One of the most respected traditional South African wine estates, Kanonkop has a long history. It was established in 1659 and has been with the same family for over 120 years. The property made the first estate bottle in 1973, and it is now in the hands of the fourth generation of winemakers.
Kanonkop’s cellar master, Abrie Beeslaar, the third winemaker of Kanonkop in its history, who joined the estate back in 2002, was recently in Hong Kong to conduct a series of tastings. He explained that Kanonkop first tried growing different white and red grape varieties including Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. At the end, they decided to only grow varieties that best suit the property – Pinotage (50%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), supported by Merlot (7.5%), Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. One hundred hectares of the 125-hectare property are under vines, and six reds and one rosé are produced.
Both Kanonkop and Beeslaar himself are true believers in Pinotage. This grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault (called Hermitage at the time, hence the name Pinotage), created in South Africa in 1925 by Professor Perold in an attempt to combine the best qualities of the two varieties.
Pinotage was first planted at Kanonkop in 1941, and the estate has some of the oldest Pinotage in South Africa. The wine caught the attention of the world when Beyers Truter, then winemaker of Kanonkop, won the title of International Winemaker of the Year with his Kanonkop Pinotage 1989.
Like all grape varieties, there are excellent, average and mediocre Pinotage. Some winemakers made over-extracted Pinotage and gave the wine a bad name. In 1996, the Pinotage Association was formed, with the aim of improving the reputation and quality of the wine. With a better understanding of the grape’s characteristics and more dedicated winemakers, Pinotage today embraces a diverse style, from vibrant rosé and elegant red to classic, age-worthy and powerful coffee-flavoured Pinotage.
Kanonkop Pinotage is classic. The berries are optically sorted and then fermented in open-top concrete tanks, with plunging done every two hours for maximum extraction of colour and flavour before fermentation. The plunging-down frequency reduces as the alcohol increases in order to avoid extracting negative phenols. The fermentation temperature is carefully maintained at under 30ºC to ensure a slow, even fermentation.
We tasted three 2017 Pinotages: Cape Winemakers Guild, which was made from the best three barrels, Estate Pinotage, with grapes from eight different vineyard sites, and Black Label Pinotage, made from a single vineyard planted in 1953. It was amazing to experience the different expressions of the same varietal wine harvested in the same year, made using the same method. The differences come from the varied vineyard sites, age of the vines and percentage of new oak used.
In addition to the Estate range, Kanonkop also produces the Kadette range using younger Pinotage, consisting of Pinotage Rosé, Pinotage Red and Pinotage Cape Blend. Beeslaar made the point that Kadette is not lesser- quality wine but simply more vibrant wine from younger vines.
Kanonkop practises sustainable viticulture – a broader concept compared to organic or biodynamic farming as it also takes care of the entire ecosystem and the welfare of the workers. Beeslaar believes that the best possible wine can only be made when the vines are the healthiest and the workers are the happiest. Kanonkop is a community for the 54 people working on the estate. Those living on the farm enjoy modern housing, a childcare centre and sporting facilities.
The second Saturday of October is the annual Pinotage Day. Celebrate this home-grown South African variety this year on 12 October 2019 and explore the different expressions of the variety.
In Hong Kong, wine’n’things imports 11 South African wine brands, including Kanonkop.
For more wine articles like this, like Foodie on Facebook