The little town of Riebeek Kasteel* this last weekend happily accommodated a most successful series of events, optimistically dubbed by its organisers the Swartland Revolution. This year (and it’s intended to be an annual festival) the focus of the more structured side of things was on just a few of the leading wineries – on leading personalities, might be more to the point, with Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst giving a remarkable tasting seminar.
To some 130 high-paying attendees (who the previous evening had had a fine tasting of the Northern Rhône wines of Stéphane Ogier, prior to a splendid braai orchestrated by chic chef Reuben Riffel) Sadie showed the fascinating soil-derived differences in structure and taste between some of the shiraz components of his Columella blend, and Badenhorst offered wines from seven different white grape varieties that go into his white wine.
This was a fine and deply informative experience – everyone seemed to agree, though as I was “moderating” the event (which I interpreted as trying to control two exuberant and loquacious winemakers) perhaps I was shielded from negative comments. I say that with little conviction and expectation – Eben Sadie can (and did) speak of the most abstruse elements of vine-growing and wine management with a clarity, precise relevance and passion that makes them interesting, surely, to everyone; Adi Badenhorst had a lesser task on this day, but few winemakers can better lead an an audience to understand a deep commitment to the mystery of winegrowing.
After a characteristically splendid, hearty and imaginative lunch at Bar Bar Black Sheep (surely one of the great little bistros of the world!), a few hundred other people, or so it seemed, joined in the party. The afternoon’s happening was for me the real heart of the weekend, with a whole bunch of Swartland wine producers showing their wines – standing under umbrellas in the most charming of sidestreets (the sun had eventually come out to join in the pleasure).
The criterion for admission at this event was that the wine had to be made without the aid of inoculation with industrial yeast, and a remarkable number of such wines there were – from the comparatively large (but still pretty small) producers like Sequillo and Lammershoek, to some tiny bottlings from any number, it seemed, of enthusiastic and ambitious young winemakers with access to a few old barrels and the produce of splendid Swartland vines much older than themselves in many cases. In fact, talking of young – it was wonderfully clear that people like Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst are no longer the young generation, but have a host of challengers.
The wine were, for the most part, amazingly good and interesting – especially the whites, perhaps: mostly blends based on chenin, but revealing great variety and character. Much more will have to be said about them in due course.
If that thronged and cheerful event was spiritually the expression of the Swartland Revolution – showing the turnaround, the ambition and the quality of winegrowing in this emerging terroir – a vital and pregnant point occurred earlier, with the official launch of Swartland Independent. The logo of the nascent organisation is shown in the photo alongside, with Michael Fridjhon in the middle of his eloquent launch-speech. Swartland Independent is destined to be a forum of winegrowers in the region which will carry out the vow of the organisers of this weekend’s events: “The Swartland Revolution is not the destination, but only the departure point for great things still to come from this region. Watch this space…”
The future is not necessarily rosy, but has to be fought for. As Michael Fridjhon point out, revolutions have a sad tendency to go awry. But the integrity of what is happening in the Swartland is remarkable – as is the unity and enthusiasm evident there. If only some other wine regions could start pulling together in this way – if only more wine regions had this vision! – the future of Cape winemaking would be even more exciting.