There was a real cannon on the grass, a red box marked ‘Danger - Explosives’ and a man with a smouldering fuse. We’re standing around, glasses in hand, offering jocular advice to the man with the fuse and a cannon loaded with gunpowder that refuses to light. It takes a couple of attempts before there is an incredibly loud explosion, a jet of smoke and shaking trees and we’re stunned to silence.
Inside the tasting room we find chairs and take glasses of Kadette 2005, followed by Pinotage 2004 and then Pinotage 06 from the barrel and 07 from the tanks. The 06 has sweet beautiful welcoming fruits - mulberry/blackberry with spices and coffee tones. Superb and stunning. From the the old vineyard, 3 tons per hectare, 16 months in 100% new French oak barrels. The 07 is just starting malolactic fermentation so it’s too early to form any judgement, but it has intense colour and bubblegum flavours and tonight we’ll go from this juice that is not yet a completed wine and taste back through the vintages to 1995.
Johann Krige, co-owner with brother Paul, has the job of welcoming us and introducing the event, which is an annual occasion for friends of Kanonkop. “This is an informal evening”, Johann tell us, “it is all done in house – there’s no catering firm” as he introduces his brother Paul who has the onerous task of running the braai , cooking the snook and feeding us all.
Wine maker Abrie Beeslaar (pictured right) speaks to us about winemaking at Kanonkop. “We try to capture the vintage – not make the same wine every year,” he says. Mentioning the 07 juice we have in our hands, he tells us that “this year we picked 3 tons a hectare from our 53 year old vines. We find that old vines give structure, good mouth-feel and tannins that you just don’t get with young fruit.”
Someone asks a question about whether they’ll be a ‘Reserve’ Kanonkop. Johann steps in to answer vehemently that there never will be. “Kanonkop wines are the best we make,” he states. “We only make the best. We don’t make second best wines.”
Then we are invited to visit two tasting stations in the cellars for verticals of Pinotage and Cabernet, to wander through the winery and to assist the cellar staff with the two hourly punch-downs of the cap of skins that form on the fermenting grapes in the open tanks, and not to forget the braai.
I first taste the Pinotages – tasting notes in Part 2 – then go to punch down the cap. (picture below) Now I have frequently seen this done. People stand on boards over the fermenting tanks with poles pushing down the hard skins so that they go back down in the juice and give up their colour and flavour. The workers have a good rhythm and it seems an easy task. Well, it is not. It is hard physical graft that pulls at ones muscles. The pole seems to get heavier by the moment and you must keep your balance on a swaying plank. And it must be done every two hours throughout t the day and night. So I didn’t last long at that. Are there any jobs in a winery that are easy? Picking grapes is back breaking…
It is now past midnight and, although many people have left, there are deep discussions going on and bottle after bottle of Kanonkop still circulating. Never mind tasting note scores – it’s the one you choose to drink when you have your choice of them all that is the real winner.
I won’t name names since they were talking in a social occasion, but one winemaker famous for his award winning Pinotages firmly stated that “South African wines that go past 10-15 years are past their best. But Pinotage is the exception. It changes in character. The wine itself stays intact but it develops into something really special. If you go beyond 10 years Pinotage knocks the socks off Cabernet – it needs to age.” And another winemaker agreed, saying “anyone can make a decent Shiraz, it is an easy simple grape that makes an easy simple wine, but to make decent Pinotage needs skill.”
Tasting notes follow in Part 2
Picture - Pitching in and Punching the Kanonkop Cap