Kanonkop – Heritage and Pinotage
A beautiful and historic wine estate at the foot of the Simonsberg mountains near Stellenbosch is home to some of the finest pinotage wines in the world. A dedication to careful, classic winemaking and a deep respect for heritage have cemented Kanonkop as a global contender in the production of this and other fine wines.
WRITTEN BY RUSSEL WASSERFALL
IMAGES COURTESY KANONKOP WINES
The canon which gives the estate its name was originally fired as a signal to take goods to market.
The name Kanonkop, meaning Canon Hill, sounds warlike. It evokes the thunder of big guns and flying hooves charging into battle. In actual fact, it is home to one of South Africa’s most celebrated wine estates, a peaceful place of natural beauty and delicious red wines.
Kanonkop is a hill at the foot of the Simonsberg mountain range that was the site of a canon vital to the survival of the farmers in the region. It was placed there not as a means of defense, but as a signal.
Back in the late 17th century, and well into the 18th century, farmers in the Cape Colony survived on trade with ships rounding the Cape of Good Hope and heading towards spice wealth of the East. Farms scattered around present-day Stellenbosch and a little further away like Babylonstoren, owed their livelihoods to the ships.
The area was mostly given to mixed farming to supply the needs of Merchant ships rounding the Cape, and to cater to the growing colony around Cape Town.
When they heard the canon’s roar, the local famers would load their ox wagons with produce and begin the day-long 50km trek to the port.
Some Huguenot settlers fleeing religious persecution in France brought vines with them and soon after their first arrival in 1689, wine became a feature of Cape Colonial agriculture. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars wine was regularly exported from the Cape Colony to Europe. In fact, Napoleon himself was very fond of Groot Constantia’s Vin de Constance.
Manual punching down is done by hand and begins the vinification process of Kanonkop’s signature, handmade wines.
Kanonkop Wine Estate only produced its first estate wines in 1973. It is a 4th generation, family-owned farm which turned from mixed agriculture to specialize in wine production in the 1970s, having planted their first block of Pinotage grapes in the 1950s. The farm has been handed down from generation to generation since the late 1800s and is now in run by brothers Paul and Johann Krige.
Their grandfather Paul Sauer began the work of converting the family farm during his lifetime. Even though he passed on to his great reward in 1976, he did live to see his dream of bottling Kanonkop wines come true. The foundation he created, the sense of respect for the classic traditions of winemaking and the love of the land continue in the philosophy of Kanonkop wines today.
The estate has 100 hectares of rolling hillside lands under vines. They only produce red varietals, and these consist mainly of cabernet sauvignon and the Cape’s most tantalising grape, pinotage. From the very beginning, Kanonkop has focused on select cultivars so they can concentrate on being the very best at what they do.
The wines are aged in French oak for anything from 12 to 24 months.
The grapes were chosen because research and testing showed that they would do well in this terroir. The idea is to plant in marginal soils to ensure that the vines don’t produce too much fruit and concentrate all their energy and flavour in limited, perfect bunches of fruit. Some of the fruit is even thinned out in the growing season to make sure only the best is available for wine.
The Summer harvest begins in the punishing heat of February and lasts until late March. Every bunch of grapes is picked by hand before it is taken for sorting at the cellar. The winemaker plans the year’s vintage beginning on the sorting tables where he selects the best grapes for the wine he wants to create.
The cream from the sorting process of each varietal goes into Kanonkop’s open cement fermentation tanks where vinification begins. As they have since 1973, the cellar team manually punches down the fermenting juice and skins every 3 hours, around the clock for 3 to 5 days.
The manual punching ensures maximum extraction of flavour, tannins and juice from the fruit. In other words, the maximum expression of the fruit grown on Kanonkop makes it into the wines of Kanonkop. Long experience with this process has also taught successive winemakers on the estate that it creates wines that are perfect for cellaring.
It is a matter of great pride, and the characteristic of a great red wine, that all the primary label wines can be put away in cellars for long periods. They only improve with age.
No matter how much effort people contribute, all wine begins in the soil. It’s all about terroir.
While the grapes for the signature Kanonkop label, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux blend (Paul Sauer) are entirely processed by hand, some automation has been introduced for other wines on the estate. The second label is called Kadette, and because of the amount of work involved, the punching process is replicated with a machine for these wines.
Once fermentation is completed, the developing wine in the cement tanks is transferred to stainless steel tanks to complete malolactic fermentation. When the winemaker is satisfied with the condition of the new wine, it is transferred to French oak barrels for maturation. Kadette wines mature for about 12 months while the Kanonkop wines are oaked for between 18 and 24 months.
In deference to the terroir and the land which gives up its bounty for the wine, the team at Kanonkop gives back as much as possible to the soil. All the off-cuts and organic material from harvest through to the skins left over vinification is turned into compost on the farm. This returns nutrients to the vines and helps with moisture retention in the soil during the long, dry growing season.
This is particularly welcome by the oldest vines on the farm. That block of Pinotage grapes mentioned earlier was planted by Paul Sauer in 1953. Today his grandsons Paul and Johann produce a wine exclusively from those grapes. Black Label Pinotage invests all the lessons and skills, all the care and heritage learned on the estate in a wine made with its most precious grapes.
It stands tall and distinct from the Kanonkop Estate Range whose wines are also made in a complex, age-worthy style for extended maturation with grapes originating solely on the farm. The Kadette wines, while also excellent are more for daily consumption, as they are made in a softer, fruit forward style to be enjoyed with little or no cellaring. Grapes originate from dedicated contract growers in the Stellenbosch region that reflect a regional, rather than specific estate terroir.
It is a great relief that in the current age, we don’t need to wait for the sound of canon fire before they bring their produce to market. We can simply order online and wait for the thunderous roar of the doorbell to enjoy some of the finest wines produced in South Africa.
Available at Vinmonopolet
10595801 Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2016, kr 549,90
Cabernet Franc 15%, Merlot 15%, Cabernet Sauvignon 70%
5678801 Kanonkop Kadette 2018, kr 209,90
Cabernet Sauvignon 38%, Cabernet Franc 6%, Pinotage 33%, Merlot 23%
5854801 Kanonkop Pinotage 2017, kr 359,90
5854901 Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, kr 359,90
Cabernet Sauvignon 100%