History made at Leonardslee Gardens as first Pinotage vines planted

History was made at Leonardslee Gardens in Lower Beeding yesterday with the planting of the first commercial Pinotage vineyard in the UK.

Owner Penny Streeter OBE, the Cape Town-based British entrepreneur, is creating a new South African-style wine farm experience at the 200 acre estate.

Penny Streeter, Johann Fourie, & Gerhard Perold

Penny Streeter, Johann Fourie, & Gerhard Perold

The site features the Grade 1 listed ‘finest woodland gardens in England’, first planted in 1801; they open to the public in January 2019 following extensive renovation work since July 2017.

The new planting brings the total of vines under cultivation to 66,000 across 16 hectares at Leonardslee and a second site, three miles away at Mannings Heath, where a vineyard was planted in 2017 to create the UK’s first golf and wine estate.

Total production is projected at some 100 tonnes, 75,000 bottles of sparkling wine annually: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier - and now a non-sparkling Pinotage. The first crop is due in 2020 and first release of wine in 2023.

Penny Streeter said: “We are creating a very special visitor experience. People can enjoy beautiful English parkland and woodlands, now with wine tastings and pairings, good food and an entertaining events programme. Brits who have travelled to South African wine farms can enjoy the same friendly and relaxed wine culture just an hour by train from London, in exquisite countryside - and maybe a round of golf!”

Vineyard Estates

Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens and Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate are divisions of The Benguela Collection, a wine producer and hospitality group that Penny Streeter started in 2013 with the acquisition of the Benguela Cove Wine Estate, at the edge of South Africa’s southern coast. The group now includes four restaurants and a hotel on the Garden Route.

Johann Fourie was appointed in 2016 as Cellar Master for Benguela Cove in South Africa and for the UK vineyards, where he is working with viticulturist Duncan McNeill and is planning the wineries and managing winemaking. He was the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year in 2015.

The sparkling wine cultivar plantings are 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. The experimental planting of 0.5 hectares for Pinotage, says Johann Fourie, is to evaluate this grape under the growing conditions found in Sussex.

Johann said: “Pinotage is an early-ripening grape that accumulates sugar very fast which we believe should work well in UK conditions when well managed - and picked before cold and disease pressures set in due to hanging for too long. Being thick-skinned makes the grapes resistant to rot, which is a key factor.

“Unlike many Bordeaux grape varietals, Pinotage doesn’t have any unpleasant ‘green’ flavours when not picked fully ripe, in fact more winemakers are moving towards picking Pinotage earlier and making a more finessed Pinot-like style of red wine from the grape.

“Having said all of this, this is a test project so we’ll see what the vineyard conditions allow us to do. Fortunately Pinotage - of which Pinot Noir is one of the parents - makes a good base for sparkling wine as well; so if all else fails we’ll end up with a unique English sparkling that’s got a South African twist to it. Actually we might just do that anyway!”

Key Facts on Pinotage

- Pinotage was developed in 1925 with the crossing of two grape varieties by Prof Abraham Izak Perold in South Africa; Pinot Noir & Cinsaut, also known as Hermitage - to create Pinot (Noir) (Hermi) tage.

- Pinot Noir struggled as a grape in South Africa, while Cinsaut grew well. The plan was to capture the deliciousness of Pinot Noir, with the easy to grow characteristics of Cinsaut.

- Four seeds of the crossing were planted. In 1935 material was grafted onto rootstock to better suit South African growing conditions; in 1941 the first wine was made.

- Pinotage vineyards totalled 7,000 hectares in 2017. Accolades include: 3 times International Wine Challenge Winemaker of the Year won by a Pinotage wine since 1991. Tim Atkin named the South Africa red wine of the year in 2017 as Pinotage.

- It is grown in 10 wine producing countries - Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, US (five states), Zimbabwe, Germany, Switzerland & SA - and now the UK.

- A versatile grape - used for Red, Rose, sparkling and dessert wines.

- Like its parents - ripens early, reaches high sugar levels, moderate growth, buds later than Chardonnay, short growing season, resistant to rot, well acclimatised to cooler climate - all of which are important for the UK.

- Dark/black berry can be 6-10 degrees C higher in temp than ambient which helps for colour and tannin development.