“At university I was taught that it is very risky to make wine with natural yeasts and it is to be avoided, but in the more than 40 years making wine on Jacobsdal I have never experienced a stuck fermentation and a wine not fermenting dry.”– Cornelius Dumas, Winemaker
When the 21 year old Cornelis Dumas had to abandon his oenological studies at Stellenbosch University when his father passed away in 1966 and take over the management of the family farm, he had no idea just how many challenges lay ahead.
Although he followed very closely in his father’s winemaking footsteps, he soon had to face dramatic changes in market conditions. His father and grandfather predominantly made red and white Port to be exported to the U.K. Only a small percentage of the crop was sold as dry red table wine. Soon exports were brought to a virtual standstill due to economic sanctions applied by importers.
His only option was to produce table wine for the local market. Cornelis started to replace the existing Chenin blanc vineyards with Sauvignon blanc and the Cinsaut vineyards with Pinotage.
The decision to plant Pinotage was taken because he liked the fruity wines it produced and had faith in its future. Pinotage is closely related to Cinsaut which did very well on Jacobsdal. The variety ripens early and is well suited to dryland conditions. In the cellar, however, he remained a traditionalist – hand-crafting his wines for subtler but deeper flavours where tannins are less evident, something that has become a distinctive mark of Jacobsdal Pinotage.
When sanctions were lifted in 1994 Jacobsdal Pinotage 1989 was one of the first South African wines to be selected by the Norwegian controlled Wine Monopoly for export to Norway. It was also one of the South African wines selected to be served at the ceremony in Oslo when Mandela and De Klerk received the Nobel Peace prize.
In 1997 the Jacobsdal Pinotage 1994 was awarded a gold medal at Vinexpo, Bordeaux and was also selected as one of the Absa Bank’s Top Ten Pinotages and received a Gold medal at the annual Veritas awards. In 2007 the Jacobsdal Cabernet Sauvingon 2003 won one of just ten Grand Gold medals awarded at Sélections Mondiales des Vins, the largest International wine competition in North America.
Cornelis proved that even today natural fermentation and traditional winemaking methods can still produce spectacular wines.