First commercial English pinotage vineyard

Benguela Collection owner Penny Streeter; Johann Fourie, winemaker; and Gerhard Perold, great grandson of Abraham Izak Perold, the South African viticulturist who developed Pinotage in 1925, in the newly plated pinotage vineyard at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens in Sussex, England.

History was made when the first commercial pinotage vineyard was launched at Horsham in Sussex, England, on Thursday June 21.

These vines were planted at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, a sister property of the Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate near Hermanus.

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

The site features the Grade 1 listed “finest woodland gardens in England”, first planted in 1801.

The gardens will open to the public in January 2019 following extensive renovation work since July 2017, when they were acquired by the current owner.

The new planting at Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens, 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 United Kingdom’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.

Ms Streeter says: “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.”

Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens and Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate are divisions of The Benguela Collection, a wine producer and hospitality group that Ms Streeter started in 2013 with the acquisition of the Benguela Cove Wine Estate.

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 England vineyards, where he is working with viticulturist Duncan McNeill and is planning the wineries and managing winemaking. 

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 Mr Fourie, is to evaluate this grape under the growing conditions found in Sussex.

“Pinotage is an early-ripening grape that accumulates sugar very fast which we believe should work well in conditions in England 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,” Mr Fourie said.