What is Pinotage?

Pinotage is a portmanteau of Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsault).

Pinotage is an actual cross between the two grapes as well, created in 1925.

Pinotage was created in South Africa.

But what is Pinotage really?

The story of Pinotage is one of a grape almost lost to history before it even had a chance to begin.  It was created by Professor Abraham Izak Perlod at the Stellenbosch University in 1925, and the healthiest seedlings were planted in his personal residence to mature.  2 years later, Perlod left his position at the university and over time the garden became overgrown.  Had it not been for a young lecturer happening by while a university cleanup crew was at work clearing the land and cleaning up the garden, the grape may never have been identified and subsequently lost forever.  The young lecturer brought the plants to Perlod’s successor at the university who grafted them onto new rootstock.  Perlod was not unbeknownst to this situation and frequented the university to see the progress of his vines.  In 1935 the healthiest of the vines was selected for propagating and named, thus Pinotage was born.

Over the years and vintages, Pinotage took on the reputation for being easy to cultivate.  While easy to grow, the wine was found to be quite difficult to make due in part to paint-fume-like aromas that arise durring winemaking.  In the 70s it took on a bad global representation due to the British Masters of Wine being turned off to it and negative association with the wine.  This led into a period of time where growths fluctuated highly into the early 90s.

At the end of Apartheid the South African market was opened to the world, but Cabernet and Syrah seemed to be the stars.  Pinotage, having been left for dead many times before, still continued its resilient climb towards the light.  By the mid-2000s the ‘easy to grow, paint fume’ wine found winemakers that learned how to cool and coax out the grapes delicacies while ridding it of the less desirable traits in the winemaking process.  Pinotage continues to grow in the world markets as a result to this day.

Although primarily still grown in South Africa, it can be found in small plantings in the US and New Zealand.  Sadly, the home of its parent grapes, France, has yet to devote any land to plantings, which we hope can occur one day (can you even imagine what the terroir and trained winemaking hand will bring to the wine?), but if there is anything we know about Pinotage, it is its continued resilience and push for a place in the world.

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