19 April 2017

Ontario Joins Pinotage Family

Del Gatto Estates in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada made their first Pinotage vintage in 2014.
Pasquale (Pat) Del-Gatto is a fourth generation winemaker of Italian heritage, and with his family bought the 74 acre property in 2001. He researched potential vineyard locations in British Columbia, California and the Niagara region before choosing Prince Edward County as it compares in latitude and longitude to European wine regions. 

The estate is roughly 140 miles (225 km) east of Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The Del Gatto family started planting vines in 2002 and  now have 8 acres planted with nine hybrid varieties plus  Pinotage. 

They produce  small case lots of exclusive, premium quality white, rosé and red wines from their disease resistant and cold hardy vineyard, as well as an aged fortified port-style wine.
Pat Del-Gatto, Owner Winemaker
Pat Del-Gatto told me “We have about an acre of Pinotage, planted in 2011, in Waupoos clay loam soil, one of the more rare soil profiles in Prince Edward County.”

I asked Pat why he chose Pinotage. “About 30 years ago I was in
California,” he said, “and came across a Pinotage wine event presented by South African producers’ first launch in North America. I was so taken by the characteristics of the wine that it became a pursuit. 

When I started my vineyard/winery in 2002, I promised myself that I would find this vine and plant it. Finally in 2010 I sourced the bud wood and had a nursery make me young vines.

“They survive well in our climate but we do bury the vines in the fall and unbury in spring. This year we have no bud loss (though winter was somewhat mild). The yield is amazing and the skin is considerably tougher than Pinot and very little disease pressure.”

In the 2016 vintage, not yet released, they produced two barrels. The 2015 vintage is sold out.
Del Gatto Estates brings the number of Pinotage estates in Canada, that I am aware of, to four; the other three are in British Columbia on the West Coast.

Images courtesy of Del-Gatto Estates


14 April 2017

Robots March on Kanonkop

Kanonkop Estate is using robots to punch down caps. Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar tells me he was inspired by seeing mechanical ‘feet’ being used to tread grapes in the Douro when he visited Symington Family Estates’ Port Lodges.

The success of the Kadette range, which uses grapes brought in from outside the estate, has necessitated Kanonkop constructing more traditional kuipes – the low open rectangular fermentation tanks. Up to now the 2 hourly pushing down of the cap of grape skins forced up by fermentation has been done around the clock by teams of estate workers. But the additional tanks were more than they could manage. 
Kuipe at Kanonkop, the two robots are an the far end
The robots were designed by Abrie and constructed especially for Kanonkop. 

Robot above a kuipe
The machines move slowly on tracks above the kuipes while metal plates rise and fall, mimicking the actions of people pushing the cap down. The machines are being evaluated and Abrie says the Estate wines will continue to be manually punched down.
Above the robot, and the mechanism for raising and lowering the pushing  plates
Abrie says his machines haven’t been patented and he’s easy going about other estates copying them. 

Another robot working the 2017 Kanonkop vintage for the first time is an optical sorter.
Right to left: Optical Sorter, vibrating sorting table receiving grapes from destemmer
Bins of grapes are emptied into a hopper where they are destalked, they then pass along the first vibrating sorting table before dropping onto the high-speed belt of the optical sorter.

Grapes being emptied from bin on forklift into detstemmer

Grapes become  a blur when they drop onto the high-speed optical sorter belt

I visited Kanonkop in March 2017

Thanks to Heidi Kritzinger for her guided tour of the robots, tasting & etc.


06 April 2017

Pinotage in the City - Tasting

Tower of London and Tower Bridge from 23rd Floor

To the City to present a Pinotage tasting for Central London Wine Society held on the 23rd floor of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building with  fantastic views over London.

The wines were
1 Mellasat White Pinotage 2015 (WO Paarl)         
2 David & Nadia Pinotage 2014 (WO Sartland     
3 FRAM Pinotage 2012  (WO Citrusdel Mountain)        
4 Loma Prieta Karma Vineyard Pinotage 2012 (AVA Lodi, California)       
5 Beeslaar Pinotage 2013 (WO Stellenbosch)                 
6 LAvenir Estate Single Block 02 Pinotage  2014  (WO Stellenbosch)
7 Le Vin de Francois 2015  (WO 80% Stellenbosch, 10% Paarl 10% Bot River)
8 Kanonkop Estate Pinotage 2005 (WO Simonsberg Stellenbosch)

The tasting showed some of the many faces of Pinotage, from the  light bodies 12.5% abv David & Nadia to the almost 15% Vin de Francis.  


There are interesting connections between the last four wines. Beeslaar is owned and made by Abrie Beeslaar who is the winemaker at Kanonkop, which provided  one barrel to Francois Naudé for his Le Vin de Francois. Francois Naudé planted L’Avenir’s  Block 02 when he worked there as winemaker-viticulturist. That wine is dedicated to him and the vineyard supplied two barrels for Vin de Francois.

The practise at CLWS is for attendees to score each wine at the end before  prices are revealed.

There was no great difference in the average scores, but Le Vin de Francois was the clear winner, followed by Kanonkop and then L’Avenir.

I enjoyed them all, and was especially delighted by the fresh spiciness of L’Avenir’s Single Block 02 and the rich ripe body of Vin de Francois. 

My next scheduled Pinotage tastings are  

2 Jun 2017 7pm -  Pinotage: Soul of South Africa - North Ealing Wine Tasting Society (NEWTS), London, UK 
24 Oct 2017 -  Pinotage - South African Wine Society - Toronto, Canada.

HMS Belfast, warship launched 1936 now a museum, seen from the tasting room 


31 March 2017

WoTM Neethlingshof 2014

My Wine of the Month for March 2017 is Neethlingshof Pinotage 2014 which accompanied my Sunday roast a few days after returning from the Cape. Fresh in my memory was my visit to Neethlingshof the previous week where I enjoyed the youthful 2016 vintage with lunch and then a few days later had the 2015 with dinner.

Back home I found a couple of bottles of the 2014, a Top 10 winner in 2015. Winemaker De Wet Viljoen had told me that the 2014 was large and ready for early drinking, and this wine was à point.

Beautiful rich plumy flavours underpinned by soft tannins. Deliciously drinkable, and while perfect now it’ll continue to be great drinking for the next few years. I’m going to keep my remaining bottle for a special occasion.

Note the ‘Conservation in Action’ badge. I’d normally have cropped this but just before I left the Cape I had lunch with a local who brought along a couple of bottles both with the sticker. He said he only buys wines with the ‘Conservation in Action’ logo and explained his reasons.   


23 March 2017

Anthony Hamilton-Russell's Observations on Pinotage

As I fly home today after three weeks of enjoying superb Cape wines, many under labels I've never seen at home and brands I'd never even heard of previously I am reminded of Anthony Hamilton-Russell's long championing of Pinotage.

 Anthony Hamilton-Russell owns Southern Right Winery, (Pinotage and Sauvignon blanc specialists), Hamilton Russell Vineyards (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and Ashbourne (Pinotage and Sauvignon blanc/Chardonnay).

The following text comes from a PDF on the Southern Right web site.
Observations on Pinotage
Anthony Hamilton-Russell

Being “uniquely” South African is not enough to make Pinotage an attractive prospect for South African exporters. It is its South African origins combined with its ability to make great wine that make it an attractive prospect. 

I am convinced that the intrinsic qualities of Pinotage lend themselves to the making of great, age-worthy, origin expressive wine with a uniquely South African style and personality. 

I am also convinced that one day South Africa’s most internationally famous wine will be Pinotage based. 

The grape should not be blamed for much of the indifferent wine made from it. Imagine judging the quality potential of Cabernet only ever tasting mid to late-1980’s South African Cabernet. Luckily, every other variety we work with has an international benchmark somewhere to excuse the grape and point a finger at the producer or choice of site. 

As our wine industry internationalised, South African producers went from being over-confident on shaky foundations to lacking confidence on far firmer foundations. This lack of confidence has made far too many producers avoid anything that has not been successfully done by one of our international competitors. 

We run the risk of entrenching a “follower” mentality in the wine industry and being an industry of imitators not innovators. 

If we look at the top-end of our industry we are all too often essentially making South African imitations of somebody else’s wine styles. It is quite bizarre, that in South Africa, Rhonerangers are regarded as innovative. They have not even been the first to imitate the Rhone. 

Pinotage is the path of most resistance to Shiraz’s path of least resistance and it requires confidence and persistence to pursue this path. No international umbrella brand has been built through the efforts of others to trade on. 

I have generally found that wine-lovers with a confident and experienced palate, really respect great Pinotage – while inexperienced palates are reluctant to like something that has not been visibly and widely liked internationally – unless of course they don’t know what they are tasting. 

Pinotage as a variety still caries a “ball and chain” of associations with the old South African wine industry.  Many capable winemakers keen to be associated with all that is new and modern are reluctant to associate with the grape. 

It was a mistake to think that Pinotage could be South Africa’s signature red at all price points. I am increasingly convinced that it only really shines at the top-end, in the hands of focused boutique producers. Too few people are familiar with these wines and too many are familiar with high volume, hot climate, high yield lowend Pinotage. 

For far too many producers, Pinotage is an afterthought in a range of “international” reds. It is a difficult grape to grow and to vinify and unlike Shiraz in this country is highly site specific. It will punish a lack of physiological ripeness particularly hard (with esters and possible bitterness) and only really excels at low yields, while having a tendency to over-crop. It also does best with prolonged, expensive wood treatment. Those without focus and mental and financial commitment, will fail to excite with the variety. 

If more of our top producers, had the courage and confidence to put their backs into Pinotage (blended or otherwise) with more persistence, we would create a top-end sector of great interest to international consumers and of great value to the industry.  And we would finally have a top-end category not defined by its similarity to another country’s benchmarks. Producers working towards this are the innovators in the industry.


21 March 2017

Visiting Neethlingshof Estate

To Stellenbosch and Neethlingshof Estate.

Driving along its kilometre long avenue shaded by towering stone pine trees makes a grand entrance and brings to mind horse drawn carriages making the same journey in past centuries, since the estate was founded in 1692.

It takes its name from Johannes Henoch Neethling, who in 1828 became joint owner. Smartly dressed and active in the community he gained the nickname 'Lord' Neethling.
Neethingshof Manor House Restaurant

As usual, we'd booked lunch on the terrace of the grand Manor House which faces the winery, with a view of vineyards stretching behind.

I've long enjoyed Neethlingshof's Pinotages and this is a special year since Neethlingshof are the current holders of the Perold Trophy for Pinotage, awarded by the International Wine and Spirit Competition. (see here for my report on ceremony)

Before lunch I meet cellar master De Wet Viljoen, whom I saw last at the IWSC awards ceremony in London in November.
De Wet hold stalk with berry rejected by destalking/sorter

De Wet shows me through his cellar. He has a new destalking and sorting machine. In one operation it removes stalks and rejects unripe grapes and other unwanted material. “We'll be making big changes in the cellar,” says De Wet. “Come back next year!”
2017 Owl Post Pinotage undergoing malolactic fermentation  in barrel

Neethlingshof produces two Pinotages, both estate grown. 'Owl Post' is a premium barrel selection from the Owl Post single vineyard that is barrel fermented and aged for 12 to 14 months. The vineyard takes its name from the posts that encourage owls to perch on in the vineyard as pest control.
Barrel Cellar seen from Tasting Room

The standard Neethlingshof Pinotage is tank fermented then aged in barrels, about 40% are American oak and 20% are new.
2016 PG = Pinotage aging in Barrel Cellar

The trophy winning Neethlingshof 'Owl Post' Pinotage 2014 has sold out. “We had to claim back from our distributors,” says De Wet, “so we had some to sell from the Estate.”

De Wet says that 2014 vintage was large and is ready for earlier drinking, while 2015 suffered from draught at the start which produced smaller berries and better concentration.

We tasted Neethlingshof Pinotage 2016. This has a deep intense colour, but is tight with fruit, at this stage, in the background. “It's not a fruit bomb,” says De Wet, “but it's not dried out and not overly oaky.”

A couple of days later I found a shop selling the previous vintage. 2015 releases a tremendous smell on opening, and it's fruit is sweetly rich and delicious.

Neethlingshof 'Owl Post' Pinotage 2015 also has that Neethlingshof intensity of deep colour. It's spicy and silky with soft tannins that firm up on the finish.
De Wet Viljoen by artwork for Owl Post Pinotage

De Wet thinks it'll reach optimum drinking in 2019. He detects a firmness on the palate with bit of a bite at the back. “It should be in balance in a couple of years and then be ideal drinking for years afterwards.”

The restaurant had reworked its menu since last year and we shared a bottle of Neethlingshof Pinotage 2016 to accompany a delicious Bobotie with all the trimmings. Both a beef bobotie and lentil version are available. Opening up in the glass this quintessentially South African wine was a perfect match with the traditional South African food.