14 February 2018

Visiting Kanonkop Estate


To Kanonkop with Eleanor Cosman of Toronto's South African Wine Society.

It's vintage and a critical time to judge exactly when grapes should be picked. Cellarmaster Abrie Beeslaar is out in the vineyards making those tough decisions and asked his assistant Alet De Wet who is managing the winery today to show us around.
Alet de Wet, Kanonkop Winemaker

The first Pinotage is arriving from contracted farms in bins on the back of lorries. Alet tells us that there are 30 growers in Stellenbosch from whom Kanonkop buy grapes. Today's grapes are coming from three of those farms. Bought in grapes are for the Kadette range, both varietal Pinotage and the Cape Blend.

For the flagship Estate wines, production is limited to what can be grown on the Esate. Kanonkop have one of the world's oldest Pinotage vineyards and at over 60 years the old bushvines are producing less each year.

The Kadette label was originally used for wine from young vines and barrels that didn't meet the Estate standards. But demand for the keenly priced Kadette range keeps expanding and is now met by buying in grapes from neighbouring farms.

Co-owner Johan Kriger told me that orders for Kadette is fast increasing. Currently around 2,000 tons of grapes are sourced for Kadette and the estate grows around 500 tons.
Grape bins are emptied into destalker

The bins are unloaded from the lorries by a forklift truck which then upends each one in turn into the bin of a destalking machine.

The grape bunches look glowing with health and vitality and taste sweet, even though the Cape is going through the third year of the severest drought in memory.
Just picked Pinotage arrives at Kanonkop

But many of these grapes will end up as compost because they do not meet Kanonkop's exacting quality standards.
From de-stalker on left grapes are emptied onto sorting table

After de-stalking the grapes empty onto a perforated shaking sorting table. Grapes which are too small, not developed or unformed plus twigs and other MOG (material other than grapes) fall through the holes to the reject bin.
Sorting table (left) empties onto belt of optical sorter (right)

Those that pass the sorting table cascade onto the fast moving belt of the optical sorter. This mega-expensive machine, one of only three such machines in South Africa, can handle 20 tons per hour and compares each grape against a template defining acceptable colour, size and whatever is programmed into its memory. Only those berries which pass this hypercritical individual examination make it through.
Fast changing monitor on sorting machine

There's a large bin full of berries that look good to me, but these are the rejects. At some wineries these will in turn go through a second pass of the sorter reset to lower standards for use in a second or third label wines.

But not at Kanonkop. The next stop for these rejects is a compost heap.
Alet de Wet shows us  the grapes that made it through the optical sorter. These go directly to fermenting tanks


The berries that make it through the two selections are pumped directly into the open fermentation tanks, known in the Cape as kuipes.

Alet informs us that each kuipe can hold between 8 and 10 tons of grapes, which would produce around 10,000 litres of wine.
Fermenting tank of Pinotage with robot push down machine above

Pinotage is inoculated with yeast and fermentation takes around three days kept at at 28C by means of chilled water being pumped through a radiator in each kuipe. The layer of grape skins pushed up to the surface by CO2 produced during fermentation is punched down every two hours around the clock so colour and flavour can be extracted from the skins.

To increase production of Kadette wines a new section of kuipes has been built, and because there are now too many kuipe for the punch-down teams to handle, robots move on tracks over Kadette's kuipes, lifting and pushing down steel plates at the end of poles.

Abrie Beeslaar got the idea after visiting Portugal's Douro Valley where some Port houses have introduced machines for treading grapes. Abrie got a South African company to manufacture a machine to his specifications.
Close up of automatic punch down tool

It uses the same pressure as if done manually,” Alet told me.
Winery worker shows us the tool he uses to manually push down the cap

Estate wines continue to have their cap pushed down manually by staff balanced on planks over the kuipie wielding what looks like a broom without bristles on a long handle. I've done this myself at Kanonkop, albeit for a very short time, and found it exhausting back breaking work.

We sleep for an hour,” said Alet, “then get up to do the next punch down.” When asked when she ate, she replied “April.”
Workers eye view of kuipe. After fermented wine is pumped out, workers will shovel remaining grape skins through opened metal doors onto trough below for pressing, and then clean the tanks

After fermentation is complete, Kanonkop's wines are put in barrel. All new for Estate wines, older wood for Kadette. “We buy 400 new French oak barrels each year, costing around 700 Euros each,” said Alet.

Entering the barrel cellar feels very cool after the 34C heat outside. “We have around 5,000 barrels here,” said Alet, “and maintain a temperature of 18C. Keeping it cool is our biggest use of energy but we've recently covered the roof with solar panels and that's halved our energy costs.”
Kadette capsules in machine on bottling line

As well as Kadette Pinotage, Kanonkop produce an Estate and a premium Black Label Pinotage.

Grapes for Black Label come from a single 60+ year old bush-vine block of less than 3 hectares growing on red soil located behind the winery. All our other Pinotage grows on decomposed granite,” said Alet. “We don't get much from this block, just 2-3 tons per hectare. After ageing in barrel we make a final barrel selection to choose the very best for Black Label.”


Kanonkop's range of seven wines are the pale pink Kadette Pinotage Rose, Kadette Pinotage and Kadette Cape Blend (Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Estate wines are Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paul Sauer (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) and the Black Label Pinotage.

Many thanks to Alet de Wet for taking time during harvest to show us around.

10 February 2018

2018 is Brilliant Year For Pinotage says Beyers Truter

2018 "looks like a brilliant year for Pinotage", it has great tannin structure, good fruit extracts, exceptional colour and flavour, says Beyers Truter, cellar master at Beyerskloof Winery and Chairman of the Pinotage Association,  

Kanonkop Estate winemaker Abrie Beeslaar said  it was heartening to see how Pinotage was handling the adverse weather conditions  showing how well it has adapted to the environment.

The ongoing drought affecting the winelands of South Africa has resulted in very challenging times for Pinotage producers in the Cape. Smaller berries, lighter bunches and lower yields will characterise the 2018 harvest. Generally volumes will be down but the quality of the grapes is very promising – exceptional even.

On the foothills of the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch, Kanonkop winemaker Abrie Beeslaar expected the smaller berries to impact on the tonnage by around 10%, but was excited about the flavours and colours being more concentrated.

André van Dyk, cellarmaster at Rooiberg in Robertson, suggested that the drop in production this year could be as much as 15%. And the Pinotage harvest will be later than usual, he said, with dwindling water resources having to be very carefully managed.

Kaapzicht cellarmaster Danie Steytler predicted that the dry-land, older vineyards in particular will probably yield much less in 2018. The team has observed a close-to-normal bunch count per vine in the Bottelary area of Stellenbosch, but concurred that the sizes of the bunches and berries were considerably smaller.

Beyers Truter of Beyerskloof reasoned that cool summer nights had contributed to the quality of the juices – great tannin structure, good fruit extracts, exceptional colour and flavour. “This looks like a brilliant year for Pinotage,” he enthused.

Beeslaar concluded that while the drought had made for challenging times, it was heartening to see how well the Pinotage vines were handling the adverse weather conditions – a true testament to how well this uniquely South African cultivar has adapted to the environment.

Source - The Pinotage Association

09 February 2018

Back from the Dead?

James Lawrence, writing for WineSearcher.com  is another Pinotage hater who has found now some that  "challenged all my bigotry about the grape."

Read his revelation here.

08 February 2018

Visiting De Waal Winery

To Devon Valley for a flying visit to De Waal Winery to pick up a bottle of Top of the Hill Pinotage, since my original intention to get one when I went on the monthly Top of the Hill vineyard Fun Walk was scuppered after its cancellation due to winery owner-winemaker and walk-leader Pieter De Waal's's injured knee.
Pieter De Waal

By chance Pieter De Waal was staffing the tasting room and happily his leg is recovering well, so next month's walk is likely to go ahead.

Pieter said the vintage was about 10 days behind because of the heat and drought, but he thought it would be good quality. 

He said the Top of the Hill vineyard -- which is the oldest in South Africa and therefore the world -- was expected to produce as much as last year, which isn't that much owing to the age of the vines. 

But he thinks next years vintage will suffer as the vines haven't stored resources from this year.
De Waal Winery

Pieter had found out more about his ancestor, the original De Waal, Jan,  who'd arrived in the Cape from The Netherlands in 1715. His first house was in Bree Street and his farm Schotzekloof in the Bo-Kaap. 

Pieter visited the original house and the current owner showed him a university students thesis of the history of the times, and Jan. Pieter then went to Jan's second house in Dorp Street but was turned away by an armed Police Officer who was guarding it. The house is now the home of a government minister. 

De Waal's second, of three Pinotages,  is C T De Waal, named in honour of the first man to make Pinotage wine. C T was a lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch with Professor Perold and when, in 1941, the was enough Pinotage grapes to make a barrel, Perold asked CT to do so.

So when one enjoys De Waal's Pinotages one is tasting history and tradition.
De Waal barrel cellar

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07 February 2018

Pinotage Top 10 Comes to Port Elizabeth

Sam Venter, for the Port Elizabeth Herald, tasted the winners of the 2017 Pinotage Top 10.

I’d challenge any Pinotage- doubter not  to find a wine to love in the selection of 2017 winners, tasted late last year when Absa brought the 10 champions and their makers to Port Elizabeth for the first time in many years – and hopefully not the last.


It was a rare treat to taste and compare side-by-side how 10 different estates put their own stamp on the same cultivar, especially when each of the wines is considered a “best of the best”.

Read his full review here.

02 February 2018

Visit to Meerendal Estate and the Pinotage Heritage Block

To Durbanville, a pretty rural hilly region north of and close to Cape Town, known for its stunning hill grown cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc and classy Pinotage.


Meerendal Estate has the third oldest Pinotage vineyard in the Cape – and thus the world. These six hectares of gnarled bush vines growing on red clay were planted in 1955.

I went to meet winemaker and viticulturist Liza Goodwin and Benny Howard CWM, to update myself on what's been happening since I visited ten years ago, to taste current offerings and to visit the old Pinotage block.

There have been a lot of changes, and I found the tasting room behind the new Carlucci's coffee shop and deli. The tasting room walls were covered in paintings from an artist who will be designing a new Meerendal label.

Liza Goodwin
Liza Goodwin has been Meerendal's winemaker since 1998 so she has a detailed in-depth knowledge of the Estate's terroir and cultivars, but she is not stuck in the past and is working with new wines and experimental bottlings.

We started with 2017 Sauvignon Blanc - “to wash out our mouths”, joked Bennie. Liza says that Durbanville savvie benefits from ageing, and that after five years it becomes something special and she finds it frustrating that the local market wants to drink only the youngest vintage. Her Sauvignon Blanc spends five months on its lees and “after a year develops complex green grassy tones.” 

This was an attractive wine, dry yet full bodied enough to give an impression of sweetness. Closed with a screw cap.

Meerendal Estate Pinotage 2015
WO Cape Town



This comes from a 9.3ha vineyard planted in 1999. It's trellised and dry-farmed, meaning it is not irrigated. It's more productive than the old block producing larger berries and 12-15 tons per hectare. The wine spends a maximum of 12 months in 50/50 new and second fill French oak barrels. “I'm not a great fan of wood,” said Lisa. “I don't want to taste a forest. When you've got great fruit, why cover it with wood? 

And there is great fruit, raspberries and strawberries, in an elegant wine showing its pinot heritage.

Bennie points out that 2015 is the first vintage to be labelled with the new Wine of Origin Cape Town. It's thought this appellation name will have greater international appeal than the previously used smaller areas including Durbanville. (Other appellations now in WO Cape Town are Constantia, Philadelphia and Hout Bay which are all within 35 kilometres of the centre of Cape Town. Some 30 wineries will use WO Cape Town.)

Meerendal Estate 'Heritage Block' Pinotage 2015
WO Cape Town

This came from the old dry-farmed bush vine block planted in 1955. The previous vintage release was 2010. Liza said that there wasn't enough local demand for the prestige single block bottling every year so from 2011 to 2014 its fruit had gone into the standard bottling.

This had been aged for 24 months in all new small French oak barrels, and bottled in June 2017. “The berries were very small and the fruit is strong enough to carry the wood,” said Liza.

The wine had just been opened and was very tight . “It should be decanted an hour before drinking,” said Lisa. She expected the optimum drinking time to start in 2020 though it would be good drinking for many years afterwards. I could taste the power of restrained fruit waiting for time to reveal them and it rewarded with a long lingering finish. This is definitely a wine that would pay keeping, whereas the 'standard' Pinotage from the large trellised block will, without doubt, age and develop, it was much more ready to drink now.

Meerendal Pinotage Rosé 2017
WO Coastal

Very pale pink wine, that seems quite sweet after the previous wines. “Only two hours skin contact”, said Liza. “Then I treat it like a white wine. It's cold fermented and then I add some grape concentrate to push up sugar level to 10 grams per litre.  We always try to keep the alcohol at between 12.5 and 13%, but this vintage we ended up with 14%.” 

The Rosé is made for the German market, where such is its popularity 35,000 bottles are sent annually.

We did tests to find what optimum sweetness was wanted. At 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 grams per litre of residual sugar they shook their heads. At 10gL they said 'yes, please!'”

The wine is not distributed locally, though 5,000 bottles are sold in Meerendal's two restaurants. The fruit comes from outside the estate.

Chilled, the attractively coloured pale wine is a real crowd pleaser with its sweetness and fresh fruity-gum flavours.



Meerendal Estate 'Intensio' Pinotage 2015
WO Durbanville


A heavy statement deep-punted bottle with wax capsule holds this Amarone style wine. One third of bunches are harvested at 25 brix to hang in nets in the cellar until they dry out to 30 brix. The remaining two-thirds of bunches have their stems twisted at 24 brix so the berries dry on the vine and are harvested when they reach 30 brix.

The grapes on the vine dry much faster than those in the nets,” said Liza. Then they are separately fermented before being blended together. The raisining of the grapes leaves 6gl residual sugar.

This is a very labour intensive wine,” said Bennie. “Not only in the vineyard twisting stems, and winery drying grapes in nets, but every bottle is dipped by hand into wax to make the capsule.”

This was a dense and luscious wine that over time opened out even more and grew more silky and richer with lots of dense black plum fruit flavours. I loved this.

Intensio all goes to a German company who market it, hence the USA Surgeon General's message and US importer's address on this bottle's back label

From the cellar Bennie magicked up
Meerendal Estate Pinotage 1995
WO Durbanville

Yes, 23 years old and yet sprightly. There is a slight browning on the rim and a whiff of age that soon clears. Then an upfront sweetness on the palate. It was deliciously soft and ripe with a beautiful spiciness.

“This is one of the wines made when we were in partnership with the Bergkelder,” said Bennie. “We get emails from around the world from people who have opened an old Meerendal Pinotage and want to tell us how great it is.” And moments later Bennie's mobile rang with a call from Beyers Truter who was in Switzerland tasting a 1969 Meerendal Pinotage which was 'very much alive with good fruit and tannins, an excellent wine.'

New at Meerendal is a distillery from which Liza brought a sample drawn from cask of a golden brandy. “2017 is the first year we've made brandy from Pinotage,” she said. “It's a trial. I've added water to this to bring it down to about 43% abv.” It smelled powerfully alcoholic and was a work in progress.

I wanted to visit the old Pinotage block and Estate Manager Matt Zoutendyk kindly drove Liza and me there in his farm bakkie.
350 Pinotage bush vines planted for the Cape's 350th anniversary of wine making.

We passed a small vineyard of 350 bush vines planted in 2009 to celebrate South Africa's 350th anniversary of wine making. The vines were all cloned from the 1955 block and each one was planted by a personality and has their name on it. “Mine is Number 5,” Liza told me. “We hope to make wine from it and present a bottle to each of the 350 people.” 

The old block is planted on red clay on a high slope that gets strong breezes from the Atlantic ocean, visible over the crest. The vine trunks are thick, gnarled and grey, their leaves vivid green against the red soil and deep clear blue sky. 
Pinotage vine planted in 1955

To my eyes there are impressively large bunches of  purple grapes, but Liza is not so happy. “We have some millerandage because of strong winds at flowering time,” she remarks. Millerandage, where flowers are not fertilised, results in small seedless berries.

She dives through some leaves and lifts a bunch in the palm of her hand. “See how there's uneven ripening.” She points to some green and pale red berries among the tightly bunched purple berries. 

“And these ones...” She picks a berry from a vine at the end of a row that has lost its leaves and chews on it. “It's raisined.” These berries are drying, their skin wrinkled. The vineyard will need to be picked carefully and the berries sorted and selected. 
The Heritage Block, 6 ha planted in 1955, was Meerendals third Pinotage planting.
The first two vineyards, planted in 1953 and 1954  became diseased were removed some time ago.

But there are plenty of healthy bunches and I reckon, though the harvest may be smaller than usual, this year's crop will make an excellent quality wine,
Short video in Heritage Block with Cellarmaster and Viticulturist Liza Goodwin and Estate Manager Matt Zoutendyk

It is a pleasure to stand here surrounded by old vines, the warmth of the bright sun in a clear sky refreshed by cool breezes. Matt drives us a short way up the hill past more recent trellised vineyards 'till we can see the sea, and then we head back down to the winery complex to lunch in Meerendal's Crown Restaurant
The Crown is one of two restaurants at Meerendal

Bennie has brought the opened 1995 Pinotage from the tasting room which pairs beautifully with my 'Gourmet Burger' with scrumptious hand-cut fried potato wedges.

Lovely generously meaty burger taste homemade and crisp large wedges make a perfect Pinotage match.
Have I found wine lands best burger?

Meerendal combine history and tradition with forward thinking and transition. I mustn't leave it so long before I return. I can't wait to see what they do next.

I am most impressed by their Wine Academy which gives anyone, for a modest fee, the opportunity to spend a week in Meerendal's vineyard and winery at vintage time covering all aspect of wine making under the care of cellar master Liza Goodwin combined with classroom tuition and tastings by Cape Wine Master Bennie Howard to gain the coveted industry qualification, the Cape Wine Academy certificate. 

Meerendal first Pinotage vineyard was planted in 1953


Many thanks to Liza Goodwin, Bennie Howard and to European Sales Manager Siobhan Hughes for arranging my visit.

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