Wie had dat een decennium geleden kunnen denken: pinotage op Britse bodem. Maar sinds afgelopen weekeinde staat die druif daar aangeplant op 200 acres in Leonardslee Gardens in West Sussex. De pers maakte een diepe buiging naar eigenaar Penny Streeter OBE and the Benguela Collection’s South African connections. Het tegenwoordige klimaat in de UK maakt het mogelijk deze druif hier tot een succes te maken.
Streeter, a Zimbabwe-born British/South African entrepreneur, purchased the Leonardslee Gardens estate, which comprises some 200 acres, in July 2017. The Pinotage vineyard will now form part of the Benguela Collection which also includes Mannings Heath Golf and Wine Estate (also in West Sussex) along with the Benguela Cove Wine Estate in South Africa’s Walker Bay, as well as four restaurants and a hotel on the Garden Route.
The new Pinotage planting, comprising 0.5 hectares, brings the Collection’s total area under vine in England to 16 hectares, planted with 66,000 vines.
Mannings Heath, three miles away from Leonardslee, was planted in 2017 with Chardonnay (60%), Pinot Noir (30%) and Pinot Meunier (10%). Benguela is aiming to produce 75,000 bottles annually, focusing primarily on English sparkling wine with a small volume of still red Pinotage, if the grape takes to the conditions. The first crop is expected in 2020 with the first wines are due to be released in 2023.
At the planting, Johann Fourie, cellar master for Benguela Cove both in South Africa and the UK, explained why he had chosen to experiment with Pinotage.
He said: “When myself and viticultural consultant Duncan McNeill were discussing all the struggles associated with growing grapes in the UK, I started to realise that Pinotage might be the answer to everything. That same day we started making phone calls and eventually sourced some Pinotage vines from a nursery in Switzerland.
“They’re Clone 48 which is the exact same clone that we use in South Africa, so I felt this was a good sign.
The struggle in the UK is getting the grapes to ripen fully. As a variety, Pinotage accumulates sugar very fast and has a short growing season. Typically budburst is way after that of Chardonnay which means we virtually eliminate the risk of spring frost.
After that, it has a quick, short growing season – indeed it’s the first variety we pick in South Africa”.
“Pinotage grapes have thick skins meaning they’re less susceptible to rot, unlike its thin-skinned parent Pinot Noir. It is also very black in colour which means that the temperature within the berry is 6 to 10°C higher than the ambient temperature outside, which helps with ripening and tannin development.
“It also has a moderate canopy growth which is good as we have a slight problem with high vigour here”.
Time will tell
Despite his arguments in favour of the grape variety and its suitability for the UK, Fourie still acknowledges that what he’s doing is experimental.
“Having said all this, let’s see. Only time will tell – this is a test project so we’ll see what the vineyard conditions allow us to do”.
He believes that if successful, the resulting wine will be on the Pinot Noir side of the Pinotage spectrum with red fruit rather than black fruit flavours and aromas.
“The plan is to make a still red wine from Pinotage but if we’re unsuccessful then our back up plan is to add Pinotage to the base wine for our sparkling.
“If you look at the countries that have already planted Pinotage (Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, US (five states), Zimbabwe, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa) some of them have warmer climates, but others are cooler. Take New Zealand for example, they’re really starting to jump on the Pinotage bandwagon”.
Streeter also appears confident about plans at the two West Sussex sites and has attracted widespread praise from locals after having vowed to reopen Leonardslee Gardens to the public following its closure due to financial difficulties in 2010.