Photo: Stoneboat's Lanny Martinuik
Recently, I was commenting on the quality of Stoneboat Vineyards
’s Pinotage to one of the
proprietors of another winery.
I was surprised when the individual looked at me and asked:
“What is Pinotage?”
Obviously, the wineries making Pinotage in British Columbia have work to do, to say
nothing of South African wineries, since the grape is a product of South
So here is a little primer, with a little help from Wine Grapes, the comprehensive book on varietals
from Jancis Robinson et al.
The variety was created in 1925 by Professor Abraham Perold,
the first professor of viticulture at the University
in South Africa
The professor apparently had a garden at his official
residence. Among other trials, he pollinated a Pinot Noir vine with Cinsault (a
varietal). He planted four seeds from
this experiment and, according to Robinson and her colleagues, “forgot them
when he left Stellenbosch
to work for
the KWV winery in Paarl in 1927.”
Another viticulturist spotted the plants and took them to a
nursery at Elsenburg
where he grafted some plant material to rootstock. He showed the plants to
Perold who encouraged him to propagate them. The best of the four plants became
the mother block for what became Pinotage.
The name was also created by Perold and a colleague. It is
simply a contraction of Pinot and Hermitage (the name then given to Cinsault in
The first commercial planting of the vine at a winery
occurred in 1943. However, it was not until the 1959 vintage that any winery
there released a varietal Pinotage. More than a generation had passed since
Perold’s experiment. In fact, Perold died two years before that first
commercial planting. Developing grape varieties is a task for the patient.
Today, there are 15,000 acres of Pinotage in South Africa
, with just modest acreages in Brazil
even in Zimbabwe
Columbia, it is grown primarily by four vineyards. In
the 2013 vintage, Pinotage production was 250 tons, putting the variety a
surprising eighth in volume of red varietals, just behind Malbec. Yet that was
still a mere 1.58% of the total red grape production. One can understand a
winery owner not having heard of Pinotage.
Several factors limited the variety’s expansion beyond South Africa
Firstly, the vine was susceptible to viruses. In time, the
growers there developed healthier plant material.
Secondly, South African Pinotage wines sometimes (too
frequently in former times) had aromas of nail polish remover, with off
flavours going along with that. This was thought to relate perhaps to virus
damage, or perhaps to heat stress at harvest or perhaps to overly hot
fermentation. The South African vintners have overcome that problem in the last
10 or 15 years.
I have never encountered that fault in an Okanagan Pinotage,
by the way, but, some years ago, I had a few from South Africa
that not pleasant.
The Okanagan’s first Pinotage vines were imported by Paul
Moser, a South African businessman who moved to British Columbia
in 1994 and established
Lake Breeze Vineyards two years later. (Moser sold the winery in 1998.) Now, Lake Breeze
has 100 or so cases of Pinotage that is eagerly awaited by its fans.
The plant material that Moser brought from South Africa
was propagated for him by Lanny Martinuik, an Oliver grape grower and nursery
operator. Lanny was intrigued with the variety and tissue-cultured enough plant
material for a significant planting by the time his family opened Stoneboat Vineyards
The View Winery in East Kelowna
has an 8.5 acre block of Pinotage, probably the single largest planting in the
Okanagan. Those vines were imported independently by one of the winery’s
owners. The winery makes good Pinotage and Pinotage Rosé.
There probably is a fourth block of Pinotage on one of the
Osoyoos area vineyards operated by Constellation Brands. Inniskillin Okanagan
released several vintages of Pinotage in its Discovery Series but appears to
have discontinued doing so.
Whatever issues there may have been over the years with
Pinotage in South Africa,
the variety performs well in the Okanagan, judging from the wines. One vintage
of Stoneboat Pinotage even won the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence
I had a fine encounter recently with Stoneboat Pinotage
2012. I had been asked to pair wines with the dishes at a dinner party where
the centerpiece was a loin of pork. Pinot Noir being out of the budget, I
suggested one of my favourite Gamay Noirs. I had considered the Pinotage but
thought it risky because so few consumers know of it.
The hosts did a test run ahead of time and were underwhelmed
by the Gamay. So was I when I tasted it again. So I lined up several Gamays and
the Pinotage and the latter won hands down. At the subsequent dinner, the wine
was received with general acclaim.
The lesson is screw up your courage and try a bottle. In
fact, try other Stoneboat wines as well. This is very fine family winery. Here
are notes on some recent releases.
Stoneboat Pinot Gris
2013 ($18.90 for 1,100 cases). The wine begins with aromas of citrus and
peaches. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and apple, with a touch of
orange. The texture is generous and the finish lingers. 89.
Stoneboat Chorus 2013
($18.90 for 1,350 cases). This is a complex blend of Pinot Blanc,
Müller-Thurgau, Schönburger, Kerner, Pinot Gris and Viognier. The wine has
aromas of fruit, herbs and spice, leading to flavours of citrus, apples and
herbs. The finish is crisply dry. 90.
2012 ($54.40 for 375 ml). This is the proprietary name for this winery’s
Icewine. The first time the winery made Icewine, they had forgotten to register
the grapes before harvest, as the rules require. So they created the name
Verglas and the wine has been so well received that they continue to use it.
The grapes here are Oraniensteiner and Pinot Blanc. The wine has a glorious
honeyed aroma of peaches and pineapples and this is echoed on the palate. The
bright acidity provides a refreshing and tangy balance to the natural sugar.
The finish is clean and ever so long. 93.
Stoneboat Pinot Noir
2012 ($24.90 for 1,100 cases). This begins with toasty oak aromas mingled
with cherry. On the palate, cherry and strawberry flavours mingle with spice
and very subtle oak. The texture is silky. 88.
2012 ($24.90 for 1,000 cases). The wine begins with aromas of plum and
black cherry. On the palate, there is a core of berry flavours, including
lingonberry, blackberry and black currant jam. Silky tannins give the wine a
long finish. 91.
Note also that Stoneboat has made both a reserve Pinotage
(Solo Pinotage) and a Pinotage Icewine. Imagine all of the above flavours
concentrated in both wines.