Every year, on the second Saturday of October, wine enthusiasts around the world come together to celebrate International Pinotage Day. This special day is dedicated to honouring a unique and distinctly South African grape variety - Pinotage. We're exploring the history of Pinotage, tracing its journey from creation to international recognition. We're also shining a spotlight on exceptional producers, ranging from wineries with long-established wine legacies to emerging talents making waves on the international wine scene, all based in the heart of South Africa.
The Birth of Pinotage
The story of Pinotage begins in the early 20th century when South African scientist Professor Abraham Perold crossed Pinot Noir and Cinsault (known locally as Hermitage) in the gardens of Stellenbosch University. The goal was to create a grape variety that combined the elegance of Pinot Noir with the hardiness and resistance to disease of Cinsault. This experiment resulted in a grape that would come to be known as Pinotage, a name derived from its parental grapes.
While the initial wines produced from Pinotage grapes were met with mixed reviews, South African winemakers recognized its potential and began to refine their techniques. Over the decades, Pinotage evolved into a grape with its own unique character, expressing the terroir of the South African vineyards where it is grown.
To showcase the best of this varietal and bring you the top-notch Pinotage picks, we set aside our own favorites and affiliations and bring you a list of the standout producers in South Africa:
Kanonkop Wine Estate
Located in Stellenbosch, Kanonkop Wine Estate is often regarded as one of the premier Pinotage producers in South Africa. Their iconic Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage is a benchmark for the varietal. This full-bodied wine displays rich, dark fruit flavors, notes of spice, and a long, elegant finish. Kanonkop's commitment to tradition and excellence has earned them a place in the hearts of Pinotage aficionados worldwide.
Founded by Beyers Truter, who is often referred to as the "Pinotage King", Beyerskloof is known for producing a range of outstanding Pinotage wines. Their Beyerskloof Pinotage, characterized by ripe berry flavors, soft tannins, and a velvety texture, has received numerous accolades and awards. Truter's dedication to showcasing the best of Pinotage has been instrumental in the varietal's success.
The Cellarmaster at Kanonkop, Abrie Beeslaar, established his own brand, Beeslaar Wines in 2011 out of his love affair with Pinotage. The boutique family-owned winery is dedicated to producing exceptional high-end Pinotage wines, originating from a single-vineyard site in the heart of the Cape Winelands. Abrie, with his unparalleled expertise and passion, meticulously crafts each bottle, showcasing the unique terroir and character of the vineyard. Beeslaar Wines has gained a well-deserved reputation for its limited-production, premium wines that reflect both tradition and innovation.
In 1996, Anthony Hamilton Russell, the visionary behind Hamilton Russell Vineyards, embarked on a journey to elevate South African Pinot Noir to global recognition. Located in Hemel-en-Aarde, with its uniquely clay-rich, shale-derived soils, the winery was born from a passion to create something extraordinary with Pinotage. Today, their unwavering commitment remains to cultivate and craft distinctive, long-lasting wines that adhere to classic styles, yet bear a quintessential South African character, proudly standing alongside the world's finest benchmarks. Consistently among Tim Atkin MW's list of top Pinotages, Ashbourne produces a Pinotage from cool climate Hemel-en-Aarde that redefines the classic expression. Ashbourne Pinotage is intense, rich and savoury with a beautiful underlying minerality.
Spier, the renowned South African winery located in the Stellenbosch region, has earned a distinguished reputation for its commitment to crafting exceptional wines that reflect the essence of the Cape Winelands. It has also made its mark with its 21 Gables Pinotage. This elegant wine offers a harmonious balance of concentrated dark fruit flavors and subtle oak influences, reflecting the skill and dedication of Spier's winemakers in producing exceptional Pinotage.
Wolf & Woman Wines
In the ever-evolving world of South African winemaking, a new star is emerging in the form of winemaker Jolandie Fouche. Under her label, Wolf and Woman, Fouche is crafting Pinotage from old vines. Her approach is deeply rooted in preserving the heritage of these vines, resulting in wines that showcase the complexity and depth of Pinotage while paying homage to the land and history.
As we celebrate International Pinotage Day, let us raise a glass to the rich history and exceptional producers who have contributed to the success of this unique South African varietal. Pinotage is not just a wine; it is a testament to the ingenuity, perseverance, and passion of South African winemakers who have crafted a wine that stands proudly on the global stage.