Pinot noir is the variety that dominates the high end of the ultra-premium wine trade. Any number of red burgundies come to market for more than R20k a bottle, and several are sold on release for R80k-R150k. Yet, as recently as the 1970s, most Burgundy producers struggled to break even. The vast majority of growers sold their fruit to producer-wholesalers, partly because they were absentee landowners compelled to find employment outside viticulture because they could not support their families on their farming income.

Few people then could have imagined that pinot noir would be the grape that today produces the world’s most desired wines. Back then many of the wines, even from the best appellations, were dull and uninteresting. It had become customary to blame the cultivar for the shortcomings of the wines and pinot earned the moniker of “the heartbreak grape”. In fact, sloppy winemaking, crass over-cropping and generally cooler, wetter summers all played a role in the variety...

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