If pinotage is your favourite tipple, you can join millions of wine lovers and celebrate World Pinotage Day today.
The red elixir is seen as South Africa’s signature variety and was first cultivated here in 1925. The first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University, Abraham Izak Perold, created the pinot noir/ cinsault (locally known back in the day as Hermitage) cross, in an effort to bring the taste of Burgundy to South Africa.
The story goes that he planted four grape seeds in 1925, which were forgotten about after he left the university, but rescued by a young lecturer who took them to Elsenburg Agricultural College in Stellenbosch.
CJ Theron replanted the seedlings and later showed Perold his welladapted creation. At the time the duo called it the cross pinotage, and soon the signature grape was transformed into fermented grape juice. The first bottle of pinotage appeared in 1941 and commercial bottling started in 1961.
The first commercial plantings happened at Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry’s Pass in the Western Cape. In 1941 pinotage vines were planted at the Kanonkop Estate by Paul Sauer and Danie Rossouw, which later rose to great fame and can mature for up to 25 years. This was also the first monovarietal pinotage bottled and released in South Africa.
It was produced by the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) and was released until 1961. In the late 1950s, SFW purchased the trademark of Lanzerac, an estate founded in 1692, and decided to use that label for its pioneering pinotage.
According to the latest statistics by the SA Wine Industry Information and Systems (SAWIS, 2016), pinotage is the only red cultivar to have grown in hectares over the past decade and of the top 10 mostplanted wine grape varieties in the country.
The industry body reports that the total area of pinotage vines is close to 7 000 hectares and the sales figures are more impressive – from around 3 million litres of pinotage a year at the turn of the century, domestic sales have increased to over 5 million, and exports since 2001 have gone from just more than 8 million litres a year to close on 19 million – contributing an estimated R495 million to the economy in 2017.
Pinotage sales in South Africa’s two biggest export markets, the UK and Germany, have grown from 3.5 million and 0.8 million litres in 2001 to more than 5 million and 5.4 million litres respectively, with 2017 sales to China and Russia (2.6 million and 1.5 million litres) now greater than those of other standout markets including Sweden, the US, France and Denmark.
Some of the coveted prizes that pinotage won include the Absa Top 10, the Old mutual Trophy Show and most recently, the pinotage grape shone at the Veritas Awards in 2019, winning the most double gold medals.
In 1991 at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, Kanonkop pinotage head of fine wine sales at winecellar.co.za, Jolette Steyn, said Perold made various crossings of vines during the 1920s and pinotage was born from one of them.
“At its best it can be perfumed and delicate. Red fruit, floral and dried herb aromas on the nose, showing immense purity of fruit, a mineral core, fine tannins at the back and a touch of spice,” said Steyn.
She added that although pinotage is not as popular as some classic French varieties, it has been growing steadily over the past 5-10 years locally and internationally.
And what to eat when you’re sipping on your pinotage? Steyn said the wine is extremely versatile when it comes to food pairings.
“As a proudly South African grape it works fantastically alongside our local cuisine. It sings with aromatic Cape Malay dishes such as bobotie and biryanis. Furthermore, pinotage stands up well to hearty meats, beef or game,” she said.