Oldenburg owner hits out at Pinotage

Adrian Vanderspuy of Oldenburg Vineyards in Stellenbosch has blasted South Africa’s flasgship red grape Pinotage, stating he has no interest in the variety.

Vines at Oldenburg in Stellenbosch overlooking Table Mountain

Vines at Oldenburg in Stellenbosch

Speaking to the drinks business at a wine dinner at High Timber in London last night, Vanderspuy said: “Pinotage? I’ll leave the banana wines to other people.

“I don’t like the grape variety and have no interest in planting it. There is so much more South Africa can do to a higher level.”

South African-born, Switzerland-based Vanderspuy, who owns the boutique, 30-hectare Oldenburg estate in the Banghoek Valley in Stellenbosch, is instead putting his energies into Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

For his soon-to-be-released top wine, red blend Rhodium 2010, he decided to give Merlot a starring role in place of Cabernet Sauvignon.

“I wanted to lead with Merlot because everyone is leading with Cabernet Sauvignon, and as a relatively new estate owner, I wanted to be different,” he told db.

Adrian Vanderspuy

On red alert: Adrian Vanderspuy

“I started with 50% Cabernet in the blend but whittled it out completely in the end as the Merlot and Cabernet Franc worked so well together with a dash of Malbec.

“If you tasted the Malbec on its own you’d want to drink it by the gallon. It’s the most beautiful inky purple colour and has wonderful perfume,” he added.

Despite currently leading with Merlot, Vanderspuy, whose biggest export markets are Germany, Switzerland and the UK, hasn’t ruled out the idea of a Bordeaux-based red blend.

“I’m new to the game so am still working out which varieties are working best for us. It’s hard to single one out as having the best potential in South Africa.

“For us it would probably be Cabernet Sauvignon, but I think South Africa might end up having the most success with red blends that are more than the sum of their parts,” he said.

Rather than plough millions into building a winery, Vanderspuy currently rents the winemaking facilities at Glenelly, the Stellenbosch estate owned by former Château Pichon-Longueville owner May Elaine de Lencquesaing.

As for the whites, Vanderspuy believes passionately in the potential of Chenin Blanc, particularly when paired with a small percentage of Chardonnay and aged in 50% new French oak.

“Chenin has such a strong link to South Africa and it’s such a versatile grape.

“When I bought the estate in 2003 I had the chance to make Sauvignon Blanc but thought that in a few years there would be a glut and the thirst for it would die down,” Vanderspuy admitted.

“The world doesn’t need any more Sauvignon Blanc but it does need more Chenin,” he added.

Vanderspuy’s Chenin has caught the eye of Chenin pioneer Ken Forrester, who buys the grapes Oldenburg doesn’t use to vinify at his own estate and sell on.

4 Responses to “Oldenburg owner hits out at Pinotage”

  1. Martin Lam says:

    Not sure that Pinotage has ever been South Africa’s ‘flagship’ variety, but nonetheless I do think it is capable of producing very good wines, in the right locations, made by the right people.
    In the last 2 decades, the great Francois Naudé at L’Avenir made some superb Pinotages, today Jeremy Borg at Painted Wolf and Roelf du Preez at Bon Cap also turn in some excellent wines- we should not expect Pinotage to be all things, any more than we do Zinfandel in California, but I think the days of dismissing Pinotage because it is a/ faulty or b/ badly made are waning, and it can be an asset to the palette of styles and grape varieties which South Africa offers the world.

  2. I really do not have a strong view on Pinotage, other than to say there some fine examples of the cultivar which are definitely sought after. Rather, my view, and I do feel passionately about this, is that South Africa has the potential and also the building blocks in place, to move to a new level and to produce some stunning red wines, featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Carbernet Franc, Merlot or Syrah. The passion and creativity found there, along with South Africa’s reconnection with the world of wine in the past two decades is only now beginning to be felt and will lead to some exciting times ahead.

    Watch this space!

  3. Let’s see if I have this right: a guy lives most of his life abroad, comes back with cash and buys a rundown vineyard. He has zero background in vineyards and wine, and must rely on others to determine how the land should be replanted. They determine not to plant Pinotage on the farm, which may well be little more than a proper, site-specific decision.

    A few years later, the owner goes to dinner in London, tells a wine scribe “Pinotage? I’ll leave the banana wines to other people. I don’t like the grape variety and have no interest in planting it.” And The Drinks Business splashes his negative pronouncement all over the Internet as major criticism of a well established and successful cultivar in the hands of far more experienced growers and winemakers.

    It must have been a very slow day for wine news at TDB, or Lucy Shaw is auditioning to replace Lettie Teague at the Wall Street Journal.

  4. Antoni Pucinni says:

    Should it not be Simonsberg in the photo, I think Table Mountain would be quite far away for such a close up…… Thanks Dave (Jefferson) for your comment, I do think that you bring everything into perspective. I personally love Pinotage and think that this grape variety has a lot to offer, on the other hand I’m not a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, but that’s my opinion. What I must comment on is that the Cabernet Franc of Oldenburg is an absolute beauty, fantastic wine and very well made.

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