A good story has a powerful effect on people.
The Story of Pinotage is one of those.

It is a good story to tell because it follows the story of a man with a dream who dies before he sees the dream realise its full potential; while the dream itself was kept alive (just barely at one stage) by his friends and followers.  His followers then managed to make his dream a reality through the passing of certain events during a sustained period of time.  As a lot of great stories do, this story is one of them with a good moral to it!

The moral of the Story of Pinotage is that; no man is an island, and that dreams can become bigger than the dreamer himself if you open and share your dream with similar visionaries.

The story started with a man called Abraham (not the Abraham at the start of the Bible), Professor Abraham I. Perold.  Being a scientific academic, speaking 5 languages, well-travelled and appointed the first professor in Viticulture and Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, he had a vision to create a wine grape varietal that is unique to our motherland, South Africa.  This followed his mission to scout different grape varietals to bring back to South Africa.  Perhaps he did not find the ideal cultivar amongst the 177 varietals he found?  The question remains unanswered.

It was in 1925 that he finally, successfully crossed the French superstar, Pinot noir with a humbler variety called Cinsaut (known as Hermitage during that time).  The strange combination of these two varietals that generally delivers lighter coloured wines, resulted in grapes that ripened early, achieved ripeness easily enough while maintaining growth vigour throughout and attained a colour that was much more intense and deeper.  The name Pinotage was the obvious choice for this new-born.

He planted a few seeds in his back garden at his university house in Welgevallen.  His friend and successor at the University had his garden cleaned up after he left to KWV and the Pinotage plants that came up were nearly cleared with the rest of the shrubbery! The plants only just made it safely in the hands of Prof. Charl Theron de Waal to Elsenburg Agricultural College where they were further cultivated.

The first barrel of Pinotage was made in 1941 from these plantings by Prof Charl de Waal.

Now, here is where the plot thickens… Prof Abraham sadly died of a heart attack the same year that the first Pinotage was made, tragically never having the chance to taste it himself.  De Waal was the bridge between Perold’s dream and the future of Pinotage.

On the other side of that bridge was a man by the name of P.K. Morkel.  A nice and busy chap he was, completing his Viticulture and Oenology studies at the Stellenbosch University, playing professional rugby for Western Province and the Springbok team as well as teaching at an excellent school in Paarl.  He eventually started farming at Bellevue on the Bottelary road outside of Stellenbosch on their family farm.

In 1953 P.K. Morkel wanted to plant a new block of Gamay noir, but unfortunately (some would say fortunately), he could not find supply of young Gamay grafting’s.  He was recommended to plant this unknown, locally crossed Pinotage as the experimental wines from this varietal showed exceptional fragrance, a deep colour yet firm tannins and flourished in even sandy soils.

This brave step resulted in what was the first success story of Pinotage as a varietal with commercial value.  In 1959 Morkel entered the handcrafted wine of his seemingly risky project into the South African Young Wine show.  This is a wine competition where the young wines from the same vintage are judged to establish the best wines for that particular vintage.  It was like the coronation of the Queen at Bellevue when that 1959 vintage of Pinotage was awarded as the best wine at the show.

PAUSE! REALLY? REALLY?! Could this be? In fact, could this be the start of something big? Perhaps something bigger than the people involved in this journey? Indeed, it was. This award-winning 1959 vintage of Pinotage was sold in bulk from Bellevue to Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery as was the standard procedure of those times.

The very name of Pinotage was printed the first time on a wine label to go into bottle under the Lanzerac label of SFW in 1961.  It was a moment in time that sparked the future trade in Pinotage across the globe.  The 1959 Lanzerac Pinotage was the start of it all.

Now hailing from the very same vineyards, this wine marks the 60th anniversary of that courageous beginning and celebrates the ingenuity and collaboration that led to the establishment of an enduring South African icon.