‘Heartbreak grape’ finds love in the Cape


‘Heartbreak grape’ finds love in the Cape

An SA estate’s pluckiness in planting pinot noir has led more than 250 to ride its wave

Michael Fridjhon

It’s a safe bet that fewer than 10% of the pinot growers in Burgundy know or care that August 18 was International Pinot Noir Day. For a start, they don’t see themselves as pinot noir producers: in their professional world the site, the patch of dirt in which their vines are rooted, is the single most important fact. If they make white wines, their vines are chardonnay. If red, then pinot noir.

Not so those in the New World, who live from the juice of the “heartbreak grape”. That they have pinot rather than syrah or cabernet confers a peculiarly different stature to their enterprise. Since pinot noir was traditionally much harder to manage (and once upon a time even harder to sell), they bear the trans-generational scars of their fathers. By way of an example: the first modern pinot plantings in SA were exclusively the desperately ordinary BK5. Only after 1990 did the first Dijon clones appear.

Until then only Tim Hamilton Russell had been brave enough to turn non-Burgundian pinot noir into a saleable proposition. In doing so he laid the foundations for the entire modern industry in SA and prepared it to assume the mantle of the most prestigious cultivar the first two decades of the 21st century could ever imagine: if the 1980s was the era of cabernet and the next fashion wave was syrah, then what followed was what pinot had been waiting in the wings for since time immemorial...

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