Pinotage: 100yrs Old This Year

Despite most of the industry claiming 1925 as the date of the birth of Pinotage, the correct year is 1924. This article appeared in Die Burger, the world’s largest Afrikaans daily newspaper and can thus rightfully be assumed as fact. This version was loosely translated from the more poetic Afrikaans.

Right in its own kraal, the South African wine industry is always looking for a reason to throw a party, celebration, or shindig. The establishment of the country’s wine industry on February 2, 1659, is annually celebrated with solemn reverence. Then once each year’s grape harvest is complete, cheerful gatherings take place at the cellars where vineyard and cellar workers – despite the fatigue of three months of hard work and long hours – let loose properly.

And when a farm unveils its latest vintage wines, the festivities kick off anew. This year, 2024, however, in my opinion, is an epic year for the South African wine industry deserving full-scale celebration. Because it’s precisely 100 years since the grape variety Pinotage originated – here in the Cape. Not only is it the country’s national grape variety, but our Pinotage wines are known worldwide, with countries like America and New Zealand even planting the variety.

In fact, of all the wine-producing countries outside the vineyard’s traditional home in Europe, South Africa is the only one to create its own grape variety that can be considered a global force in terms of wine offerings. And its name is Pinotage. The “father” of Pinotage is Abraham Izak Perold, the ingenious viticulturist who was associated with Stellenbosch University and later the KWV. He was a scientist with a restless and creative soul, earnestly seeking better vineyard conditions in the Cape and the ideal grape varieties to plant in the right places. Perold’s many deeds and actions are recorded in the book “Abraham Izak Perold – Wegwyser van ons Wingerdbou” by R.U. Kenney, and it is here that it is noted that the wise wine man brought Pinotage into being in 1924.

This was done by crossing two French grape varieties, namely the noble Burgundian variety Pinot Noir and the hardy cultivar Cinsault, which in Perold’s time in the Cape was known as Hermitage. The fruit born from this ambitious combination was thus named Pinotage. With no history or references, several Stellenbosch wine farmers began planting the “new” grape variety. Among them was one Paul Sauer from Kanonkop wine farm, who happened to be one of Perold’s first viticulture students.

However, Pinotage only made its debut as wine from the 1959 vintage under the Lanzerac label. Since then, Pinotage has grown into one of the cornerstones of the South African wine industry, widely planted, and its wines of Cape origin found on shelves around the world. A few years ago in Beaune, the capital of the grand wine region of Burgundy, I stumbled upon a few bottles of Pinotage (Kanonkop) in an upscale wine shop. When I asked the owner why this wine among all the offerings of fine French wines, he said: “Because it’s your country – South Africa’s – greatest contribution to civilization. And civilization is indeed wine, oui monsieur?”

Once the parties start, those words along with that wine is certainly on my lips.

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5 thoughts on “Pinotage: 100yrs Old This Year

  1. Dear Emile,

    Was the grapes not from Bellevue? And the De Waals also laid a claim for the first Pinotage at Uiterwyk?

    1. Yes Koeks
      Eerste kommersiële lyn, Lanzerac. Met druiwe van Bellevue en Kanonkop. Lanzerac was toe net handelsmerk van SBW. Skerp.

  2. Emile

    Aangesien Dirkie Morkel binnekort aftree, en hul familieplaas reeds ‘n tyd gelede verkoop is, dink ek dit is niks mnder as reg nie dat jy hierdie feit regstel in een van jou rubrieke. Die eerste Lanzerac Pinotage (‘n SFW handelsnaam en niks te doen met die Lanzerac landgoed) is gemaak van Pinotage vanaf Bellevue landgoed van PK Morkel. Voorwaar iets om oor trots te wees !!

    Groete
    Niel

    1. Hi Niel. Ek weet nie wat ek moet regstel nie? Die eerste kommersiële Pinotage is ‘n Lanzerac 1959. Gemaak uit druiwe van onder meer Bellevue en Kanonkop. Als korrek, hier.

  3. Hi Emile, Wynand Lategan (cellarmaster at Lanzerac) was able to find, photograph and send me the blending components of the Lanzerac Pinotage 1959 from the SFW Blending Book. In that maiden vintage, there is no mention of Kanonkop (though certainly Kanonkop did supply Pinotage for the Lanzerac label in subsequent vintages). Only PK Morkel of Bellevue is named as the source of the Pinotage for the 1959 vintage.
    Two tanks were made:
    1) T77 (Blend 218, dated 07/06/1961) was a blend of 1959 and 1960 Pinotage from P.K.Morkel/P.K.M. along with two vats of Red Hermitage, one from Perdeberg, one possibly from M.S. Brummer (the handwritten name is a little hard to make out with absolute certainty).
    2) T148 (Blend 347, dated 18/09/1961) comprised seven vats of 1959 and 1960 Pinotage from ‘P.K.M’ along with two tanks of Dry Red Wine from unspecified sources.
    If you’re interested, I’ll send you the images that Wynand sent me from the SFW Blending Book. In his opinion, “Definitely the 1959 Pinotage was grown and made at Bellevue, then matured, bottled, labelled and marketed by SFW.”
    Fascinating stuff!
    Best wishes
    Joanne

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