The Pinotage grape is one of the few unique red wine grapes that are produced as a signature variety on the vineyards of South Africa.
South Africa, in general produces fewer vine varieties as compared to vine producers of Europe, however, the Pinotage variety is one international variety that is produced here.
Historically, the variety was introduced in the 20th century (circa 1925) through a cross between two popular wine grapes.
It soon became popular throughout South Africa because of its flexible and adaptable nature that has also made it gain popularity among several non-African regions like Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Germany, Israel and even the US.
Characteristically, it is very similar to Pinot Noir because of the latter being its parent grape and shares similar viticulture traits. In this section, we share same important facts about Pinotage’s origins and history as also how its grown and what conditions satisfy its optimal growth.
Origins of Pinotage
The Pinotage was invented as recently as 1925 by a professor of viticulture named Abraham Izak Perold, who also happened to be the first professor of viticulture of Stellenbosch University.
The grape was produced as a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, the former being well known for its high quality wine and flexible features.
Professor Perold proceeded to plant four seeds of the resulting cross in his official residence’s garden at the Welgavellen Experimental Farm that still exists today and left it there to mature up.
The vine being slow budding, took a considerable time to fully grow when the professor left the university and took up a new job at a cooperative.
Eventually the garden became overgrown and needed some cleaning up when the vine got noticed by one Charlie Niehaus, who gave orders to preserve the four vines.
In 1935, Perold’s successor, Professor CJ Theron took up the job and grafted the newly founded vine with many more seeds at the same garden they were planted before.
The grapes were picked and experimental efforts followed to make a wine from them. In 1941, the first Pinotage wine was produced at Elsenburg with its first commercial plantings at the Myrtle Grove.
The same grape got planted en-masse at the Kanonkop Estate from where it rapidly throughout the country. The estate is still active as a Pinotage plantation.
The grape continued to grow in popularity when in the 1960s, it again received an additional boost to its popularity when it became the champion at the Cape Wine Show in 1959.
A new brand called ‘Lanzerac’ was established thereafter to be officially marketed under it that still stands to this date.
Viticulture and winemaking
Pinotage grape is a relatively easier to grow variety, with early ripening prospects. Just like its parent grape, the Cinsaut, Pinotage is characterized by high sugar levels.
Several techniques and methods are sued to grow Pinotage vines, for example, the trellised system or non-trellised system. In the trellised form, a metallic cage like structure is placed as a support for the vines.
Non-trellised system is the older way to grow vines and believed to give more fruit and content to the grape, at the cost of production per hectare.
Trellised system produces more grapes, but at lower qualities than the non-trellised.
Winemaking is rather a long and elaborate process that requires skills and attention. Controlling the acidity and phenol characters become very important as they lead to either quality wines or vinegar like stuff.
Lately, starting from the 1990s, many South African winemakers have started to modify the fermentation process as also using French and American oaks to store the wine.
Irrigation is another important factor – an overdose of water leads to bland wines with vinegar like flavours.
Tannin is another factor the grape needs attention. These are controlled by maceration periods that can either lead to an acidic beverage or a light drink.
Some even allow the grape to ripen beyond the normal ripening period and fermenting them in oaks to offset the acidic characters the grape form while sustaining the fruity flavours.
Pinotage wines are mostly fruity and spicy with notes of smoke, raspberries and mulberries.
Mostly consumed with heavy dishes, these go very well with spicy pizzas, salads and pepper sprinkled mushrooms.
Michael is an online enthusiast, with a lot of knowledge about online marketing. Traveling around the world to hunt for the perfect wine. Latest on Sicily, where Etna has a huge impact on the taste, which is strong with a bitter aftertaste for the youngest wines, but older wines are fantastic. Drinking wine, and writing about them, are one the passions. Remember to drink responsibly 🙂
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