Histoire du vin SA: Selective memory – Part two: Lanzerac Pinotage

Founded in 1692, the historic Lanzerac in the fascinating Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch has occurred to me lately, for good reason (they run a fabulous Discover Lanzerac contest for which the prize is an all-inclusive stay worth up to R60,000, deadline extended to tomorrow, September 30) and maybe not so good (former owner Christo Wiese reportedly sued the former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste for Lanzerac returning him, claiming that the contract they signed in 2012 was based on a “fraudulent misrepresentation”).

In all the marketing material of the competition, as well as about fiftye Anniversary celebrations for Stellenbosch Wine Routes, Lanzerac claims to have been “the first winery in the world to use the term ‘Pinotage’ on their label”. He says: “This visionary version marked the birth of Pinotage as a unique variety from South Africa. To this day, Lanzerac, under the leadership of cellar master Wynand Lategan and farm manager Phillip Le Roux, still produces award-winning Pinotage. ‘

Hmm.

That Lanzerac produces award-winning Pinotage today is indisputable. Contrary to what the marketing material suggests, however, Pinotage has not been produced in Lanzerac for six decades. It was not until 2002 that the owner of Lanzerac, Christo Wiese, finally managed to buy the Lanzerac brand from Distell (formerly Stellenbosch Farmers Winery). And this, after having concluded a “gentleman’s agreement” with SFW in 1997 to share the name Lanzerac, allowing Wiese to produce a Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cab-Merlot and Chardonnay blend while SFW would continue to manufacture Lanzerac Rosé and Pinotage. . “A unique arrangement,” noted the 1998 Tray to guide.

In 1999, Tray Recorded: “Merchant-producer giant SFW continues to produce Lanzerac’s historic Pinotage and Rosé at its Stellenbosch wine complex, in the massive quantities demanded by their long-standing popularity.” The 1996 Pinotage was classified 4 stars and described as follows: “The first Pinotage in the world, 1959 released in 1961, and still a benchmark of this variety of local heroes. The luxury black and gold packaging (chunky ‘keel’ pvs bottle, impossible to put down, now a rustic keepsake) reflects a modern and sumptuous wine inside. ‘

Going back in time, Tray 1996 recorded that the last Pinotage of this “historic Stellenbosch range by SFW” – the 1994 vintage – was “undemanding but not simple”. (At Christo Wiese’s ‘campaign headquarters’, meanwhile, ‘initial, almost experimental traffic jams’ had taken place.)

Tray 1993 reported that “SFW has increased and improved this old Cape favorite, named after a famous Stellenbosch estate” (while at the Lanzerac farm itself, listed separately, Jan Boland Coetzee was a plantation consultant vineyards, which, at this stage, has not not include Pinotage).

Lanzerac as we know it first appeared in 1992. “Welcome to the fray, Mr Wiese,” said Tray after lamenting “yet another heavyweight joining the crowded and overloaded wine scene”… (!)

Regarding Lanzerac Pinotage in the 1980s, SFW had in fact stopped production for several years before relaunching with the 1989 vintage. The 1986 Tray The entry for Lanzerac said: ‘The quality range is no longer available with the exception of rosé on the local market several years ago… Some alumni tell SFW that they no longer do Pinotage like the elders Lanzerac. ‘

So what was the original and iconic 1959 Lanzerac Pinotage if it wasn’t a Lanzerac Pinotage?

In fact, everything is pretty well documented (when it is not overlooked).

In 1953, Pieter ‘PK’ Morkel of the Bellevue estate on Bottelary Road in Stellenbosch became one of the first winemakers to plant Pinotage on a commercial scale. The wine he produced from his Pinotage vineyard in 1959 received the General Smuts Trophy for Best Wine at the Cape Wine Show that year, but he sold this young wine to SFW, as he was contractually bound to do it with all its wines. SFW owned the Lanzerac brand, having purchased it in 1958 when the Lanzerac property was sold to David and Graham Rawdon for use as a hotel, and this is the name chosen for Morkel’s Bellevue Pinotage when it was launched. bottle by SFW in 1961..

For many years, SFW’s Lanzerac Pinotage was the only Pinotage commercially available, although the wine did not come only from Bellevue but also from Kanonkop (whose 1961 Pinotage won the General Smuts trophy that year). It wasn’t until 1999 that Bellevue started selling wine under its own label, and it was only in recent years that Bellevue winemaker Dirkie Morkel (nephew of PK) and winemaker Wilhelm Kritzinger made a a concerted effort to showcase the estate’s heritage of old Pinotage vines by naming a high-end, low-yielding bottling as the 1953 Single Vineyard Pinotage.

Meanwhile, based solely on SFW’s decision to use the Lanzerac name six decades ago, Lanzerac is called “the home of the world’s first commercially bottled Pinotage” – to directly quote from a current retailer press release. the festivities that will take place in Lanzerac next weekend to celebrate Pinotage Day (Saturday 9 October). To be fair, the press release then makes the following attempt at clarification: “It was during the 1959 harvest, when the Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery cooperative, realized the potential of this year’s vintage, and in 1961, created the the world’s first bottled Pinotage, under the Lanzerac label. ‘

If you didn’t know better, you could always assume it was a Lanzerac wine, but Lanzerac cellar master Wynand Lategan certainly has no illusions about the origins of the first wine. “I saw the SFW assembly file for the wine, in fact I have a photo of the page somewhere, and it clearly says that the Pinotage was from ‘Morkel’ and was mixed with it. a hint of Cabernet, I don’t ‘I don’t know where from. But it is certain that the 1959 Pinotage was grown and made in Bellevue, then matured, bottled, labeled and marketed by SFW.’

In 2019, wanting to mark the 60e anniversary of this first vintage in an authentic way, Lategan was able to persuade the Bellevue team to part with approximately 2.5 tonnes of fruit from their low yielding ‘1953’ block for a special commemorative bottling of ‘Lanzerac Pinotage’ which will sport very similar packaging to the original, except for two things: the bottle is not the starting bottle, let alone the teardrop-shaped one that came later, and the The front label recognizes Bellevue as the source of the grapes.

The wine will be launched to the media next week (watch this space) and on Pinotage Day, October 9, Lategan will be hosting two private Pinotage tastings in the Lanzerac cellar, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., for R195 per person, with the press release. press release promising that it will bring “an in-depth knowledge of both the range of Pinotage wines of the estate, the rich pioneering heritage of Pinotage and wine-growing practices relating to Pinotage vines” (book by e-mail here).

Although the first Pinotage vines were not planted in Lanzerac until 1996, it should be noted that this was before Wiese made a deal (gentilman or otherwise) with SFW. “Since then, we have gradually planted more and more Pinotage,” explains Lategan, who joined Lanzerac in 2005 and insists he would have championed the variety regardless of any marketing potential based on a fortuitous historical branding image. .

“First of all, it’s an exciting and very expressive strain to work with. Secondly, our Jonkershoek terroir lends itself to the cultivation of Pinotage, with its perfect balance between a warm climate and a cool climate. And third, Pinotage tells a quintessentially South African story. It is the wine that foreign visitors want to taste, and as producers of Pinotage we have passed this stage of self-doubt. We have proven to the world (and to ourselves) that with care, dedication and collaboration, we get results. We can own it and promote it with pride.

Will a Pinotage produced today from Lanzerac grapes (or Bellevue grapes, for that matter) age as gracefully as this 1959 Lanzerac Pinotage and some of its successors from the 1960s?

Lategan believes it, but only time will tell.

  • Joanne Gibson has been a wine journalist for over two decades. She holds a Level 4 diploma from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and has won the Du Toitskloof and Franschhoek Literary Festival Wine Writer of the Year awards, not to mention being shortlisted four times for the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards. . As a sought-after freelance writer and editor, her passion is to unearth nuggets of SA wine history.

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