31 May 2008

Decanter Trophy for Kanonkop

Kanonkop Pinotage 2004 won the Decanter 2008 World Wine Awards 2008 Trophy for 'South African Red Single Varietal Over £10' and Southern Right's 2006 Pinotage won the only Gold medal awarded to Pinotage. Another 36 Pinotages won awards (9 Silvers, 16 Bronzes, 11 Commendeds). Six Cape Blends won awards, 1 Bronze and 5 Commended. Kanonkop are also celebrating winning the Trophy for 'Red Bordeaux Varietals over £10'. Award details are here.

But the picture is not so bright over at the International Wine Challenge where 28 Pinotages gained Bronze and Commended awards, and a solitary Silver was won by Majors Hill 2006. Award details are here.

Congratulations to them all.

29 May 2008

Warwick Plants Worlds Most Advanced Pinotage Vineyard

Warwick Estate’s Cape Blend, Three Cape Ladies, accounts for a third of the estate’s sales.

That means, Mike Ratcliffe (pictured left in Warwick's 40 year old bush wine Pinotage vineyard) tells me, that Warwick are planting another 6 hectares of Pinotage in what will be “the world’s most advanced Pinotage vineyard.”

They’re planting at a density of 7,000 vines per hectare. “We’re taking vigour control to new heights", says Mike. “We need to get Pinotage to stop over producing and we’re doing it by natural competition. Vines will be competing against each other and cover crops. We’re aiming for 10 tons per hectare, which we think is optimal but goes against current thinking.”

Warwick uses high altitude photographs from satellites to monitor each vine, pressure tests on leaves to check on water take-up and the new vineyard will link these tools to a computer controlled drip irrigation system.

26 May 2008

Café Culture wins at Vinnordic

Congratulations to Café Culture – KWV’s coffee accented Pinotage –which has won the award for Best Red Wine in its price category at the Vinnordic Wine Challenge.

23 May 2008

Sunrise for Lathithá

Lathithá aims to “Get to my people”, those black South Africans, says Sheila Hlanjwa, (pictured right) who think “wine is not for us – it’s for those who are richer.”

Lathithá, pronounced ‘la-teet-aah, means ‘sunrise’ in the Xhosa language, signifying this new venture and celebrating the changing fortunes of black South Africans. Sheila Hlanjwa designed the Lathithá label and went into the vineyards to pick grapes for her wines. “I wanted to do all the jobs,” she told me. “I definitely wanted to make Pinotage, but the winemaker was horrified.” The vineyard near Helderberg was chosen for its terroir and the wines are made at Ingwe, the Stellenbosch winery owned by Bordeaux chateau owner Alain Mouiex. Winemaker PJ Geyer “begged me not to bring Pinotage grapes into his specialist Bordeaux cellar,” says Sheila, ”But I love Pinotage and so I insisted, and I assisted him make the wines.”

Sheila writes on Lathithá’s back label “The Xhosa culture plays a special role in the heritage of South Africa and the shaping of her people. The Pinotage cultivar is similarly extraordinary as it is unique to South Africa and was born and bred in this country. Pinotage is seen as the iconic wine of South Africa, much as Nelson Mandela is the icon of the Xhosa people. This draws a parallel with Pinotage, which was cultured through the marriage of Hermitage and Pinot Noir. The calm restful temperament of the Xhosa people is likened to the medium body and subtle flavours associated with Pinotage.”

I asked Sheila how Pinotage suited traditional African cooking. “Our food is heavier,” she replied, “and Pinotage matches it especially well.”

Lathithá Wines was formed in 2005 and 2007 was the first vintage produced. Sheila was showing her three wines --Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé and Pinotage -- at the London Wine Fair where she was hoping to find an UK agent. I asked James Yeo of Yeo & Co, an importer of top South African wines (Jean Daneel, Morgenster Estate, Cape Point Vineyards etc), to taste the Lathithá range . James’s firm favourite was the Pinotage which he said was “very good.”

Lathithá Pinotage 2007
WO Stellenbosch 14%abv

Very dark purple red glass-staining colour. The wine is soft and ripely fruity, with generous plump sweet blackberry flavours filling the mouth; it is backed by very soft tannins (the wine was fermented with staves in the tank, and aged in 2nd fill barrels), and has a good full bodied mouth feel with spices on the finish. PJ Greyer should be imploring Sheila to pick him more Pinotage

18 May 2008

Clos Malverne are Pressing On!

There was a big hole in front of Clos Malverne when I visited in February and a new dynamism about this venerable specialist Pinotage winery. The energy is supplied by Zaine Pritchard, nephew of owner Seymour Pritchard. Zaine has come to Clos Malverne with exciting ideas about marketing and making the winery a must-visit destination for the burgeoning wine tourism business. The hole is the foundation of a modern new visitor centre and offices. “We want people to be able to taste our wine in comfort and without pressure. They can spend the afternoon, buy a bottle if they want and have something to eat.”

But they’re not changing their winning traditional winemaking methods. As the Clos Malverne labels say, their wines are fermented in open tanks and basket pressed according to methods used in the Cape for over 300 years. And the first thing I saw as I walked towards the winery was an old basket press being emptied of the skins. A trickle of bright, almost fluorescent, purple juice meandered across the floor. Yes, it was Pinotage.

They've opened the traditional basket press in order to dig out the compacted skins now that all the juice has been extracted.

This vintage sees a new winemaker, Charl Coetzee join Clos Malverne. Charl previously worked with Pinotage expert Danie Steytler at Kaapzicht Estate. He says “My approach is not to change too much at first, but as soon as I found my feet. ….. ..”

Zaine, Charl, Seymour and I tasted the following wines:

Devonet 2006
Cape Blend
WO Stellenbosch 14%
This is a 50/50 blend of Pinotage and Merlot. It is deep red with a warm nose and rich silky ripe mouth feel. There are some firm tannins and bright acids on the finish which become quite dry and dusty. Seymour says “at 35R this is a low price wine for easy drinking” but it seemed pretty serious to me and would benefit from ageing – and a good steak.

Heron’s Nest 2006
WO Stellenbosch 14%
Heron’s Nest
is a 2nd label for export and this is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Pinotage blend. “It's very good wine at a very good price,” says Seymour. “It’s sold in Holland, Ireland, and Belgium, biggest brand by volume. The reason it is so successful it that it over delivers quality on price.” This has a lot lighter than the previous wine, with a sweet approach leading to soft gentle berry and redcurrant fruits. Very drinkable.

Clos Malverne
Pinotage Reserve 2006
WO Stellenbosch 14%
“Focus on the balance, rather than high alcohol,” says Seymour, “though we are working on getting to 13.5% by experimenting with our picking.” This wine stains the glass and the nose is a little hot. It tastes soft and feels quite light bodied at first, but there’s a nice meaty balance between fruit and tannins. Complex and youthfully attractive. Costs 85.95R

Clos Malverne
Pinotage 1997
WO Stellenbosch 13%
Eleven years old – there’s a little stink on the nose, the wine is fully mature and light bodied with restrained aged berry fruit flavours; a very pleasant wine. “We added 15% Merlot to soften the tannins,” Seymour said.

Clos Malverne
Pinotage Reserve 2003
WO Stellenbosch 14%
This was a Top 10 winner in 2006 and it was a worthy winner, with a delightful melange of smooth ripe berry fruits, a lick of banana, gently integrated tannins and reviving acids. Cracking good wine.

Clos Malverne
Auret Cape Blend 2001
Limited Release
WO Stellenbosch 14%
Auret is the flagship wine and takes its name from Seymour’s mother’s maiden name and Seymour’s middle name. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Pinotage blend with 15% Merlot. There’s soft ripe fruit on this nicely aged wine; sweet mulberry and blackberry, classily velvety smooth and elegant. It is a real bargain at between 100-125R, “We like to keep our prices competitive, ”Seymour told me.

Clos Malverne
Auret Cape
Blend 2005
Limited Release
WO Stellenbosch 14%
This is four years younger but is already really pleasantly soft and well balanced with good fruit over some gentle oak tannins. 145R

Zaine expects the new tasting room to be ready in mid-2008 so I will definitely be returning to see it on my next visit.

Fermenting tank at Clos Malverne

The old tasting room is at left, the winery is at at the end at the right

15 May 2008

Pinotage is Golden in California

Pinotage is the favourite South Africa wine with California consumers.

Nielsen figures show that Golden Kaan’s Pinotage is the top selling South Africa wine in Northern California grocery outlets*.

“When we first came into this market, people told us that selling South African wine would be near impossible, that Californians are too loyal to California wine,” says Erik Ran, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing. “After watching our sales numbers grow each month and seeing the Nielsen data with my own eyes, I’m proud to say we’ve proved those naysayers wrong.”

Golden Kaan was formed in 2003 and is a joint venture between Racke International, who market and sell the wine internationally, and South Africa’s KWV International, who produce the wine in Paarl.

Other Golden Kaan wines include Pinotage Rosé, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, all retailing around $10.

*Source: ACNielsen, Northern California Food, 26 weeks ending 12 Jan 08


13 May 2008


Shortly after arriving in the Cape I received the following email.

It may be that you come from the UK, in which case you have been denied theprivilege of tasting the pinotage of your life. This would be M'hudi pinotage and I should be glad to explain to you the reason for this deprivation.

The message was signed ‘Oupa’. I was intrigued, but the name M’Hudi was not unknown to me as Marks & Spencer in the UK stock a stunning M’Hudi Sauvignon Blanc.

It was difficult to arrange a visit to meet Oupa since not only was he in the middle of the harvest, but a TV camera crew was monopolising his time for a documentary programme. Oupa, meaning Grandpa, is the nickname of Diale Rangaka and I finally managed to meet him on his farm.

Oupa spent his life in Education, was a Dean of Humanities in the University of Mafikeng* then the Deputy Dean of Education before moving to Johannesburg as Principal of Soweto Campus, then University of Johannesburg. He’d also spent a winter at the University of Sussex in England, but dark cold British winters were a shock to his system. His wife Malmsey, who was working as a clinical psychologist, wanted to retire and Oupa had always dreamt of owning a farm. Under the old system black people couldn’t buy land but now the government was encouraging black farmers with beneficial loans. It wasn’t plain-sailing as Government departments didn’t work together, but finally Oupa and his wife were in position to look for a farm. After visiting a few they took possession in 2003 of a small rundown property growing guava and grape vines on the edge of the Stellenbosch region. “Maybe other buyers were discouraged by the squatters’ camp by our entrance,” Oupa said, “but they are just people. There are good people and bad people there, priests and workers….. I visited and talked with them.”

Managing Director Malmsey Rangaka (left) & Oupa in their vineyard

Oupa and Malmsey’s previous careers hadn’t prepared them for life as farmers. They knew nothing and were very much on their own. “Our farm workers left as they didn’t want to work for a black boss,” Oupa told me. So he researched the information he needed. “But everything we read came from Europe and North America in the northern hemisphere, we didn’t realise the seasons were different and so we were doing things like pruning at the wrong time of year.”

Oupa’s farm is on the same road as the Villiera winery. Villiera’s owner Jeff Grier and his wife called to introduce themselves and to welcome the Rangaka family to the neighbourhood. Simon Grier lives next to M’Hudi and passed every day on his way to the winery. “Simon would stop and ask “Why are you doing that?” laughs Oupa, “and he’d point out what needed to be done.” Oupa’s son Tsêliso went to learn winemaking at Villiera and the first M’Hudi wines were bottled and sold from Villiera’s tasting room.

Then Marks and Spencer came calling. They were interested having exclusive UK rights to M’Hudi wines and Oupa, knowing their reputation, agreed. “M&S helped us set up proper procedures for admin, worker health and safety and they helped us get WIETA accreditation. Since M&S have exclusivity they have kept M’Hudi’s attractive front labels, with just the M&S name overprinted.

Inspiration for M'Hudi's name came from Sol T Plaatje’s novel published in 1930, the first to be written in English by a black South African. M'hudi's story is one of courage, determination against seemingly impossible odds and the relentless pursuit of one's dreams and wishes. The label shows M’Hudi – derived from the Setswana word, Mohudi meaning Harvester – scattering seed on the ground while above her flares Halley’s comet. Oupa tells me the name can be pronounced either as M’-Hoodee or Moody.

So now to taste ‘the pinotage of your life’. “It was made at Villiera,” says Oupa, “from our grapes and some of Villiera’s. It spent 8 months or so in 2nd fill French oak barrels and was then rounded off in North American oak which has tamed the tannins. It is a value for money wine which costs 38.50R, and it’s a bloody good wine – probably as good as any 70R wine!”

M’Hudi Pinotage
2005 14.5%abv
WO Stellenbosch

Attractively soft and approachable, with generous plum and vanilla tones and some tannins on the finish. Good drinking, if not the Pinotage of my life, but give them a few years and who knows….

Oupa has great plans for his farm: a restaurant, accommodation, function room and a tasting room are in the future. But for the time being taste the M’Hudi range at Villiera. In the UK, Marks & Spencer stock M’Hudi Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc but not, unfortunately, their Pinotage.

*Oupa was most insistent that I used the correct spelling of the place the British know as Mafeking. Mafikeng means 'the place of stones' and Sol T Plaatje worked there as a magistrates' court interpretor and kept a diary during the famous siege.

09 May 2008

Interesting Flavour Comparison

Here's an interesting flavour comparison by Jeff Farance writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal

Golden Kaan offers a pinotage, the flagship wine of South Africa, for 10 bucks that also is medium-bodied, an attractive garnet, a very delicate nose of black berries, and dark fruit on the palate. The finish is lengthy. Those who like the lightness but forceful fruit of sangioveses (the grape of Chianti) are likely to find pinotage to their liking with hearty foods.

I can see where he's coming from on this, can you?

06 May 2008

Pinotage is "ultimate expression"

Quote of the month:

"If the focus of the winery is to delve in Burgundy and Rhone style grapes then I think the ultimate expression of that is to have Pinotage in the flavor mix. This coming spring we’ll release our first Pinotage".

Phil Crews, owner of Pelican Ranch Winery in Santa Cruz, California, interviewed by Ken Payton at Reign of Terroir

01 May 2008

A Pleasant Reunion at Fairview

Fairview Winery must be on the ‘must-see’ list of every visitor to the Cape with the international fame of the Goats do Roam family of wines and Fairview Cheeses, and the place keeps expanding to cater for them all. Car parks have replaced vineyards, the small tasting counter is now a grand tasting hall and this year there is a new restaurant bistro offering a full meal service in addition to the cheese tasting counter.

Owner Charles Back is one of the Capes most innovative wine producers and I popped in to see what was happening. As wandered into the tasting room a door opened, a young woman stepped out and cried out my name. I don’t know who was more astonished. Anita Streicher and I had last seen each other several years ago when we were working together teaching classes for the Cape Wine Academy in London. I knew she’d returned home to South Africa to work for Makro’s wine department in Johannesburg as I received her informative Makro newsletters.

Now here she was at Fairview in charge of the newly opened Beryl Back Room. This is a separate room where visitors can take their time and enjoy a personalised seated, tutored tasting of wines paired with Fairview cheeses, away from the hubbub of the main tasting room. The room named after Charles Back’s late mother and is furnished with a selection of antique and unique furniture collected by the Backs during their travels.

I couldn’t leave without experiencing the room, but I had been tasting wine all day so, much to Anita’s disappointment, I asked to taste just the following wines.

Fairview Pinotage 2007
WO Coastal 14.5%abv

Upfront soft berry fruits , with some firmness on the mid palate and bright spices on the finish. Anita told me the wine had been aged 10 months in French and American
oak barrels so it must have been just bottled and I think with a little bottle age
it could be a cracker. Cellar door price 50R

Fairview Pinotage/Viognier 2006
WO Coastal 14.5%abv

Fairview were the first to co-ferment Pinotage with a little Viognier, there’s 4% Viognier in this and that adds a lot. The wine is richly coloured and tastes invitingly soft and ripe with aromatic medium bodied fruits. Anita tells me this wine is very popular in Sweden. Cellar door price 60R

Spice Route Pinotage 2006
WO Swartland 15%abv

A lovely wine, smooth, ripe and spicy with blackberry flavours and a sweet medium length finish. Cellar door price 80R

Fairview Primo Pinotage 2003
WO Paarl 15%abv

A single vineyard, now with some age on it, and it is very very good. Beautiful balance, sweet ripe and spicy with plum and berry fruits. A snip at the cellar door price of 110R

My partner was tasting her own choices and had become enamoured of a sweet Special Late Harvest Viognier so when Anita told her it was only available at the winery she ordered a case for home delivery. And two weeks later a courier was knocking at our door with a sweet reminder of our visit.

When you next visit Fairview it is well worth upgrading to the comfort of the seated tasting in the Beryl Back room. And do please give my regards to Anita.