Pinot Noir in South Africa

Burgundy in France produces the best Pinot Noir in the world. Not only are these some of the most haunting and special wines in the world, but also the most expensive and increasingly, very rare. 

©Louise Brodie

Nicknamed the ‘heartbreak grape’ because of the difficulty to make good wine, Pinot Noir can produce both the most seductive and most disappointing wines; there seems to be very little middle ground. It is often the memory of having one of these captivating greats that lure winemakers all over the world to try their hand at making Pinot Noir. Very few succeed. 

Styles of Pinot Noir

©Louise Brodie
Pinot Noir grapes.

Vintage-sensitive, thin-skinned and prone to disease, no grape (except maybe for Nebiollo) is as terroir-sensitive as Pinot Noir. One of the oldest grape varieties, it is therefore also one with the most clonal variances. The most notable in South Africa are clones 113, 115, 667 and 777. 

A relatively young variety in South Africa, many of the first Pinot Noir wines were produced from the Champagne clone BK5, these however produced light wines with very little power. 

The first wine produced was by Muratie in Stellenbosch and the late 1990s saw Meerlust Wine Estate be quite successful. It was only with the vision of Tim Hamilton Russell from Hamilton Russell Vineyards that the modern success of South African Pinot Noir started. Vineyard age is essential to make great ‘Pinot’ and our best vineyards are now just starting to cross the crucial 15 years age barrier. 

By James Pietersen