Paul Kemp, owner winemaker of Loma Prieta winery in California, joined me at my home for dinner recently as he paused in London on his journey home from South Africa to San Francisco.
Paul (pictured right) is a lawyer who bought the vineyard on the top of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Los Gatos, south of San Francisco and has constructed a Tuscan style winery.
He came across the South African grape variety Pinotage growing in the Lodi Valley at Vino Con Brio winery and says “I liked the wine so much that I bought one ton of their grapes in 2008 five tons in 2009 and 20 tons in 2011.”
Paul has become enthused with Pinotage and believes he is now the largest Pinotage producer in America, having bought in all the grapes he could find to add to his own increasing plantings. Paul calculates there are currently 25 acres of Pinotage planted in California.
While he was in the Cape the producers Pinotage Association had arranged a series of tastings during which he visited winemakers at Simonsig, Beyerskloof and Kanonkop Estate. Paul told me he was blown away with the breadth and quality of the wines he tasted. He had not experienced many South African Pinotages back home.
He had shipped a case of his own Pinotage to the Cape for tasting and had saved two bottles for me.
We started with a sparkler I was certain Paul wouldn’t have previously encountered, the Ridgeview Estate Merret-Cavendish 2006 methode traditionelle, an excellent English estate sparkler.
Paul suggested we opened his 2008 Loma Prieta Pinotage and keep the 2009 for later. He wanted the wine decanted, but I poured the wine to because I like to see how its develops in the glass and I think few of my readers decant their wines.
At first the Loma Prieta Pinotage 2008 reminded me of an Italian wine because of its acidity which made it ideal for food pairing. After about 15 minutes the wine softened and became more voluptuous with juicy berry flavours and after about 40 minutes it was showing underlying coffee flavours. The evolution was most interesting. I am not sure I would have identified this wine as Pinotage in a blind tasting although the later coffee aromas were a hint. It was an excellent wine rich in berry fruits and rewarding drinking.
Paul says that he can sell all he makes of his Pinotage and has customers who pre-book cases. In the USA many wineries operate ‘wine-clubs’ where subscribers receive regular shipments of wine and Paul has started a Pinotage only club which already has a thousand members committed to buying his Pinotage. That’s one of the reasons Paul is fast planting more Pinotage, a variety he thinks has a bright future in California.
We also opened Te Awa 2006 Pinotage from Hawkes Bay and L’Avenir Estate 2003, made by Francois Naude whom Paul had met in the Cape. Te Awa was most delightful, lean like a greyhound and L’Avenir was at its peak of elegant maturity.
Our tasting confirmed Pinotage is making some excellent wines in California, New Zealand and South Africa. And I think I must revisit California soon.
Loma Prieta website is at lomaprietawinery.com
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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, also available for the Kindle and Apple iPad.
Disclosure: Peter F May cooked dinner and Paul Kemp contributed his own wines. Peter supplied the other wines.