Pinotage Part 1 – The Pinotage Buzz

Ruarri asked me to write some pieces about for this site, and I’m going to look at this variety by focusing on the that is most closely linked with Pinotage – Kanonkop Estate.

Part 1 – The Pinotage Buzz
Peter F May

Kanonkop Estate’s 2004 Pinotage is causing an online buzz. Gary Vaynerchuk of Library TV opened a bottle in his vidcast (Episode 218) on South African wines. He was so impressed that he featured four bottles of it in the following episode to experience the differences that opening times and decanting made.

vayna2.jpgHe first tasted the bottle he’d opened 24 hours earlier which he used in the previous vidcast. Then he compared two Kanonkop 2004’s that he had opened 5 hours previously; one had been decanted while the other had been left in the bottle. The fourth was opened on camera and tasted immediately.

vayner3.jpgGary said “I like this wine, beautiful red cabbage profile, oil & vinegar & olives. Bananas are jumping, (I Iove bananas), structured like Bordeaux, terroir driven, this is essential class Pinotage. Comes from granite soil, you’re getting some of this. It’s really polished, but young, need another three years. Now getting dark liquorice flavour, gets olive & smoky on finish. I highly recommend it, I’m giving it 91 points. If you like extremely well polished and intriguing wines, seek this bottle out.”

The word ‘estate’ has a legal meaning in South Africa; it tells us this wine was made from grapes grown only in vineyards owned by and surrounding the winery. That it was made, matured and bottled in the winery.

kanonkop.jpgKanonkop is a well respected winery on the road to Paarl, just north of Stellenbosch. From the road its vineyards stretching back to a clump of trees in which is the winery. Behind and to the sides of the winery are low hills covered in vines. At the entrance is a cannon. For the name Kanonkop means Cannon Hill and refers to guns placed on hills in olden times that were fired when ships were seen along the coast to alert farmers to load up their wagons with produce to take to the harbour. Sailing ships travelling down around the southern tip of Africa would stop at the harbour to take on fresh meat, fruit, vegetables and water. And wine. The reason the Cape was settled in the mid 1600s was to provision ships and wine was first made there in 1659 because it was known that wine prevented scurvy among sailors.

Kanonkop Estate was established in 1910 and now is considered one of the ‘first growths’ of . It makes only red wines, and just four of them. A flagship Cabernet dominated Bordeaux blend named ‘Paul Sauer’ after the second owner, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100% Pinotage and a second label named Kadette which is a varying blend of Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Up till 1973 Kanonkop, as with most other vineyards, sold its grape to co-operatives. Since first making its own wines 35 years ago there have been only four winemakers, owner Jannie Krige, Jan “Boland” Coetzee (now owner of Vriesenhof Winery), Beyers Truter (now owner of Beyerskloof) and since 2002 Abrie Beeslaw.


Peter F May is the founder of The Pinotage Club – – an international cyber-based fan club for wines made from the Pinotage variety. Peter was awarded Honorary Membership of the producers Pinotage Association in 2004 and was a judge at the annual Pinotage Top 10 Competition in 2004 and 2005. Peter is a wine writer, educator and author. His book ‘Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape – odd wines from around the world‘ was published in summer 2006.

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