Pinot Noir, the greatest and most temperamental wine grape in the world, has flourished in various wine regions in South Africa. South African Pinot Noir wines are admired and loved by wine connoisseurs for their ability to age, complex aromas and flavours, and tremendous food-pairing versatility.
The history Pinot Noir in South Africa
Pinot Noir found its earliest South African champion in Abraham Izak Perold, professor of Viticulture and Oenology at Stellenbosch University, who imported the Swiss BK5 Pinot Noir clone into South Africa. Professor Perold would go on to describe the grape as “a wine of high quality, beautifully coloured, strong, full-bodied wine with an excellent bouquet.” The first Pinot Noir was planted on Muratie Wine Estate on the advice of Professor Perold.
Pinot Noir found its way into the modern South African wine era in the form of a tax break. Tim Hamilton Russell ran a successful advertising agency in Johannesburg and turned to farming to offset his personal income. Tim’s wine mentor was Desiderius Pongrácz, who was obsessed with finding new vinicultural sites despite the strict quota laws. He convinced Tim to buy Hamilton Top Pinot Noir Russell Vineyards in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
There are currently 1200ha of Pinot Noir in South Africa, making up 1.5% of the total plantings in the country.
Pinot Noir in the vineyard
Pinot Noir is one of the oldest wine grape varieties with a history dating back to the first century. The name ‘Pinot Noir’ is derived from the French words for ‘pine’ and ‘black’. The reference to a pine tree alludes to the pinecone-like shape of the grape bunches, while the reference to the colour black is an acknowledgment that the Pinot family also has white and grey variants called Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. The existence of these variants is a result of the relative genetic instability of Pinot Noir, which makes it susceptible to mutation.
Pinot Noir in the cellar
Pinot Noir wines are light to medium bodied wines with fine tannins. They have a lighter colour than other red wines due to the thinner grape skins with lower tannin content compared to other black grape varieties.
Wine made from Pinot Noir tend to have aromas reminiscent of cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, raspberry, strawberry, and many other small red berry fruits. These fruity aromas are often accompanied by a flowery perfume consisting of the scents of violets and roses. Maturation in oak barrels adds caramel, clove, spice, and vanilla aromas, assisting with the transformation of softer tannins. Some styles of Pinot Noir can also develop farmyard, forest floor, mushroom, and other savoury aromas that contribute to the complexity of the wine.
South African Pinot Noir red wine is perfect for many food pairings due to its delicate nature and red berry profile. The wine matches well with most chicken, duck, fish, pork, sushi, and vegetarian dishes.
South African Pinot Noir production areas
South Africa’s diversity in terroir, combined with the skills of local viticulturists and winemakers, allows for the production of some of the best Pinot Noir wines in the world.
Walker Bay, which includes the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, is home to many established Pinot Noir producers. Much of Walker Bay’s successful Pinot Noir production is a result of the cold Benguela current which exposes the grapes to cooling temperatures.
Pinot Noir producing wineries in the Walker Bay include:
Benguela Cove Wine Estate
Bouchard Finlayson Winery
Domaine Des Dieux
Kat Se Snor Wines
La Vierge Wines
Seven Springs Winery
The Brew Cru
Walker Bay Wine Estate
Elgin is situated in the Overberg region of South Africa and is circled by mountains. Historically renowned for apple and pear orchards, it is increasingly famous for the production of high-quality Pinot Noir wines.
The established Elgin Pinot Noir producers include:
Catherine Marshall Wines
Highlands Road Wines
Iona Wine Farm
Oak Valley Estate
Paul Cluver Estate
Paul Wallace Wine
Richard Kershaw Wines
Shannon Vineyards & Wines
Despite Stellenbosch’s reputation as a leader in the production of robust reds, the region also manages to accommodate the more delicate Pinot Noir variety.
Stellenbosch wineries producing Pinot Noir include:
Hazendal Wine Estate
Hoopenberg Wine Estate
Peter Falke Wines
Thelema Mountain Vineyards
Franschhoek, or the French Corner, has a history dating back to the 17th century. The farms still bear their original French names, some complete with spectacular Cape Dutch homesteads, towering oaks, and rolling vineyards.
The shadows cast by the surrounding mountains help to moderate temperatures, reducing the amount of heat that reaches the vines. This is particularly true on the south-facing slopes. The mountains also help to trap the cool southerly winds, lengthening the growing season and promoting complex aromas in the grapes.
Significant wineries focused on Pinot Noir include:
Vrede en Lust Estate
Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards
Lynx Wine Estate
Breede River Valley
The Breede River Valley produces high-quality Pinot Noir wines. Annual rainfall is relatively low and the river is often used for irrigation. South-easterly breezes and occasional mists from the Indian Ocean bring refreshing coolness to the valley.
Pinot Noir producers of the Breede River Valley include:
De Wetshof Estate
Eagle’s Cliff Wines
Wine production in South Africa continues to expand up the Cape South Coast. Producers in these newer areas often plant Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir producers of the area include:
Flying Cloud Wines
Ghost Corner Wines
Durbanville’s wineries are situated on the rolling hills just outside Cape Town. A combination of cool ocean breezes and shadows set upon the hills, ensuring perfect conditions for the Pinot Noir variety.
Wineries in the area producing Pinot Noir wines include:
The West Coast, which encompasses some unique winemaking areas like Cederberg, Citrusdal, and Darling, has a unique array of terroir. Certain areas of the west coast experience cool evenings and snowy winters, making them perfect to produce high-quality Pinot Noir wine.
Renowned Pinot Noir producers of the area include:
Groote Post Vineyards
The Ceres Plateau is a relatively new area showing tremendous potential for high quality Pinot Noir wines. The area is situated 950 meters above sea level on the Witzenberg mountains.
Wineries that produce Pinot Noir from Ceres include:
De Grendel Wine Estate
South African Pinot Noir Association
The South African Pinot Noir Association is a group of South African Pinot Noir producers from all regions across South Africa. They work together to promote the various Pinot Noir expressions in South Africa.
The best South African Pinot Noir wines
The Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards identify the very best South African Pinot Noir red wines to illustrate the quality of South African Pinot Noir red wines to the world.