Johannesburg — THE promotion of uniquely South African grape variety Pinotage is breaking new ground with new international markets discovering the country's signature taste at least 85 years after it was created by Abraham Izak Perold, the first professor of viticulture at Stellenbosch University.
Pinotage wines have recently been welcomed in several states in the US and certain European Union markets, especially Scandinavia, and Russia.
The Pinotage Association is targeting Canada and Asia as some of the wine has already reached the Japanese market.
"Prof Perold is the man without whom we wouldn't be savouring Pinotage wines here and now ... he is to the wine industry what our former president Nelson Mandela is to humanity and SA," says Mr Beyers Truter, founder and chairman of the Pinotage Association.
Pinotage is a red wine grape that Prof Perold bred in 1925 with a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut. The Cinsaut is known as Hermitage in SA, hence the name Pinotage.
The grape is a viticultural cross of two varieties of Vitis vinifera, not a hybrid.
It produces deep red varietal wines with smoky, bramble and earthy flavours, sometimes with notes of bananas and tropical fruit. Pinotage is often blended, and also made into fortified wine and even red sparkling wine.
However, in its early years Pinotage was criticised by wine testers who said at times it smelled of acetone.
"Because of the efforts of South African makers of Pinotage wines, SA has both practical and patriotic reasons for aggressively promoting Pinotage wines produced from a grape varietal which provides wines of superior quality," says Mr Truter, who is now cellar master and owner of Beyerskloof near Stellenbosch.
"These are wines which can hold their own against any varietal from any wine-growing region of the world - making Pinotage the trump card of the South African wine industry."
Although the vines are now planted in other countries and Pinotage has achieved international success, its origin is South African, he says.
The association is honouring Prof Perold this year with the launch of the Absa Perold Cape Blend Competition, to encourage makers to create a signature style for the composition of true Cape blends.
Key to the competition is the requirement that the blended wine should contain a minimum of 30% and maximum of 70% Pinotage. The first award will be made next year.
Prof Perold was born in the Cape in 1880. After achieving a PhD in chemistry from the University of Halle an der Saale in Germany in 1904, he was sent on a scouting mission overseas by the Cape government, which wanted to extend the range of grapes planted in the region.
He left SA having only 17 types of grapes, and returned with 177 varietals. They formed the core of a collection which still exists at the Welgevallen experimental farm of the University of Stellenbosch.
Mr Thys Loubser, CEO of KWV, says as owners of KWV's Abraham Perold heritage brand, the company continues to jealously guard the integrity of the name "Perold".
It says the association of the name with the Absa Perold Cape Blend Competition will "go a long way in creating excellent blends in our country".
Meanwhile, the trophy for the world's top Pinotage wine at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London has been renamed the Abraham Perold Trophy for Best Pinotage.
"It would be pointless to grow superb grapes and make exceptional wines from them if that achievement remained a secret," Mr Truter says.
Ernst Janovsky, GM of Absa AgriBusiness says: "With the Absa Perold Cape Blend Competition, our aim is to assist the wine industry to set a standard in what constitutes a Cape Blend."
As more hectares are being planted with Pinotage grapes, the association believes more Pinotage wines are being made.
It says it wants to ensure the market expands and although it does not market individual labels, it accepts the responsibility of the generic promotion of Pinotage wines.