The problem with Pinotage

Our wine editor gives some insight into the politics of the SA wine industry.

by: Cathy Marston | 03 Oct 2012
man drinking red wine

Even as I type this, I am quivering in anticipation of the tsunami of defensive, knee-jerk outrage which will undoubtedly be coming my way.

But I think we have a problem – not with the Pinotage grape itself, or how we are making it, as I think the quality of our best Pinotages is now beyond dispute.

But are we spreading that message properly to the rest of the world?

Who is spreading that message and are we listening to the feedback we are getting in return? If the recent furore at Cape Wine is anything to go by, I think we all need to have a little breather and re-evaluate a couple of things.

Pinotage Association

My musings on this subject really began when I attended the Pinotage Association Top Ten awards lunch last month.

Almost the entire lunch was in Afrikaans. Now I know we are in SA and all that, but the reality is that far more of the wine-drinking, wine-writing and wine-buying world speaks English. If we keep speaking just in Afrikaans, how are we ever going to encourage people outside Africa to try our wine? 

I was sorry to miss insights from the winemakers about how they made their wines because it was a lovely line-up. But at least I have the time and opportunity to follow up on anything I might have missed, and that is not the case with most of the people who attended Cape Wine 2012.

Pinotage seminar

Sadly I didn’t go to the Pinotage seminar which appears to have sparked off all this fuss, so I am making observations based on second-hand reports. But I spoke with Rebecca Gibb (who initiated this discussion) after the event and subsequently with some other international wine folk who echoed (albeit a tad more discreetly!) her comments.

The problem

They thought that the Pinotage Association presented an incredibly dated view of the grape, more concerned with its historical developments and the ‘old boys’ of the industry rather than how it has improved and changed.

According to reports, the presentation contained far too little about what we have learnt about Pinotage, how our knowledge of grape has lead to much better wines and what the future holds in store for it in its many forms.  I also heard several complaints about unacceptable sexist comments/attitudes which, whilst probably unintentional and which can be forgiven when viewed in context, have no place in the modern business of wine.

Where to from here?

What are we to do about this? Because it is a big problem – try as hard as the Chenin Blanc people might, the majority of the wine-drinking world will still say ‘Pinotage’ when asked to name something about South African wine.

The Pinotage Association has done great work but it's now time to pass the baton forward. If we are going to change people’s minds and attitudes about Pinotage, it must come from the people who are making it for the future and not those who made it in the past.

It’s time for winemakers such as Corlea Fourie, Gottfried Mocke, Sebastian Beaumont and Debbie Thompson to be the faces of Pinotage and show that we haven’t forgotten our heritage, but are now applying modern winemaking techniques and young, enquiring minds to make world-class wines. 

So-called 'Young Guns' are already popping up in all sorts of areas in SA wine, making cutting-edge Chenins, Syrahs and blends and showing them in trendy, innovative and exciting ways. If Pinotage is still most people's first thought when it comes to South African wine, then we really can't afford for its image to be anything less.


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