The inaugural Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards aim to put this cultivar on the map and give producers and winemakers the recognition they deserve.
Every winemaker knows that to make a captivating and complex Pinot Noir is no mean feat. In fact, some get discouraged by the grape’s capriciousness. But then there are those who rise to the challenge.
Recently winemakers from all corners of the Cape Winelands have developed a knack for producing top-notch Pinot Noir – and many of these wines are capable of easily holding their own on the international front. While the category remains relatively small (1.3% of total plantings), it has cultivated a sophisticated following and is gaining serious prestige among winemakers and consumers alike. Now the inaugural Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards are set to further raise the profile of this cultivar locally and abroad by identifying five distinctive exemplars of the cultivar to benchmark its quality in South Africa.
The competition, presented by the South African Pinot Noir Association in partnership with Mosaic Family Office and The Top Five Trust, a registered public benefit organisation, was launched in June and the organisers are calling on all Pinot Noir producers to enter before the final cut-off date on 17 July.
Commenting on the decision to relinquish entry fees for the 2020 competition, event organiser and Cape Wine Master Hennie Loubser says the aim of the competition is not to make a profit but rather to raise the profile of Pinot Noir in South Africa. The overall quality of Pinot Noir has grown in leaps in bounds since the start of the modern Pinot era in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley during the late ’70s. “Clonal material has improved drastically and winemakers have a better understanding of this fickle cultivar, which has resulted in some impressive Pinot Noir offerings from all over the Cape Winelands,” he says.
Thanks to its cooler climate, the Cape South Coast – and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in particular – is the undisputed home of Pinot Noir in South Africa. Successful plantings have however spread widely to warmer regions of the Cape Winelands.
“Pinot Noir is no longer bound to one particular region,” says Nicky Claasens, winemaker at Vriesenhof Vineyards and chairperson of the Pinot Noir Association of South Africa. “There are many good examples of quality Pinot Noir to be found in South Africa, including from Hemel-en-Aarde, Elgin, Stellenbosch and Robertson.” He believes the secret to this cultivar’s current success in South Africa stems from a deeper understanding and appreciation South African winemakers and viticulturists now have for it. “Yes, traditionally it’s a cool climate grape, but with the right vineyard practices and management, and growing it under the right conditions, you can successfully plant and grow Pinot Noir grapes in any region.”
South African Pinot Noir has been growing in popularity and stature over the past decade. “Consumers are intrigued by what Pinot can offer, and it has certainly attracted a more sophisticated buyer,” Nicky says. Jacqueline Ferns, Mrs South Africa 2020, has been appointed the official ambassador of the Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards. She says there’s definitely been an increasing interest in Pinot Noir among consumers, especially among female buyers. “Women are warming to Pinot Noir, thanks to its lighter, easier-drinking style. Pinot also pairs well with a variety of dishes.” Jacqueline, who’s a huge Pinot Noir fan and frequently encourages others to taste and explore this complex wine, is helping with the marketing of the event.
“Consumers’ preoccupation with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz is a challenge,” Hennie says. “We must try to get consumers to rethink Pinot Noir as the red wine for special occasions. This competition will be a good reflection of the current status quo of Pinot Noir in South Africa. We’re hoping it will showcase South Africa’s finest Pinot Noir offerings and it will be interesting to see what our producers and winemakers can deliver working with this notoriously difficult grape variety.”
Raising Pinot’s profile
Wine competitions such as this not only reward winemakers for consistently producing quality, they also make a crucial contribution to the regional economy by driving excellence and raising the profile of wines locally and abroad.
The judging panel for the Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards will be chaired by Cape Wine Master and respected international wine judge Dr Winifred Bowman. She says the competition is a great opportunity to finally give South African Pinot Noir producers the recognition they deserve. “The standard of Pinot Noir production among South African winemakers has improved remarkably over the past decade,” she says. “This competition is a chance for us to celebrate the plethora of wine styles and expressions that this wonderful grape has to offer.”
The other judges are Gregory Mutambe, head sommelier at the Twelve Apostles Hotel; Rüdger van Wyk, winemaker at Stark-Condé Wines; Karin Visser, CWM and accounts manager at Great Domaines; and Anton Swarts, CWM and senior winemaker at Spier.
The entries received thus far have surpassed all expectations, Winifred says. “The response has been incredible. We’ve received strong contenders from South Africa’s top Pinot Noir producers. It’s encouraging to see so many wineries and winemakers eager to showcase their interpretations of this wine.”
The closing date for entries is 17 July and producers have from 27-31 July to submit three 750 ml bottles. For more info call Winifred on 083 702 3665 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Competition details can be found at www.top5.co.za