23 December 2007

Pinotage Club Celebrates 10th Anniversary

The Pinotage Club is 10 years old. We went live on the web in December 1997.

As the original site said “The beginnings of The Pinotage Club date back to early 1997 when the subject of conversation of a group of business travellers working in Cape Town turned to wine. The group felt that the South African wine industry was not capitalising on its one unique asset – Pinotage -- that Pinotage was underrated in its own home, that diversity of wines was to be encouraged and that Pinotage needed a 'fan club'. Forming such a club presented problems when those present lived in different countries and travelled frequently. But as the wine flowed the solution became apparent. We could keep in communication by e-mail and our club could exist in cyber-space on the world wide web. It was agreed that it would be a very informal club. Details of Pinotages tasted, availability etc would be e-mailed to each other.”

In retrospect it was an unfortunate choice of a name since, as later became clear, in the United States wine ‘clubs’ are commercial organisations selling wines by subscription. But we felt that our championship of this variety which seemed to have few friends in its own country and many enemies outside made us members of a select group.

After three years of being a lone voice promoting Pinotage on the web, the official producers Pinotage Association launched an impressive web site at www.pinotage.co.za. The increasing wealth of detailed information on that professionally run site and the increasing overhead of maintaining the Pinotage Club’s GeoCities web-site led to the migration in 2006 to this blog format. Here news items of interest to Pinotage lovers could be quickly published.

Our fourth newsletter, in 1998, quoted wine-writer Tom Stevenson who "felt all the fuss about Pinotage was a waste of time” and that “if it were a worthwhile grape it would be grown in abundance around the world but it still remains an exclusively South African wine." We agreed it is a valid observation that for the variety to be considered successful, it must surely be adopted by other countries. We soon found that Stevenson was wrong in saying it was exclusive to SA since Pinotage wine was being made in New Zealand where it had been grown since the 1960’s. And Zimbabwe’s two wineries both made Pinotage. Further spread of the variety had been halted by international sanctions against South Africa during apartheid years, although some cuttings had managed to travel in visitor’s suitcases.

The Pinotage Club has since researched and tracked down Pinotage vineyards around the world. Over the past decade we broke news of Pinotage in three US states, two Canadian provinces, plus Israel and Brazil. And in a blind tasting of Pinotage from around the world held in the Cape in 2001 local winemakers in the Cape were stunned when Babich Winemaker’s Reserve 1999 Pinotage from New Zealand was revealed as the favourite.

And if Pinotage no longer “remains an exclusively South African wine," what of South African Pinotage? There is no doubt that there is better Pinotage now being made in the Cape. Much of the thanks for this must go to The Pinotage Association for its research into factors affecting growing and vinifying Pinotage. But enthusiastic winemakers who have treated the variety seriously played a major part, and brands such a Stormhoek have done a great service in introducing easy-drinking fruit-led Pinotages to new drinkers and there is a generation of wine drinkers for whom Pinotage is just another variety, without any of the negative connections felt by many older drinkers.

It is interesting to see how versatile Pinotage is; pink Pinotages assuaged the recent increase in popularity for rosé wines. Co-fermentation with Viognier was pioneered by Fairview, Laborie Estate brought out dessert Pinotage fortified with Pinotage brandy, Sylvanvale released an Amarone style wine made from grape bunches dried on the vine, Graham Beck made the first Methode Champenoise red Pinotage and Simonsig had great success with their Methode Champenoise pink Pinotage. Diemersfontein created a cult with their coffee and chocolate Pinotage and Stormhoek and Froze created pinks meant to be served over ice.

Year after year more wineries compete in the annual Pinotage Top 10 Competition. Kanonkop and L’Avenir Estates currently hold the record for the most wins, with seven each, but every year more new names gain the coveted trophy and the quality barrier keeps being lifted. This year the Pinotage Association opened the competition to international entries.

When we started the Pinotage Club, it seemed possible that the variety could vanish. Now the future seems bright.

Here’s to the next 10 years.

Highlights from the past 10 years

1997 – Pinotage Club formed, website goes live December.
- First Pinotage Top 10 Competition held; there were 34 entries.

1998 – Pinotage Club described as 'Passionate about Pinotage' by the South African newspaper The Dispatch.
- First California Pinotage confirmed and bottle obtained. Pinotage confirmed in New Zealand

1999 – First sparkling red Pinotage made by Graham Beck.
- Newsletter publishes several Pinotage recipes, including Warwick Estates Pinotage Ice-Cream.

2000 – Severe fires in the Cape hit several vineyards.
- Warwick releases Three Cape Ladies Cape Blend an “intrinsic Cape statement of a trio of varietals which together express the Capeness of South African red wine”.
- New Zealand doubles Pinotage production.

2001 – Pinotage confirmed in Brazil and Virginia.
- International Pinotage blind tasting held in the Cape with four SA wines and 6 from New Zealand, California, Brazil and Zimbabwe. NZ wins.
- Pinotage tasting in Toronto presented by Pinotage Clubs Peter May
- Pinotage Association launch website

2002 – Pinotage Club presents five Pinotage tastings in London and Glasgow - 2000 & 2001 Pinotage Top 10, Kanonkop vertical, International Pinotage and ‘Back to Back’ - Pinotages from cousins Michael (Backsberg) Back & Charles (Fairview/Spice Route) Back.

2003 – More Pinotage tastings in Cape Town (with WineCellar) and London.
- Pinotage planted in India.
- Pinotage Club guest hosts a Pinotage 101 at www.wldg.com.
- Descriptions for Pinotage Aroma wheel requested.
- Wilderer’s Distillery makes Pinotage Grappa.
- Pinotage discovered in New York State.
- Pinotage Club trains staff at London’s Vinopolis wine experience with a tasting of different Pinotage styles.

2004 – Pinotage Club held Pinotage Top 10 from 2002 tasting in London.
- Bellevue Estate held a 50th birthday party for their Pinotage vineyards. Pinotage planted in Ontario.
- Barkan Winery invites critics to a tasting where they unveil Israel’s first Pinotage.
- Delheim co-operate with a Canadian winemaker to make a pink Pinotage.
- SA WINE magazine drops its annual Pinotage Champion competition.
- Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2001, containing 40% Pinotage, wins International Trophy for the Best Red Blend in the 2004 International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC).
- Peter May made honorary member of Pinotage Association and judges at the Pinotage Top 10 Competition
- Pinotage aroma wheel released, designed by Dr Johann Marais for the Pinotage Association.

2005 - 'California Wine and Food Magazine' reports local Pinotage is "clearly superior" after tasting 12 California Pinotages from 10 wineries along with 7 from South Africa and 3 from New Zealand.
- Peter May judges at Pinotage Top 10

2006 – Stables release the first South African Pinotage from outside the Cape ; it comes from the new KwaZulu-Natal Wine of Origin region.
- Pinotage Club moves website to a blog format. First entry shows Pinotage Club’s Peter May harvesting Ontario’s first Pinotage vintage.Peter May harvesting Ontario's very first Pinotage

2007 – Beyerskloof produce a million bottles of their standard Pinotage, open new restaurant and wine tasting cellar, and toast it with their new sparkling pink Pinotage.
-Three Virginia wineries release their first Pinotage varietals
- Meerendal take advantage of change in Wine Of Origin system to register a single vineyard block Pinotage- ‘The Heritage Block’ - planted in 1955
- WineLibraryTV.com’s Gary Vaynerchuck raves about Kanonkop
- Pinotage confirmed in Cyprus


  1. congratulations - and heres to another 10.

  2. Anonymous13:36

    congratulations pete - some fine achievements indeed.

  3. Anonymous19:21

    Well Done Peter - Congratulationz on your first decade. As Andrew said, "Here's to another 10".

  4. Congratulations to an incredible achievement. Your site is very well written, informative and fun. Keep up the terrific work!

  5. Anonymous23:22

    Congratulations! I am an advocate of this great varietal that I have helped to make over the last few years. Keep up the good work- I know how hard it can be to stand by something that the 'critics' may not appreciate yet.
    Cheers to the New Year!