09 March 2019

Oldest Pinotage Vineyard Walk


One Saturday each month in summer winery owner Pieter De Waal leads an amble upwards through his vines to The Top of The Hill vineyard. There, under the shade of an old wild fig tree he uncorks and pours a bottle of the wine made from that old vineyard.

There is now just half a hectare of these 70 year old bush vines that produce 2 – 2.5 tons a of grapes a year, yielding fewer than 3,000 bottles.

The Top of The Hill is the world’s oldest Pinotage vineyard. The wine is aged around 18 months in new French oak barriques and is the estate’s flagship wine. Two other Pinotages are produced, De Waal Pinotage, a surprisingly enjoyable quaffable wine and the more serious new oak-aged De Waal ‘C T De Waal’ Pinotage.

The latter honours Charl Theron de Waal who not only made the very first Pinotage wine in 1941, but encouraged his father and grandfather to plant the new variety on the family farm. Unwilling to pull up any established vines, space was found on an otherwise unwanted flat area of sandy soil near the top of the hill, above the reservoir. This poor soil turned out to perfectly suit Pinotage.

Charl Theron De Waal was a lecturer on winemaking at Elsenburg agricultural college.  By 1941 enough Pinotage vines had been propagated to produce a barrel of wine and De Waal made it at Welgevellen’s experimental winery and in later years at Elsenburg.

I’d booked for the vineyard walk the previous year but it was cancelled after Pieter had an accident. This March’s was the last walk of the summer. 

In total eight of us walked with Pieter who took care to make frequent stops to explain the history of the family and this farm which dates from 1682.

While the dirt tracks are uneven, the walk was easy and at the top Pieter had set out chairs under the shade of the tree where water, and a generous pour of Top of The Hill Pinotage 2015 were waiting.

Back at the winery a cheese platter was waiting with pours of De Waal’s wines; Young Vines Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and Merlot. The three Pinotages, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Signal Rock, a Merlot/Cabernet blend with 14% Pinotage.

As well as tasting these wines at the winery, we bought the zingy savvie and the following bottles to enjoyed with dinner.

DeWaal Pinotage 2016 12.7% abv
This came as a freebie in a twin box with the Top of The Hill. The box called it the ‘sexy sister’. What good is a free wine? As it turned out, very good indeed. It’s a most enjoyable easy drinking wine with red plum and raspberry flavours and a most friendly alcohol level. From what DeWaal call younger vines, but at 25-30 years other might call old.

DeWaal ‘C T DeWaal Pinotage 2015 12.41%abv
This really shone at the tasting after the walk, spicy fresh open and inviting with sweet black plums on the palate, and the bottle we took back didn’t disappoint with dinner a few nights later,
Vines 40-50 years old, 12 months in 225-litre French barriques (60% new, 40% second fill)

DeWaal ‘Top of the Hill’ Pinotage 2015 12.6%abv
This is historic in all senses of the meaning, from the world’s oldest Pinotage vineyard. Only released in February 2018 it would benefit with more time in bottle. Its relatively low alcohol doesn’t prepare one for its intensity, or its brooding power. We drank it in the vineyard and again back at the winery and took a bottle home where it superbly accompanied roasted lamb shanks. Layers of flavours – plums, mulberry, spices and underlying typical Pinotage sweetness – backed by fine tannins.
68-year-old vines, aged 18 months in 100% new 225-litre French oak barriques.

DeWaal’s Top of the Hill vineyard walks can be booked via the website.


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