Pinotage – that distinctive South African clone that successfully combined Pinot Noir and Cinsaut in 1925 – brings people together. Yesterday, the Pinotage Association hosted an exclusive tasting of its most recognisable vintages at Kanonkop Estate for the edification of international wine writer and consultant Peter Csizmadia-Honigh.
The tireless custodians of Pinotage – Abrie Beeslaar, Beyers Truter and Duimpie Bayly – were represented on one side of the table. On the other side stood wine industry veteran André Morgenthal, Johan Schwartz (marketing manager of the Pinotage Association), myself and our foreign guest Peter, thirsty for information on this young and enigmatic varietal.
Fortunately for me, a newcomer to the wine scene, the winemakers readily imparted their knowledge and wisdom with great eloquence and a contagious enthusiasm for Pinotage.
The varietal gained international attention in 1991 when Beyers Truter was named International Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition for his 1989 Kanonkop Pinotage. Economic sanctions against South African exports were lifted soon afterwards and, fuelled by the new interest and opportunity, local winemakers began exporting Pinotage in bulk with an unfortunate disregard for quality. Poor practice threatened to fatally prejudice the export market and severely undermine the potential of this promising grape, and the Pinotage Association was formed in 1995 to steer Pinotage successfully and sustainably into the future.
The Pinotage Association aims to strengthen the quality and brand of Pinotage through continuous research, knowledge transfer and marketing. “Pinotage requires a lot of TLC,” explained Duimpie with a characteristic twinkle in his eye. “Processes need to be carefully managed from vineyard to cellar. The whole point of improving our understanding is to end up with wines that are ever more balanced, innovative and elegant.”
Sustained support from enthusiastic partners like Absa Bank has also been essential for driving the Pinotage brand forward, especially through the Absa Top 10 Pinotage Competition. Absa recognised the need to invest in Pinotage as a proudly South African product. Especially among the new generation of consumers, who prefer recognisable brands with strong narratives, developing a robust line-up of premium but accessible Pinotage products will be indispensable for further growth.
The common sentiment at the end of the evening was one of appreciation for all that has already been and can still be achieved. Pinotage resists simplification, encourages innovation and seems eager to flex its muscles in the international arena. Judging from the mutual excitement and collaboration of the people it has brought together, Pinotage’s appreciative circle of friends looks set to grow very fast indeed.