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Pinotage Fair Valley Wine from South Africa

Pinotage might be the most misunderstood grape on the planet. Here’s some more information on the grape, where it came from, its history and why it hasn’t grown, maybe more importantly, why it might.

Video Transcription:

Hi All. Mark Aselstine with Uncorked Ventures. I’m going to hold this up so you can get a decent look at it, although we’ll add a picture or two along the route too. This is a Fairvalley wine and it’s South African in origin, although I don’t think that’s the most interesting thing. I think by far the most interesting thing about this is the fact that it’s a Pinotage. There’s about 40 acres or so of this stuff in California, so you’ve probably never had one unless you’re a little bit more adventurous.

So, the quick background on Pinotage. It is a native grape to South Africa. We can go into the history of South Africa, Apartheid, much of the longer form history of South Africa is fairly tragic, or very tragic actually in the way that people were treated, of course. One of the offshoots of colonization in South Africa is that you had a group of European settlers that came to a different kind of region than they were accustomed to, and they wanted to grow their own wine grapes because it was hard to get stuff down to South Africa from France, as an example. And they tried a whole bunch of different stuff. They tried Pinot, it didn’t work. It over ripened and produced crappy grapes. They tried Cabernet it didn’t really work, et cetera, et cetera, down the list. So in the mid-1920s they end up actually creating a grape and Pinotage is that grape.

It’s a combination of Pinot noir with Cinsaut. You add Cinsaut to Pinot noir and the idea is that the Cinsaut, which ripens at much, much warmer temperatures would create something that could actually grow. So, in any case, excuse me, my allergies are just killing me right now … So, Pinotage. People don’t really like it all that much. The South Africans tried to build their wine industry on it for an awfully long time, it actually didn’t go very well. There was points in time when it was 20% or so production. It has fallen way back, it’s now 7%. If you talk to South African vintners and to sales organizations in the country, they’ll tell you that it’s a third or fourth down the list.

People that drink a lot of wine will search it out because it’s different, it’s unusual, it’s unique. But they’re much more focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. And so I think it’s a good long term play for South Africa as a wine growing region to continue making Pinotage, but when you have a grape where one of the most common flavors leads people to … A lot of people when they drink Pinotage it reminds them a lot of Pinot noir and as far as mouth feel and density, but then they get this kind of off, kind of dark, earthy, leathery finish that people don’t especially like. If you’re not accustomed to it and not expecting it it’s something that can be a turnoff. I think that’s one of the reasons why the grape didn’t have the huge growth.

The interesting thing is, for us in California, is that we’re seeing no increase in plantings and almost every single acre of the stuff goes to the same winery. There’s probably maybe only 10 producers in the entire state. They’re centered in Lodi, which is interesting. Weather-wise that’s probably closest to what you get in the Western Cape in South Africa. But people are actually starting to think, “Hey, maybe we could grow this and what if we put it in a cooler climate growing region, because it is just as much Pinot as Cinsaut, and what might the end result be?” Fort Ross is one winery that’s doing that and we’re going to explore that a little bit more in the coming days and weeks.

So, South African Pinotage, Fairvalley, it’s a cool story the winery itself. It’s something of a farmer cooperative and this is, if I’m being honest, this is a great example of Pinotage. It hits all the high points and all the classic flavor combinations and the average density that you see. [inaudible 00:03:54] countries we actually worked with South African wine importer when our Explorations Wine Club used to be global instead of just west coast states, and we actually did quite a few of these. And people just don’t know quite what to make of it, so it’s interesting. But yeah, so you should be able to find a Fairvalley Pinotage somewhere close to you and I hope that that was a good intro. Thanks again.

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