28 February 2018

WoTM - Bellevue Estate P K Morkel Pinotage 2010

My Wine of the Month for February is Bellevue Estate P K Morkel Pinotage 2010.

After spending a month in the Cape wine lands and drinking excellent Pinotage everyday to choose just one was a difficult choice.

But most of the time wines were the most recently released vintage and while enjoyable, and in many cases immensely enjoyable, they would be even better with a few more year’s bottle age.

This wine, currently on sale in Bellevue’s tasting room at R225, is at its peak eight years after vintage.

It’s just bursting with voluptuous fruit and has a gorgeous big spiciness with soft tannins on the finish. It was a really enjoyable and memorable wine.

This Pinotage honours Pieter Krige (P K) Morkel, a famous Springbok rugby player, who converted his farm to a wine estate. In 1953 he went out to buy Gamay vines and came back with the new Pinotage variety.

15 February 2018

1953 Pinotage and Lunch at Bellevue Estate

To Bellevue Estate for lunch. When I'd called there the previous week I was unable to buy a bottle of their new single-vineyard wine from the old block as it is available only from the restaurant.

It's all change at Bellevue. The Morkels, whose family have owned and farmed the estate for four generations sold it to a German man last year. He has already made several adjustments, including the single-vineyard bottling and a  restaurant with its own brick pizza oven. 
Restaurant seating outside on a lawn under large umbrellas

Seating for the restaurant is both inside, at the rear of the tasting room, or outside under large umbrellas on a lawn. There are mostly huge tables, but our waitron found us a small one and moved it so we were shaded.

We had the place pretty much to ourselves,though it seems it's packed at weekends. I hope so. Bellevue always seems to have been under-appreciated though it  makes first rate Pinotage and were among the first to bottle single varietal Malbec and Petite Verdot.
A generous mound of tasty tangy wings, salad and chips go great with Pinotage. 

There's a small and interesting menu as well as pizzas. I was tempted by whole baby chicken in a lemon sauce but ordered spicy chicken wings. These came on a wooden platter in a generous mound, well coated in a spicy and flavoursome sauce accompanied by skinny chips and a small salad. 

Skinny chips came in an individual small 'frying basket' and the salad in a tiny colander. This may have looked good in the restaurant supplies catalogue, but practically it makes no sense as the salad dressing was coming through the colander's holes forming a pool on the wooden paddle.

The wings were very tasty and moreish and what looked too much when delivered soon was finished.

What to drink? I was going to take home a bottle of the single-vineyard wine and decided to have another with the meal.

Our attentive waitron diplomatically rested his finger on wine list pointing to its price (R545) asking if this was the wine I wanted. When he showed me the wine, which is named 1953 after the year the Pinotage vineyard was planted, he made a point of explaining that the wine was from the 2016 vintage. 

After making sure I understood he offered to decant the wine because of its youth.
1953 decanted

The wine was young, but there was good fruit, a tautness about the wine, and the promise of greater things to come with a bit more bottle age.

Many years ago, I'd asked Dirkie Morkel why he didn't bottle the old vineyard separately. He'd said he always wanted to make the very best wine and that sometimes the other vineyards out performed the 1953 block. 

The wine is called 1953 after the year PK Morkel planted 2.58 hectares of Pinotage. The following year PK added another 3.23 hectares. In those days wines made at Bellevue were sold to Stellenbosch Farmers Winery. It was in 1961 SFW released Bellevue's 1959 vintage Pinotage under their Lanzerac brand, and the rest is, as they say, history. And history celebrated by a  stamp issued last year by the South African Post Office with a photo of that first Pinotage.

A neck label stated that there were only 600 bottles of this wine. That equates to two 225 litre barriques, so I assume 1953 is a selection of the two best barrels made from the old vineyard.

The previous week I'd taken away a bottle of P K Morkel 2010 Pinotage and it was one of the best I'd drunk so far on this visit. Now eight years old with an attractive cedar wood nose, beautifully spicy fruit, soft tannins and lovely Pinotage sweetness. I must keep 1953 to let it develop. 

1953 comes in a big heavy thick bottle with a hugely deep punt and wax seal. It's a statement bottle, but irritatingly too wide to fit in a polystyrene packer so to get it home I'm going to have to wrap it in clothes in my suitcase.  

14 February 2018

Visiting Kanonkop Estate

To Kanonkop with Eleanor Cosman of Toronto's South African Wine Society.

It's vintage and a critical time to judge exactly when grapes should be picked. Cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar is out in the vineyards making those tough decisions and asked his assistant Alet De Wet who is managing the winery today to show us around.
Alet de Wet, Kanonkop Winemaker

The first Pinotage is arriving from contracted farms in bins on the back of lorries. Alet tells us that there are 30 growers in Stellenbosch from whom Kanonkop buy grapes. Today's grapes are coming from three of those farms. Bought in grapes are for the Kadette range, both varietal Pinotage and the Cape Blend.

For the flagship Estate wines, production is limited to what can be grown on the Esate. Kanonkop have one of the world's oldest Pinotage vineyards and at over 60 years the old bushvines are producing less each year.

The Kadette label was originally used for wine from young vines and barrels that didn't meet the Estate standards. But demand for the keenly priced Kadette range keeps expanding and is now met by buying in grapes from neighbouring farms.

Co-owner Johan Kriger told me that orders for Kadette is fast increasing. Currently around 2,000 tons of grapes are sourced for Kadette and the estate grows around 500 tons.
Grape bins are emptied into destalker

The bins are unloaded from the lorries by a forklift truck which then upends each one in turn into the bin of a destalking machine.

The grape bunches look glowing with health and vitality and taste sweet, even though the Cape is going through the third year of the severest drought in memory.
Just picked Pinotage arrives at Kanonkop

But many of these grapes will end up as compost because they do not meet Kanonkop's exacting quality standards.
From de-stalker on left grapes are emptied onto sorting table

After de-stalking the grapes empty onto a perforated shaking sorting table. Grapes which are too small, not developed or unformed plus twigs and other MOG (material other than grapes) fall through the holes to the reject bin.
Sorting table (left) empties onto belt of optical sorter (right)

Those that pass the sorting table cascade onto the fast moving belt of the optical sorter. This mega-expensive machine, one of only three such machines in South Africa, can handle 20 tons per hour and compares each grape against a template defining acceptable colour, size and whatever is programmed into its memory. Only those berries which pass this hypercritical individual examination make it through.
Fast changing monitor on sorting machine

There's a large bin full of berries that look good to me, but these are the rejects. At some wineries these will in turn go through a second pass of the sorter reset to lower standards for use in a second or third label wines.

But not at Kanonkop. The next stop for these rejects is a compost heap.
Alet de Wet shows us  the grapes that made it through the optical sorter. These go directly to fermenting tanks

The berries that make it through the two selections are pumped directly into the open fermentation tanks, known in the Cape as kuipes.

Alet informs us that each kuipe can hold between 8 and 10 tons of grapes, which would produce around 10,000 litres of wine.
Fermenting tank of Pinotage with robot push down machine above

Pinotage is inoculated with yeast and fermentation takes around three days kept at at 28C by means of chilled water being pumped through a radiator in each kuipe. The layer of grape skins pushed up to the surface by CO2 produced during fermentation is punched down every two hours around the clock so colour and flavour can be extracted from the skins.

To increase production of Kadette wines a new section of kuipes has been built, and because there are now too many kuipe for the punch-down teams to handle, robots move on tracks over Kadette's kuipes, lifting and pushing down steel plates at the end of poles.

Abrie Beeslaar got the idea after visiting Portugal's Douro Valley where some Port houses have introduced machines for treading grapes. Abrie got a South African company to manufacture a machine to his specifications.
Close up of automatic punch down tool

It uses the same pressure as if done manually,” Alet told me.
Winery worker shows us the tool he uses to manually push down the cap

Estate wines continue to have their cap pushed down manually by staff balanced on planks over the kuipie wielding what looks like a broom without bristles on a long handle. I've done this myself at Kanonkop, albeit for a very short time, and found it exhausting back breaking work.

We sleep for an hour,” said Alet, “then get up to do the next punch down.” When asked when she ate, she replied “April.”
Workers eye view of kuipe. After fermented wine is pumped out, workers will shovel remaining grape skins through opened metal doors onto trough below for pressing, and then clean the tanks

After fermentation is complete, Kanonkop's wines are put in barrel. All new for Estate wines, older wood for Kadette. “We buy 400 new French oak barrels each year, costing around 700 Euros each,” said Alet.

Entering the barrel cellar feels very cool after the 34C heat outside. “We have around 5,000 barrels here,” said Alet, “and maintain a temperature of 18C. Keeping it cool is our biggest use of energy but we've recently covered the roof with solar panels and that's halved our energy costs.”
Kadette capsules in machine on bottling line

As well as Kadette Pinotage, Kanonkop produce an Estate and a premium Black Label Pinotage.

Grapes for Black Label come from a single 60+ year old bush-vine block of less than 3 hectares growing on red soil located behind the winery. All our other Pinotage grows on decomposed granite,” said Alet. “We don't get much from this block, just 2-3 tons per hectare. After ageing in barrel we make a final barrel selection to choose the very best for Black Label.”

Kanonkop's range of seven wines are the pale pink Kadette Pinotage Rose, Kadette Pinotage and Kadette Cape Blend (Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Estate wines are Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paul Sauer (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) and the Black Label Pinotage.

Many thanks to Alet de Wet for taking time during harvest to show us around.

10 February 2018

2018 is Brilliant Year For Pinotage says Beyers Truter

2018 "looks like a brilliant year for Pinotage", it has great tannin structure, good fruit extracts, exceptional colour and flavour, says Beyers Truter, cellar master at Beyerskloof Winery and Chairman of the Pinotage Association,  

Kanonkop Estate winemaker Abrie Beeslaar said  it was heartening to see how Pinotage was handling the adverse weather conditions  showing how well it has adapted to the environment.

The ongoing drought affecting the winelands of South Africa has resulted in very challenging times for Pinotage producers in the Cape. Smaller berries, lighter bunches and lower yields will characterise the 2018 harvest. Generally volumes will be down but the quality of the grapes is very promising – exceptional even.

On the foothills of the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch, Kanonkop winemaker Abrie Beeslaar expected the smaller berries to impact on the tonnage by around 10%, but was excited about the flavours and colours being more concentrated.

André van Dyk, cellarmaster at Rooiberg in Robertson, suggested that the drop in production this year could be as much as 15%. And the Pinotage harvest will be later than usual, he said, with dwindling water resources having to be very carefully managed.

Kaapzicht cellarmaster Danie Steytler predicted that the dry-land, older vineyards in particular will probably yield much less in 2018. The team has observed a close-to-normal bunch count per vine in the Bottelary area of Stellenbosch, but concurred that the sizes of the bunches and berries were considerably smaller.

Beyers Truter of Beyerskloof reasoned that cool summer nights had contributed to the quality of the juices – great tannin structure, good fruit extracts, exceptional colour and flavour. “This looks like a brilliant year for Pinotage,” he enthused.

Beeslaar concluded that while the drought had made for challenging times, it was heartening to see how well the Pinotage vines were handling the adverse weather conditions – a true testament to how well this uniquely South African cultivar has adapted to the environment.

Source - The Pinotage Association

09 February 2018

Back from the Dead?

James Lawrence, writing for WineSearcher.com  is another Pinotage hater who has found now some that  "challenged all my bigotry about the grape."

Read his revelation here.

08 February 2018

Visiting De Waal Winery

To Devon Valley for a flying visit to De Waal Winery to pick up a bottle of Top of the Hill Pinotage, since my original intention to get one when I went on the monthly Top of the Hill vineyard Fun Walk was scuppered after its cancellation due to winery owner-winemaker and walk-leader Pieter De Waal's's injured knee.
Pieter De Waal

By chance Pieter De Waal was staffing the tasting room and happily his leg is recovering well, so next month's walk is likely to go ahead.

Pieter said the vintage was about 10 days behind because of the heat and drought, but he thought it would be good quality. 

He said the Top of the Hill vineyard -- which is the oldest in South Africa and therefore the world -- was expected to produce as much as last year, which isn't that much owing to the age of the vines. 

But he thinks next years vintage will suffer as the vines haven't stored resources from this year.
De Waal Winery

Pieter had found out more about his ancestor, the original De Waal, Jan,  who'd arrived in the Cape from The Netherlands in 1715. His first house was in Bree Street and his farm Schotzekloof in the Bo-Kaap. 

Pieter visited the original house and the current owner showed him a university students thesis of the history of the times, and Jan. Pieter then went to Jan's second house in Dorp Street but was turned away by an armed Police Officer who was guarding it. The house is now the home of a government minister. 

De Waal's second, of three Pinotages,  is C T De Waal, named in honour of the first man to make Pinotage wine. C T was a lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch with Professor Perold and when, in 1941, the was enough Pinotage grapes to make a barrel, Perold asked CT to do so.

So when one enjoys De Waal's Pinotages one is tasting history and tradition.
De Waal barrel cellar


07 February 2018

Pinotage Top 10 Comes to Port Elizabeth

Sam Venter, for the Port Elizabeth Herald, tasted the winners of the 2017 Pinotage Top 10.

I’d challenge any Pinotage- doubter not  to find a wine to love in the selection of 2017 winners, tasted late last year when Absa brought the 10 champions and their makers to Port Elizabeth for the first time in many years – and hopefully not the last.

It was a rare treat to taste and compare side-by-side how 10 different estates put their own stamp on the same cultivar, especially when each of the wines is considered a “best of the best”.

Read his full review here.