When the idea came to me of writing about honouring our South African vineyards, I vaguely remembered an interesting story about one of the most highly-regarded pinot noir vineyards in California, Pisoni Vineyards, which belongs to the eponymous family. Several producers buy their pinot, each acknowledging the vineyard on the label. I recalled there were certain conditions under which these producers could purchase the fruit but, unable to remember all the detail, I wrote to the Pisonis asking for further information.
A friendly note from Jeff Pisoni, ‘a huge fan of South Africa and the wine regions,’ filled in the background.
‘My father, Gary, is a wonderfully passionate (and entertaining!) individual. We grew up in a conservative farming town, and he always wanted to follow his own path and vision. This is where the “purchase agreements” come in. All other farmers in the area have signed contracts, and he never wanted to do so. He loved our vineyard and grapes so much that he didn’t want it to feel like a contractual negotiation. Instead, he wanted all his fruit sales (then and still today) to be based on handshake agreements—to respect each other and the fruit.
His requirements to our grape buyers are:
1. You have to make great wine.
2. You have to be my friend.
3. And you have to pay the bill! (and always being very witty, he would joke about the last one being the hard part!)’
I like that idea very much. By reputation, producers of Pisoni Vineyard pinot noir, are making great wine and honouring the vineyard. Is there is a vineyard here where a group of wine producers all source their fruit and bottle it without blending from other vineyards? Jeff’s dad’s requirements would go a way to honouring a great vineyard.
Coincidentally, Jeff told me he’s been here a few times for harvest and, seeing my article on Iona, remarked he’s tasted with Andrew Gunn ‘and really love his wines’. Jeff’s wife was at one time assistant winemaker at Saronsberg, while on another South African-related note, he tells me; ‘in addition to the wines I make for my family, I also make wines for Fort Ross Vineyard, where the owners are South African. And as a result, they grow (and I make) a small amount of Pinotage here in California. Fun stuff.’