After much anticipation following the announcement some weeks earlier of the 21 finalists in the 2017 Absa Top 10 Pinotage competition, the presentation of trophies to the winning wine producers at the Cavalli estate outside Somerset West on 3 August commemorated 21 years of Absa Bank’s involvement with the Pinotage Association and the setting of benchmarks as regards South Africa’s most successful ‘indigenous’ variety. The Top 10 laureates in this annual event are among the finest ambassadors of Wine SA, all judged to be masterful expressions of the Pinot Noir Hermitage/Cinsaut cross that dates back to the previous century and including some from wineries that have triumphed on numerous occasions in the past.
THE WINNING WINES
Delheim Pinotage 2012 – WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Altus Treurnicht
Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Reserve 2015- WO Wellington, Winemaker Francoise Roode
Flagstone Writer’s Block Single Vineyard Pinotage 2015 –WO Breedekloof, Winemaker Gerhard Swart
Kanonkop Pinotage 2012 – WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, Winemaker Abrie Beeslaar
Lanzerac Pionier Pinotage 2014 –WO Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, Winemaker Wynand Lategan
Môreson MKM 2015 –Franschhoek cellar, WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Clayton Reabow
Neil Ellis Bottelary Hills Pinotage 2015 –WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Warren Ellis
Stellenbosch Vineyards Bushvine Pinotage 2015 – WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Abraham de Villiers
La Cave Pinotage 2016 – Wellington Wines, Winemakers Francois van Niekerk & Chris Smit
Windmeul Pinotage Reserve 2015 – WO Paarl/Coastal, Winemaker Abraham van Heerden
MUSEUM CLASS TROPHY WINNERS
For the first time in the history of the competition, this year producers were invited to also submit entries in a Museum Class specifically for older wines – 10 years and older. As expected, these proved how top Pinotage fulfils the promise of great maturation potential, with a trophy presented for the top example on the tasting bench.
Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Jonkershoek Pinotage 2007
Neethlingshof Pinotage 1999
Rijk’s Reserve Pinotage 2007
Lanzerac Pinotage 1992
The panel of judges: Neil Ellis of Neil Ellis Wines (chair), wine educator and consultant Nomonde Kubheka, winemaker Corlea Fourie of Bosman Family Vineyards, Francois Rautenbach of Singita Premier Wine Direct and viticulturist Stephan Joubert of Douglas Green Bellingham (DGB).
Beyers Truter, chair and founder of the Pinotage Association, is overwhelmed by the expansion of the market for Pinotage and the passion with which winemakers have embraced this grape cultivar over the past two decades. “Our 21-year journey with Absa has been full of many highlights and it is pleasing to see how the bar continues to be raised year after year. One of the objectives in creating the Absa Top 10 Pinotage competition was to improve the quality and perceptions of this lovely, uniquely South African wine, and, looking at the standard of the finalists this year as well as the degree to which Pinotage has been embraced, we are definitely on the right track.”
Truter emphasises just how much the quality of Pinotage wines has increased, particularly during the past decade. He applauds the producers of all the wines included among the finalists for their exceptional commitment and hard work. “Pinotage is a grape that needs special viticultural and winemaking techniques. It can be tough and demanding, but when you get it right the rewards are astonishing, world-class masterpieces,” he states. Truter went on to thank Absa as the Pinotage Association’s long term “partner in wine” and “a crucial part in the expansion of our beloved Pinotage.”
Congratulating the finalists and the winning winemaking teams, John Tshabalala, Absa’s Managing Executive, Western Cape, says the group is proud and honoured to be part of the Pinotage journey. He adds that is it pleasing to see the increased commitment of the Pinotage stakeholders and the positive effect of the category’s success in the wider communities of various regions of the winelands.
“On behalf of Absa, I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to this year’s outstanding finalists and winners in the Absa Top 10 Pinotage competition. We wish all the trophy winners and finalists great success on their winemaking journey and hope they continue to prosper in local and international wine markets,” he says.
“At Absa we are proud of our partnership with the Pinotage Association, now in its 21st consecutive year, as we continue to promote uniquely South African wines made from Pinotage grapes. The Absa Top 10 Pinotage competition has become an important platform for the recognition of excellence in the winemaking industry.”
“Our continued involvement with and support of this competition is driven by our confidence in the new generation of South African winemakers. These winemakers are working hard to increase the prestige and sophistication of wines produced in South Africa. The longevity of this competition has made it possible for Pinotage pioneers to become Pinotage legends.”
Tshabalala adds that Absa’s continued support of the Pinotage Association is in line with the bank’s Shared Growth vision, through which it aims to use its assets and resources to grow and develop the societies where it operates.
“When the communities where we live and work thrive, we do too. And when society prospers, we all do,” says Tshabalala.
There were 147 entries in the 2017 Absa Top 10 Pinotage competition, and with around 50% of the 21 finalists from Stellenbosch wineries, it was no surprise that 5 of the eventual winners are from cellars in this district: Lanzerac, Delheim, Stellenbosch Vineyards, Kanonkop and Neil Ellis Wines.
The Absa Top 10 this year are mostly wines from established cellars with solid track records in the world of Pinotage, all with a common goal in striving to produce the ultimate Pinotage ‘masterpiece’.
Kanonkop Estate on the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch has made history in notching up a Top 10 win for the 12th year. Incumbent winemaker Abrie Beeslaar has been in charge of the cellar since the 2002 vintage, having succeeded Beyers Truter.
Windmeul of Paarl is also a prolific winner at the Absa Top 10 awards, with a trophy for their 2015 Reserve Pinotage taking their tally to seven. Winemakers: Abraham van Heerden (since 2015 vintage), Francois van Niekerk (2004 to 2014).
Lanzerac of the Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch is one of the most historic names in the Cape winelands and the owner of the brand on the label of the first commercially-available Pinotage – the 1959 Lanzerac having been released onto the market in 1961 – and the farm has now won two Top 10 awards – the trophies for the 2014 vintage of Lanzerac Pionier Pinotage following that for the 1998 Pinotage in 2000. Winemaker: Wynand Lategan from 2005, having taken over from Wynand Hamman.
Wellington Wines’ victory with the 2016 vintage of La Cave is the seventh addition to their trophy cabinet. Winemakers: Chris Smit (since 2005) and Francois van Niekerk (since 2014).
Delheim on the Simonsberg in Stellenbosch has won a Top 10 trophy five times following their trophy for the 2012 Delheim Pinotage. Winemaker: Altus Treurnicht took over from Reg Holder in 2015.
With the MKM 2015, Môreson have now won at the Absa Top 10 awards on four occasions. Winemaker: Clayton Reabow (from the 2007 vintage).
Flagstone of Somerset West have now won five trophies with their Writer’s Block. Winemaker: Gerhard Swart, having succeeded Bruce Jack from the 2009 vintage.
Diemersfontein of Wellington have placed among the Top 10 three times. Winemaker: Francois Roode (since 2003).
Neil Ellis Wines, based on the Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, celebrate their second win. Winemaker: Warren Ellis (since 2006).
Stellenbosch Vineyards celebrates their maiden victory with their Bushvine Pinotage 2015. Winemaker: Abraham de Villiers.
Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve 2015 – WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Anri Truter
Bon Courage Pinotage 2015 – WO Robertson, Winemakers Jacques Bruwer & Philip Viljoen
Delheim Vera Cruz Pinotage 2014 – WO Simonsberg-Stellenbosch, Winemaker Altus Treurnicht
Lanzerac Pionier Pinotage 2015 – WO Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch, Winemaker Wynand Lategan
Marianne Pinotage 2015 – WO Simonsberg-Paarl, Winemaker Jos van Wyk
Môreson The Widowmaker Pinotage 2015 – Franschhoek Cellar, WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Clayton Reabow
Neethlingshof The Short Story Collection The Owl Post Pinotage 2015 – WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker De Wet Viljoen
Neil Ellis Pinotage 2015 – WO Stellenbosch, Winemaker Warren Ellis
Rickety Bridge Pinotage 2015 – Franschhoek Cellar, WO Coastal, Winemaker Wynand Grobler
La Cave Pinotage 2015 – Wellington Wines, Winemakers Francois van Niekerk & Chris Smit
Windmeul Pinotage 2015 – WO Paarl/Coastal, Winemaker Abraham van Heerden