An outstanding clean Pinotage vintage

Almost 100 wine producers, wine experts and wine writers this week tasted 12 Pinotage wines of the 2003 vintage and the conclusion was that 2003 is one of the best Pinotage vintages of the past 20 years.

Tank and barrel samples from the Olifantsrivier, Paarl, Robertson, Stellenbosch, Worcester, Swartland and Walker Bay wine regions were tasted and the main characteristic which generally stood out is the fine balance of full fruit and elegant pureness.

Cape Wine Master and vice-chairman of the Pinotage Association, Duimpie Bayly, after the tasting expressed the opinion that the 2003 vintage is one of the best ever for Pinotage. He was especially impressed with the beautiful colour of the wines, as well as the choice fruit.

'Because the wines are young and will only end up in the bottle after further treatment in the cellar, one cannot give a final rating. However, the potential is there that it can be compared with the excellent 1984 and 1998 vintages, or even better. The fine tuning of winemaking techniques also shows in the harmony between fruit and wood,' says Duimpie.

The chairman of the Pinotage Association and internationally acclaimed winemaker, Beyers Truter, was more than thrilled about the 2003 Pinotage wines. According to Beyers it is one of the top vintages of the past twenty years and he compares it with the outstanding 1986, 1991, 1995 and 1998 vintages.

'All the wines show superb balance, intense colour, fantastic flavours on the nose and on the palate combinations of toffee, raspberry, purple and black fruit, as well as red berries. The wines are full-flavoured but soft.' 
Beyers also took a strong stand on the so-called bitterness that people claim is typical of some Pinotage wines.

'Bitterness can happen with any variety. You must not blame the wine variety if you do not apply the correct cellar techniques. It is all about bacterial control,' says Beyers.

According to Chris Roux, convenor of the Pinotage panel of judges for the annual Veritas Awards, 2003 without doubt is one of the best vintages of the past 20 years.

'In the Wellington area 2001 probably was the best vintage ever and it appears that 2003 could be on the same level. All the wines are absolutely clean and pure, which is a good basis for wood treatment and maturation.'

Another characteristic of this year's Pinotages which drew comment was the relatively low alcohol content of the wines, which proves that a very high alcohol content is not a prerequisite for concentrated fruit and structure in red wines. Five out of the twelve wines which were tasted had an alcohol content of less than 14%, while the alcohol content of only three wines were higher than 14,5%.

Tank and barrel samples of the following cellars were poured at the annual Pinotage vintage tasting at Doornbosch in Stellenbosch: Robertson Winery, Spruitdrift Cellar (Vredendal), Daschbosch Cellar (Goudini), Wellington Cellar, Neethlingshof Estate (Stellenbosch), Warwick Estate (Stellenbosch), Spice Route Wines (Malmesbury), Neil Ellis Wines (Stellenbosch), Môreson (Stellenbosch), Grangehurst (Stellenbosch), Perdeberg Wine Farmers (Paarl) and Beaumont Wines (Walker Bay).

Winemaker Charles Hopkins, who is also a Board member of the Pinotage Association, and the Association's manager, Pierre Loubser, coordinated the tasting and presentation of each winemaker. 'We tasted fine Pinotage wines with flavour and structure without being blockbusters. These are 12 fantastic wines,' says Charles.
The estimated cellar prices of the wines vary between R20 and R170, which again proves the fact that Pinotage produces fine wines of continuous quality in various styles and price ranges.

Before the tasting two viticulturists, Stefan Joubert and Schalk du Toit, communicated interesting facts about the 2003 vintage. Stefan talked about the dryland vineyards and according to him the low temperatures especially contributed to this year's excellent vintage. Temperature readings at Nietvoorbij near Stellenbosch showed that in 2002/03 there were in total 130 hours during which the temperature rose above 30 degrees Celsius, compared to 175 hours in 2001/02.

The growing season was dryer than usual and together with the low temperatures this resulted in no damage in the vineyards, such as deterioration of acids and pH that rises. It also led to bigger bunches but with smaller grapes. The grapes were very healthy and in most areas the harvest started a week later than last year.

Schalk du Toit talked about the traditional irrigation vineyard areas of the Klein Karoo, Robertson, Worcester and Olifantsrivier. These areas generally also experienced a healthy and cool vintage. Vineyard practices which led to a low yield per hectare especially produced high quality grapes. The vintage is above average and there is an overall quality elevation of Pinotage wines.

According to Schalk, Pinotage tends to produce a high volume of grapes and the correct vineyard practices must be applied to bring about a low yield and thus more concentrated flavours. Bush vines are especially suited for this as they inherently have a lower production.

Schalk gave interesting statistics about the Olifantsrivier wine region. This year's vintage in that area is 24% higher than in 2002 and it is quite significant that 3% of the harvest from the Olifantsrivier region were bought by wine cellars in the Coastal region, including Paarl and Stellenbosch, of which 71% were red wine.

The Klein Karoo's vintage this year was 5% smaller, the Robertson vintage 2,5% higher and the Worcester harvest 6% higher. Due to new vineyard plantings, the Pinotage harvest in the Worcester area was 20% higher than in 2001.

Caption for photograph:
A vintage that gives joy to all. After the annual vintage tasting of Pinotage wines they were very happy. From left are Niels Verburg of Beaumont Wines in Botrivier, Len Knoetze of Spruitdrift Cellar near Vredendal, Charles Hopkins of Graham Beck Wines in Franschhoek and Schalk du Toit, Vinpro viticulturist.

Issued by ML Communications on behalf of the Pinotage Association. 
Contact: Marius Labuschagne
Tel: +27 (0) 21 981-8546