It was a very Swartlandish week, starting on Saturday 12 November with the splendid 15-year vertical tasting of Sadie Family Columella (which I reported on here). Monday gave a horizontal tasting in Cape Town of Testalonga, with Craig and Carla Hawkins offering their single-vineyard wines from the 2016 vintage – none yet from grapes off their own farm in northerly parts near Eendekuil, though vines should be planted next year.
That was, of course, a difficult year in the Swartland particularly, with yields plummeting and some problems with attaining decent acidities. I’m getting the impression, though, that the wines are better than some of the Swartland grower-winemakers expected. Certainly the Testalonga whites are good, their fresh lightness accompanied by some intensity. I liked them all, really, apart from the Sweet Cheeks, a dry white from Muscat d’Alexandrie, which I confess I just don’t get – a personal taste, no doubt. On the other hand, I’ve always had a particular fondness for the El Bandito Skin Contact Chenin Blanc (f10 days on the skins), and did once more: it’s supple, layered and fresh, with plenty of flavour in its lightness, and the expected smack of tannin.
The Testalonga reds reveal the problematic vintage more, perhaps – not that most are anything other than very pleasing and notably pretty, but Craig responded to the tough, tiny berries by restricting their time on skins to three days. Probably even more than usual, these are intentionally rather lightweight wines for drinking comparatively young, I’d guess. I most enjoyed the El Bandito Monkey Gone to Heaven, made from mourvèdre: it has charming ripe fruitiness, and a bright grip, with a granular tannic elegance. The Dark Side Syrah, I found rather least satisfactory, with the tannins outweighing the rather insubstantial fruit. At around R270 per bottle, these reds are fairly expensive, but Baby Bandito Follow Your Dreams, from carignan, is more obviously good value at about half that price.
As always, Craig’s labels for Testalonga are a pleasure to behold and to consider. And I’m even getting used to the names.
A few days later, I was at the vineyard on the Paardeberg farm Môrelig from where Craig takes carignan grapes for his Follow Your Dreams. That’s it alongside, with the farm’s owner, Andrew Wightman, who bought the farm (originally vaguely attached to Lammershoek) some five years ago. This was my first visit, though I’d driven past umpteen times, on the poor gravel road between Lammershoek/Sadie and Badenhorst. The farm supplies an impressive roster of wineries – not only Swartland ones – though if Andrew’s own Môrelig label succeeds, I daresay more and more of the grapes will be vinified by himself in the (so far) small winery he’s established.
There are three Môrelig 2016s, all made in the more “natural” traditions of the Swartland Independent Producers. Most impressive is a Chenin Blanc, tight and quite powerful, with a lovely crunchy acidity working in tandem with rich fruit. Then there’s A&B’s Blend (at R90, if you can find it, about R30 cheaper than the Chenin), which adds 30% fresh clairette to chenin. A little residual sugar does nothing to harm the freshness and adds to the easy charm. There’s also a Syrah – this made rather in the Testalonga tradition of very early picking; whole-bunch fermentation ensures some perfume and it has a clean, vibrant acidity and very firm dry tannins. Rather too lean for my tastes, but perhaps time in bottle will allow it to expand and relax.
Three cheers for Môrelig. To have another winery on the Paardeberg is important, marking the further entrenchment of the Swartland revolution. Having outsiders and numerous small negociants,as the dominant sources of new-wave wines is fine, but more home wineries (as Elgin and the Hemel en Aarde know) is crucial to the longer-term stability of a region and its reputation.
David and Nadia, and City on a Hill
The afternoon before visiting Môrelig, I’d had a predictably marvellous tasting at another place which also marks a degree of (literally, perhaps) digging in to the Paardeberg. David and Nadia Sadie are now fully established at Paardebosch farm (though not owning it – but there’s a possibility of acquiring an interest), working to improve the vineyards, and taking more grapes for themselves, notably chenin, pinotage and semillon. We tasted the current 2015s, already largely sold out, I guess. In fact, the first reason I had for this entire Paardeberg visit was to buy a bottle of the very successful Höe-Steen Chenin 2015, which I hadn’t had; I didn’t want to just taste it, but to properly drink it over two or three days, and I’m looking forward to that experience – it’s waiting in my fridge for me right now.
Also at the revamped Paardebosch winery, I tasted the as yet only wine from David’s winery assistant, André Bruyns. City on a Hill (whose name combines biblical allusions with a suggestion of “something prophetic about Swartland”) is a fine, fresh and rather elegant (though rich) Swartland white – mostly Paardebosch chenin, with roussanne and a touch of viognier; made with minimum intervention.
To continue the theme of entrenchment, which I actually hadn’t realise would characterise my visit, I went from David and Nadia to the other Sadies (where I was having supper and staying over that night – and drinking far too much wine, but that’s another story; this one is already too long). Eben’s newly-planted mixed red vineyard, called Slangdraai, is looking beautifully healthy (see my earlier notes on it here). It’s surrounded by a temporary fabric fence of the same stuff that they put around city roadworks to keep people out and is intended here to exclude vine-eating bokkies; the photo shows Eben and his assistant Paul Jordaan bashing in a fencepole that had come loose.
The exultingly good news at Sadie Family Wines that day was that the water-drilling rig had hit what looks like a good supply of water on the farm – enough to supply the winery (already fully involved in recycling) and household needs. And, if necessary, to give infant wines occasional liquid relief. And also, I daresay, to water the percheron which is soon to be harnessed to work among the vines (as far as I know, Waterkloof is the only winery at present using horses for vineyard tasks). The horse is pretty young too, in fact, and at present having a lazy life on Môrelig – where Andrew Wightman has horses of his own, which he uses mostly for long-distance, endurance riding.
But water’s what’s making Swartlanders anxious. The few-enough farm dams are empty, and the ripening vineyards need rain. Some is expected this coming week. Let’s hope it doesn’t veer away.