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


  1. Peter - a most interesting post. I love this story, especially the part where she pleads with the Bordeaux-only guy to make the Pinotage! A wonderful triumph.

  2. P.J. Geyer09:45

    Hi Peter - I truly am flattered that the Pinotage was received well. It was great working with Sheila. She has so much passion and enthusiasm. Well Sheila had to begg me for a bit to make Pinotage for her own label, but you can give any grape for a winemaker that works with his/her heart and the wine will be send out to the world with pride...it was still one of my babies in the cellar and i am proud of how it grew up... ingwewinepg@eject.co.za