South Africa, the 10th largest wine producing country in the world in 2018 and 6th largest exporter in volume, is one of those "new world" vineyards that are shaking up the wine order. Focus on the history of the South African vineyard and its Pinotage, an indigenous grape variety of the Rainbow Nation, on the occasion of the "International Pinotage Day" on October 12.
The history of wine in South Africa is closely linked to the history of colonization. In 1659, Dutch settlers produced the first South African wines from the French muscadel (or muscat de frontignan) grapes and gave birth to the oldest vineyard in the "new world". Later, after founding Stellenbosch using vines imported from France and the Rhine, the new governor Simon Van der Stel created Klein Constancia in 1685, which produced very famous wines that found their way onto the tables of European monarchs.
It was from 1688, when the Huguenots persecuted in France by the Church after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes were recruited by the East India Company for their wine-growing knowledge, that the cultivation of the vine progressed. They settle in Franschhoek ("the French corner") with French grape varieties and winemaking techniques.
In 1948, the national party established apartheid. From 1976 onwards, bilateral international sanctions were multiplied to protest against this racist system: diplomatic and trade restrictions, import embargoes, export denials and South Africa was excluded from all world organizations. Without access to know-how and technology, particularly European, in the field of viticulture and winemaking, South Africa is virtually self-sufficient and is deprived of commercial outlets by boycotts. Local producers then develop their own identity with specific yeasts but also national grape varieties such as Pinotage. The latter is the result of a cross between Pinot Noir (Pino-) and Cinsault, originally called Hermitage in South Africa (-tage) created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, a researcher at the University of Stellenbosh, when he was trying to adapt Pinot Noir to the South African climate. Bottled for the first time in 1953, Pinotage represents a real identity mark, even if it is not immediately successful. This early grape variety is indeed easy to grow but its vinification requires a lot of know-how.
The liberation of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and his election in 1994 with the abolition of the last apartheid laws marked the beginning of the rebirth of the South African vineyard: access to the globalized wine market engendered a real "wine boom". Emphasis is placed on the quality of the wine, international grape varieties are invading the vineyard and red grape varieties are increasing from 20% in 1997 to more than 45% in 2017. Pinotage, although still a minority product, is being revived and exported to New Zealand, California and Canada. It is also widely used in blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah, known as "Cape Blend". Pinotage has gained worldwide recognition almost 40 years after its creation, notably thanks to the trophy for the best red wine received by the Pinotage of Kanonkop at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition in 1991. Today, the red and rosé wines, both still and sparkling, made from Pinotage, are one of the South African winemakers' greatest pride and joy in the eyes of tourists.
Chloé QUEFFEULOU for Les Grappes
Pinotage in a few figures (figures 2018 )
- 6,791 ha planted in Pinotage, i.e. 7.3% of the total area planted in South Africa.
- Mainly in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Swartland
- 4 731 035 litres for the internal market
- 16,947,477 litres exported