of the first and most highly regarded Pinotage producers, Kanonkop is also one of the most picturesque Estates in the Cape and is a fitting end to our tour.
Kanonkop is now owned by Paul Sauer’s grand children, Johann and Paul Krige and the cellar has been under the care of Abrie Beeslaar since 2002. We start with the Kadette range: Pinotage and dry Rosé Pinotage and then move on to the premium Kanonkop Estate range. For an additional R1350 a bottle you can also opt to taste the super premium Pinotage black label.
Nowadays Pinotage is the 4th largest varietal grown in South Africa, making us the largest Pinotage producer in the world. There are many more great Pinotage Estates to visit and with a few more days I would highly recommend a stop at De Waal, Ryk’s, Diemersdal, Flagstone and Groot Constantia.
If you would like to book a Pinotage Pilgrimage, Please get in touch at email@example.com.
Background information sourced from the Pinotage association website, view www.pinotage.co.za for more information about Pinotage and the members of the association.