Q/A with Kanonkop Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar on 2007 PinotageBy Marisa D'Vari | January 3rd, 2010 | Category: Interviews | 2 comments
One of the advantages of living in the new millennium - for wine students, at any rate, is the opportunity to compare tasting notes on the Internet and even connect with winemakers. Recently I tasted 2007 Kanonkop Pinotage with an eye on how I would know it was a 2007 South African Pinotage if I had to identify it blind.
In other words, what would be the "markers" that would suggest this particular varietal?
To find out (and share this information with you) I contacted Abrie Beeslaar, winemaker at Kanonkop, who recently won a trio of prestigious awards (the last one from the International Wine and Spirit Competition Limited).
Q: Abrie, by tasting the wine "blind" what do you feel are the signatures of Pinotage in general, and your wine specifically?
A: Kanonkop Pinotage normally have more dark fruit like plum and blackcurrant, but in lighter vintages like 2007 you get more red fruit like strawberry which is more common for Pinotage. Pinotage got great colour, so it is very seldom that you find light coloured Pinotages. The structure of Pinotage is different from Cabernet Sauvignon, because it does not have the same amount of tannins. It reminds more of a Rhone blend.
Some wineries got a lot of banana on the nose, which can be influenced by the fermentation temp. or the yeast culture used. The history of Pinotage you can get on there website, but it is a grape variety and not a blend.
Q: In your mind, what makes this wine, tasted blind, distinctively different from S. Africa intead of California where I believe it is being grown. Please describe your climate and if Pinotage grapes grow better on hillsides. Are some blocks of a winery's estate better suited to Pinotage then, say, Cabernet? Are extracted fruit and high alcohol signatures of all Pinotage wines regardless of origins?
A: The fruit concentration, velvety tannins, and lingering aftertaste, and the potential of being powerful with elegance is something have not seen in Pinotage from other countries. South Africa got a warm climate and in the Western Cape where most grapes are grown, the climate is almost Mediterranean. I think most vineyards grow better on the hillsides, and the potential of the soil will partially determine what variety we will plant there. High extract and high alcohol can be affected by the winemaker, and unlike Califronia, we are not allowed to add water to our wines. I also think the higher extract and higher alcohols is something that promoted by people like Mr. Parker. The vintage variation is less on Kanonkop because we have low yields and older vineyards. The variation in vintages is felt more with varieties like Sauvignon Blanc.
Q: How important is being below a mountain to the grape (as in the case with Kanonkop). Does the mountain act as a windshield? Does it by default let minerals from the mountain flow down to the flat land?
A:We are actually on the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountain. The majority of the soils on the farm is decomposed granite, that originate from the mountain. The slopes give us also good drainage and different aspects. You also get air movement from the mountain, which makes us cooler than the surrounding areas.
Q: Can you explain how irrigation - or lack of it - affects the wine? I would imagine this would be the major component of rich vs. thin wine in a rainy growing season.
A: We do supplementary irrigation when it is very dry. This will help the plant through the tough times, and prevent the berries from shrivelling.
Q: Is your wine's concentration due primarily to the age of the vines? In a blind tasting, would you say that most quality producers use old vines and I can count on this concentration as a guide to quality?
A: Old vines add a lot to concentration, but it is not the determining factor. You can also get very good concentration with 15 year old vines.
Q: What is your soil type? I've read that poor coarse sandy soil with little water retention produced fruity wines with limited complexity. Yet to me, all Pinotages are "fruity." Can you explain the flavor profile specifically?
A: We have decomposed granite soils, and they will normally give you darker fruit. Sandy soils with higher irrigation will give you wines with more red berries and which is lighter in structure. (the real influences is much more than just the soils)
Q: I've read hillsides produce the best vines ...
A: Most of our Pinotage is on the hill, varying from 200m to 320m above sea level.
Q: Any hints of what to look for in your wine when blind tasting, especially the banana, would be helpful.
A: Our wines have dark fruit like plum, blackcurrant, cinnamon, fruit cake, coffee, mocca.
From Marisa: Thank you so much Abrie for being so generous with your time and educating fans of your wines.