English Pinotage could be on your dinner table within five years, if a new project works out as planned.
The first commercial Pinotage vines in the UK have been planted at Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, in Horsham, Sussex, with a view to producing a still red wine.
The 0.75ha vineyard is planted with Pinotage vines from a Swiss nursery. Cellarmaster Johann Fourie has high hopes for the variety, a Pinot Noir-Cinsault cross developed in South Africa in 1925.
‘We see Pinotage as the answer to a number of challenges faced by English wine grape-growers,’ he said.
‘It accumulates sugar very fast during the growing season and is an early ripener, so should be picked before cold and disease pressures set in due to hanging for too long. The thick skins make the grapes resistant to rot, and help with the tannins and colour.’
He added, ‘This is a test project, so we’ll see what the vineyard conditions allow us to do.
‘Fortunately Pinotage makes a good base for sparkling wine too; so if all else fails we’ll produce an English sparkling with a South African twist.’
Cape Town-based British owner and entrepreneur Penny Streeter OBE bought Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens in July 2017, aiming to create a South African wine farm experience.
The site features Grade I listed gardens, first planted in 1801; they open to the public in January 2019 following extensive renovation work.
The new planting brings the total area under vine to 16 hectares – at Leonardslee and at nearby Mannings Heath, where Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines were planted in 2017, to create the UK’s first golf and wine estate.
A winery with a 75,000-bottle capacity is being built at Mannings Heath, with the first crop due in 2020, and the first releases in 2023.
Leonardslee and Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate are divisions of The Benguela Collection, a wine producer and hospitality group that Streeter started in 2013 with the acquisition of the Benguela Cove wine estate, in South Africa’s Walker Bay area.
The group now includes four restaurants and a hotel on the Garden Route.