Once upon a garden, a Pinotage was born.
This is the story of our Pinotage vineyard at Leonardslee Gardens.
The camellias, magnolias, bluebells and azaleas of the Leonardslee Gardens are blooming again after slumbering since 2010. This sleeping beauty of a historical garden stretching over 240 acres once again opens her arms to the public.
A team of specialised horticulturists and gardeners nurtured back to life what’s been collected and curated for over two hundred years. Their dedication to the garden is abundantly displayed as it reopens.
The fairy tale continues with a few more characters and cultivars adding to the Leonardslee story line.
Leonardslee is the latest acquisition of business woman Penny Streeter OBE, founder of the Benguela Collection. This includes Lakeside Lodge in Sedgefield (South Africa), Benguela Cove Wine Estate in Hermanus (South Africa), NomNom Eateries in Somerset West (South Africa), Mannings Heath Golf and Wine Estate in West Sussex, UK, with Leonardslee near Horsham now added to the fold.
According to Johann Fourie, Benguela Cove’s South African winemaker, there was a need for another sister property to expand their vineyards. The big stretches of open field on the property was the perfect site for planting vineyards, as Penny envisioned its potential as a perfect fit for the Benguela Collection. It was time to give the garden back to the people and build a new legacy to encourage tourism and celebrate its heritage.
The vineyard planting here will complete the range across the two sites, the other being at the Mannings Heath Golf and Wine Estate.
“In 2017 we planted the first chardonnay, pinot mineur and pinot noir at Mannings Heath,” Fourie shared. “After our plantings in May at Leonardslee, the vineyards of the two sites will total 60% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir and 10% pinot mineur.”
This adds to the historical importance of the gardens, whilst also anchoring the identity and personality of the brand.
“The idea of planting Pinotage in the UK has been taking shape in my head over the past year. Firstly, it’s quintessentially South African, inherently a part of who we are. It would also add to the historical significance of such a garden.”
Happenstance weaves through the story of how Penny came upon the once flourishing garden and Pinotage’s own tale of discovery: it was by fluke that this South African cultivar was propagated after only four seedlings were rescued from a neglected garden.
When Fourie consulted English viticulturists, the connection deepened. “Pinotage is an early ripening cultivar; it has a thick skin and not easily subjected to rot. It can be harvested before rot sets in with the potential of making a light and elegant red wine on UK soil.”
“We are the new kids on the block, pushing the limits, being innovative and creative.”
More about Pinotage (source: Pinotage Association) Professor Abraham Izak Perold is fondly nicknamed the father of Pinotage. He obtained his Ph.D. in Chemistry (summa cum laude) at the University of Halle an der Saale in Germany. Upon his return to South Africa in 1906, Perold was first appointed as a temporary professor in chemistry at the University of Cape Town and went on to become the first professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch. He became Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at this University.
With his phenomenal knowledge of grape varieties around the world, his insatiable desire to learn more is probably what motivated him to cross the noble Pinot Noir with hermitage, much more of an ugly duckling. The cross produced only four seeds that he planted in the garden of his residence at Welgevallen during 1925, and not in the University’s nursery.
At the end of 1927 Perold took up a position with the KWV in Paarl. His official residence at Welgevallen stood unoccupied for some time, so after a while the University sent a team to clean up the overgrown garden. Dr. Charlie Niehaus, then still a young lecturer, knew about the seedlings. Through a twist of fate he cycled past Perold’s former residence and saved the four seedlings. It was then re-established in the nursery at Elsenburg Agricultural College by Prof CJ Theron. During 1935 Theron grafted material of the Pinotage seedlings on Richter 99 and Richter 57 rootstock which were then just established at Welgevallen. This was another twist of fate to protect Pinotage. It was thereafter established that the older rootstock varieties at Welgevallen were so severely infected with viral diseases that they had to be destroyed.
Prof Theron showed the four grafted vines to Perold who recognised the possibilities of the new variety and wanted it propagated immediately.
One graft performing the best was eventually selected to become the mother material of all Pinotage vines. The first recorded commercial planting of Pinotage was made on the farm Myrtle Grove near Sir Lowry’s Pass in 1943. Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery was first to use the name Pinotage on a wine label when they marketed the 1959 harvest of Bellevue under the name Lanzerac Pinotage during 1961.
So, this is the history of the grapes in the Leonardslee vineyard that you see today.