I am standing 400m up on a mountain overlooking the town of Stellenbosch, Table Mountain lurking in the distance. The steep slopes are covered with vines, as are those on the other side of the Jonkershoek Valley. Directly below, the white-washed old buildings of Lanzerac hotel and winery sparkle in the midday sun. I brace myself for the wine maker’s viticulture insights, notebook poised for words on soil types, harvest yields, vine-spacing and average daytime temperatures.
“Over there,” says the wine maker, Wynand Lategan, pointing away from the vineyards to the town. “That’s where I was born, right there in Stellenbosch Hospital.”
Despite the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley having made the Heartbreak Grape its own it’s worth remembering that South Africa’s first Pinot Noir was planted on the slopes of Stellenbosch’s Simonsberg in 1927, the location being Muratie Estate. Erstwhile Muratie proprietor, artist and bon vivant George Canitz was a buddy of Prof. Abraham Perold, the viticultural guru who “invented” the Pinotage grape, and it was Perold who indulged Canitz’s wish to produce a “Burgundy” in Stellenbosch.
Prof Perold was an eager beaver to help out, although it has come to the fore that the Professor’s relationship with Muratie was based on more than a bit of experimental viticulture and a jovial drinking buddy in Canitz. Perold had a serious case of the hots for Canitz’s daughter, Annemie, and this air of romance no-doubt assisted the relevant parties to go about the task of creating Pinot Noir with heartfelt passion and possibly more than a few rootstocks were planted.