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Beyerskloof Winery, South Africa

The orange-brick paved winery car park is surrounded by vines, their black bunches hanging in the sun over soil the same shade as the bricks. “That’s Pinotage,” says a man to his wife as he gets out of his car. “Beyerskloof is famous for it.” The second part is correct, but this vineyard, the first planted at the property thirty years ago, is Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Pinotage vineyard is on the hill behind the winery.

Owner Beyers Truter has long championed South Africa’s very own grape variety and his work has been instrumental in raising its profile. Beyers made his, and Pinotage’s name, while winemaker at nearby Kanonkop Estate and bought this property in partnership with the owners of Kanonkop. So as not to compete with Kanonkop’s Pinotages at the beginning he made just Bordeaux blends.

Beyers ancestors had owned the property which was then known as Beyer’s Kloof – kloof meaning ravine or gully.

Pinotage became the focus at Beyerskloof after Beyers Truter left Kanonkop. Not only red, pink, white, sparkling and fortified Pinotage wines are made, but also the grape is used to enhance foods and most recently to infuse a beer in the style of Belgian cherry ales.

Beyerskloof is a popular visitor destination, especially with students from nearby Stellenbosch University and Elsenburg Agricultural College. While most wineries now charge a tasting fee, Beyerskloof doesn’t. Beyers remembers when he was an impecunious student, and feels that students of today will be his customers of tomorrow.

But I have come, with Anton who teaches viticulture at Elsenburg, primarily to sample the famed Pinotage Burger in the winery restaurant, on a deck overlooking the vineyards. The half-pound ground beef patty is topped with a thick layer of onions sautéed in Pinotage until they are sweet and coloured deep purple. The chips are crisp and there’s a small salad.

To drink I order a bottle of Diesel Pinotage. It’s the most expensive wine, a selection of the best 20 barrels out of 300, but it’s much less here than back home. It comes in a statement heavy bottle, with a pencil sketch of Beyer’s dog Diesel on the label. This is serious Pinotage and one that would benefit from aging but that huge heavy bottle is too difficult to carry back on an aeroplane.
Beyers comes over to say hello and passes me an unlabelled bottle. “Try this,” he says. “It’s my new wine Traildust, a three way blend of Pinotage with its two parents; Pinot Noir and Cinsaut.” I knew he’d planted a small section of Pinot Noir and now the reason becomes clear. The wine, taken from the barrel is very young, and is intriguing with the Pinotage exuberance restrained by Cinsaut softness and Pinot Noir’s elegance.

Anton and I talk about the new book we are co-operating on. On the other side of the valley wispy white clouds form and dissipate among the mountain tops, but otherwise the sky is a clear deep blue.

Beyerskloof’s white labelled Pinotage is the largest selling brand of the variety and because of volume and cost is made in roto-tanks with staves giving wood accents. For not much more you can get the black labelled Reserve which is made on a smaller scale, fermented in open top concrete tanks, punched down by hand and aged in oak barrels.

Beyers has worked several vintages on the Douro in Portugal making Port and he makes his own version called Lagare (Portuguese for an open top fermenter) which is a blend of Pinotage and Port varieties Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barocca fortified with Pinotage brandy.

The tasting room is filling up now, but Anton and I have tasted the new Traildust and the superb Diesel, and eaten our fill so we go, Anton back to his winery classroom surrounded by vines and me to my beachside balcony to relax over coffee.

Details at www.beyerskloof.co.za

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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

Peter F May visited Beyerskloof at his own expense and paid for lunch and wine. Traildust tasting was free, as are all tastings at Beyerskloof.

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