The first commercial Pinotage vineyard has been planted in the UK to see how that grape performs in local conditions. For publication in week starting 2 July 2018.
New data released last month for English Wine Week show that the United Kingdom has 502 commercial vineyards and 147 wineries. The vast majority are in southern England – 152 in the south-east and 136 in the south-west. Scotland has four and Wales 23, with another 19 in northern England. The rest are scattered in various parts of the country.
Last year another one million vines were planted in the UK, the highest number for a single year, though industry analysts suggest another 1.5 million could be planted by the end of this year.
As of late last year the UK had about 2,550 hectares of vines, which means the total has tripled since 2000. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay represent almost two thirds of all vines in the country. Seven in 10 bottles made are sparkling.
Peter Richards MW and his wife Susie Barrie MW wrote the Essential Guide to English Wine to coincide with English Wine Week. It has been published by the International Wine & Food Society.
Meanwhile, the first commercial Pinotage vineyard in the UK has been planted at Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens vineyard at Horsham in southern England. It is an experimental plot of half a hectare to evaluate how this grape will cope with English conditions.
Pinotage was created in 1925 in South Africa when Professor Abraham Izak Perold crossed Pinot Noir with Cinsaut, also known as Hermitage. The new grape’s name is a neologism from Pinot and Hermitage.
Pinot Noir has often struggled in South Africa because it has been planted in the wrong locations, though Cinsaut has always grown well. The aim of the new grape was to combine the flavours of Pinot Noir with the easy-to-grow characteristics of Cinsaut.
Johann Fourie has been appointed the winemaker at Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens. He has been cellarmaster at the Benguela Cove estate in South Africa since 2016. At the UK vineyards he is working with viticulturist Duncan McNeill to plan the wineries and manage winemaking. Fourie was named best oenologist in South Africa in 2015 when he received the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year award.
Fourie said Pinotage ripens early, attains high sugar levels, offers moderate growth, has a short growing season, resists rot and is well suited to cooler climates – all of which are relevant for the UK. It buds slightly later than Chardonnay, another early ripener.
Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens covers about 81 hectares. A second site, five km away at Manning’s Heath, was planted in 2017 to create the UK’s first golf and wine estate. The two estates have a combined 16 hectares of vines planted to the traditional Champagne grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
About 60 per cent of plantings are Chardonnay, with 30 per cent Pinot Noir and the rest Pinot Meunier. The first crop is due in 2020 with the initial release of wine in 2023. Total production is projected at about 75,000 bottles of sparkling wine a year.
The Horsham site features a Grade 1-listed woodland garden first planted in 1801. The gardens will open to the public in January next year. Renovations began in July 2017 after the current owner, Penny Streeter OBE, purchased the site. Streeter is a British entrepreneur based in Cape Town in South Africa.
The garden restoration project has been described as the largest of its kind since the restoration of the gardens of Heligan in Pentewan, St. Austell, in Cornwall during the 1990s. Heligan consisted of about 400 hectares of magnificent gardens at the start of the last century, but fell into neglect when the staff went to fight in the trenches during World War One. Most never returned, and the gardens became overgrown.
No maintenance was carried out for eight years at Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, and it required a team of up to 20 gardeners working since the summer of 2017 to restore the site. They cleared almost 16 km of pathways along the steep valleys.
The new vineyards are part of a new South African-style wine farm experience. Penny Streeter said the aim was to create a “special visitor experience”. “People can enjoy beautiful English parkland and woodlands, now with wine tastings and pairings, good food and an entertaining events programme. Brits who have travelled to South African wine farms can enjoy the same friendly and relaxed wine culture just an hour by train from London, in exquisite countryside – and maybe a round of golf.”
Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens and Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate are divisions of The Benguela Collection, a wine producer and hospitality group that Penny Streeter started in 2013 after her company acquired the Benguela Cove wine estate on South Africa’s southern coast. The group now includes four restaurants and a hotel on the Garden Route, the main wine tourism drive in the country.
Johann Fourie said Pinotage should work well in UK conditions if managed properly. It was important that the grape be picked early before cold and disease pressures set in. “Being thick-skinned makes the grapes resistant to rot, which is a key factor. Unlike many Bordeaux grape varietals, Pinotage doesn’t have any unpleasant ‘green’ flavours when not picked fully ripe,” he said.
“In fact, more winemakers are moving towards picking Pinotage earlier and making a more finessed Pinot-like style of red wine from the grape.” Because Pinotage ripens early it accumulated sugar quickly, he said.
Pinotage can be used to make a good base for sparkling wine. So if all else failed, Fourie said, “we’ll end up with a unique English sparkling that’s got a South African twist to it”.
As of late last year South Africa had about 7,000 hectares planted to Pinotage. The first single variety Pinotage wine was made in 1941. Wine critic Tim Atkin named a Pinotage as his South African red wine of the year last year.
Pinotage is grown in 10 countries: Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, five states in the United States, Zimbabwe, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa. It will be fascinating to see how it performs in the UK.