Who’s Your Daddy?: Pinotage

I’ve really been slacking on writing “Who’s Your Daddy” posts lately, so alas, it is about time to revive the series!

Today’s edition of “Who’s Your Daddy” will feature Pinotage, a relatively young grape in the grape scheme of things.

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Pinotage is a red grape that is South African in origin, and just looking at the name you may already be able to guess who its’ parents are (if you don’t already know it).  In addition to South Africa, Pinotage is grown in Brazil, New Zealand, the United States, Israel, Zimbabwe, and more recently, Germany.  Pinotage vines are relatively vigorous and considered easy to grow, with typically high yields.  Pinotage tends to ripen early mid-season, with budburst to harvest taking somewhere between 160 and 180 days.  In regards to pests, Pinotage is considered moderately susceptible to powdery mildew, downy mildew, and Botrytis cinerea.  Mealybugs can also be an issue, as they can spread various diseases including leaf roll virus.

In regards to climatic growing conditions, Pinotage is relatively tolerant, depending upon the choice of rootstock used and the terrain.  The grape can grow in both cooler regions with average summertime temperatures less than 22oC (72oF), and warmer regions with average summertime temperatures greater than 23oC (73oF).  According to the Pinotage Association, some of the best South African Pinotage wines have come from three distinct growing areas: 1) old bush vines (these are 30-40 years old and not trellised) that grow in dryland conditions; 2) Medium-deep slopes in soil with good water retention capacity; and 3) cooler southeast or southwest slopes or warmer north or northeast slopes.  For an amazing detailed description of Pinotage viticulture practices, visit The Pinotage Association website by clicking here.

In the early years of Pinotage wine, it was noted that it had relatively high levels of isoamyl acetate present, which tended to come off strongly on the nose, which some have likened to the aroma of spray paint.  Early Pinotage winemakers discovered that by tailoring viticulture and viniculture techniques, winemakers can avoid this off-flavor and create a quality wine.  When the grapes are cultivated under high temperatures and water stress conditions, it tends to produce high levels of isoamyl acetate, and thus the spray paint aroma.  However, if the grapes are cultivated under what some call “softer” conditions, meaning less water stress and fewer days of high temperatures, isoamyl acetate levels are lower and the spray paint character significantly diminished.

In regards to more desirable flavor characteristics, the aroma of Pinotage often has characteristics of red fruit, plum, berries, and tropical fruits, while the taste often has characteristics of red fruit, plum, cherry, tropical fruits, earthiness, and smokiness.  Others say it has characteristics of mulberry, blackberry, tobacco, and rich spiciness.  In regards to other important sensory characteristics, Pinotage is can be a light to medium bodied wine, with relatively hard tannins. 

So, “who’s your daddy, Pinotage?”

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The Pinotage grapes’ existence is thanks to a man named Abraham Izak Perold, who was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1880.  After years of schooling, he eventually obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Halle an der Saale in Germany in 1904.  Being a descendant from a French family, Perold spent some time in France after achieving his Ph.D. to discover his roots.  Perold returned to South Africa in 1906 to become a temporary professor of Chemistry at the University of Cape Town.  Soon after, the South African government expressed its desire to expand the range of grapes planted in the region, and they chose Perold as the one to go on the scouting mission.

After the scouting mission, Perold came back to Cape Town with 177 different grape varieties which started the collection that is still in existence at the Welgevallen Experimental Farm of the University of Stellenbosch.  Later, Perold was appointed to be the first professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, and eventually became the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the school. 

Unbeknownst to anyone other than Perold himself (since he did not leave any notes) he decided to perform a cross between the grapes Pinot Noir and Hermitage (a.k.a. Cinsaut).  This cross resulted in only four seeds, which he planted in 1925 in his own private garden instead of the nursery at the University.  In 1927, Perold was appointed to a new position with the KWV in Paarl, thus abandoning his garden at Welgevallen.  A colleague of Dr. Perolds’, Dr. Charlie Niehaus (a big name in the sherry business), was aware of the seedlings.  A few years after Perold had planted the seeds, Niehaus was randomly cycling by when he remembered the seedlings and rescued them from their tangly weed grave.  He brought the seedlings to Professor CJ Theron at the Elsenburg Agricultural College, where they were reestablished in their nursery. 

In 1935, the seedlings were grafted onto Richter 99 and Richter 57 rootstock, which turned out to be a life-saving procedure for the new variety, as it was later discovered that the older rootstock varieties were so laden with disease that they had to be destroyed.  Theron and Perold continued to work together on the project, and initially named the seedling cross “Perold’s Hermitage x Pinot”.  Out of all the grafts, one seedling performed particularly well compared to all the others, and that one was chosen to be the “mother” of the rest.  The first unofficial Pinotage wine was created in a small batch in 1941, and the first official commercial planting of Pinotage grapes was in 1943 on the farm Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry’s Pass.

So, as already mentioned, the parents of the South Africa Pinotage grape are:

Pinot Noir…..

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    …..And…..

  
…..Hermitage (a.k.a. Cinsaut)


For an amazing history and technical descriptions of the Pinotage grape, please visit The Pinotage Association website for more!
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

6 comments for “Who’s Your Daddy?: Pinotage

  1. March 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks for the great information. I had thought pinotage was used to make white wines so never paid attention to it. Thought it was like pinot gris, not my favorite so now I'll look to find a pinotage to try. Is it grown in the US?

  2. March 5, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    I knew very little about Pinotage as well, before I researched this article. Just doing a random internet search, I found this one post that talks about different vineyards in the US that are growing the grape: http://blog.pennlive.com/wine/2012/02/woodhall_fa

    Not too many at the moment, but they are there!

  3. Peter F May
    March 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Hi, I supplied the list you link to. There’s much more detail about US & Canadian vineyards and wineries growing and making Pinotage on my blog at ” target=”_blank”> ” target=”_blank”>http://www.pinotage.org – just search for the state name. There’s also videos of vineyards and winemakers.

    I’m always happy to answer questions and get any updates on new Pinotage vineyards.

    If you really want to know about Pinotage then my book has the full story.

    Peter F May
    author of
    PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine
    ISBN: 978-0956152305 (paperback)
    eBook from AppleStore and B&N
    and Amazon Kindle eBook

  4. March 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the link to your blog containing the more inclusive list of vineyards in the US growing Pinotage. Nice work!

    I had a lot of fun learning about Pinotage (albeit, briefly), and will have to give your book a read at some point. Perhaps I'll have to do a book review post on it! :)

    Cheers!

  5. September 29, 2012 at 7:38 am

    After living and working in the Southern African region for several years, Pinotage became my favorite red wine. When we started growing grapes on our family farm in Maryland, we planted a row just as a test plot to see how it would do. It’s a great grape to manage, reasonably resistant to diseases compared to Bordeaux varieties, nice ripe fruit, not overly vigorous. We expanded to about half an acre because the winery wanted more volume. We would plant even more if we can create a local demand for the fruit.

    • Becca
      September 29, 2012 at 8:07 am

      That’s great, Jen! What a great experience to be in Southern Africa!

      Pinotage is certainly less known here in the US than many other varietals, but I think the wine will start to sell more over time as people become more aware of it!

      Best of luck with your vineyard! I hope you’ll continue to enjoy my posts!

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