Eben Sadie’s winemaking has marched alongside – and often at the head of – the great revolution in South African wine this century, from the time of the first release under his own name, Columella 2000. He galvanised and led the renaissance of the Swartland as (what a surprise this was to many!) one of Cape wine’s most exciting places. To it he brought not only great energy and winemaking sensitivity and intelligence, but also deep experience in European wine. A generation of young winemakers have since been inspired and enabled.
More recently, on this revolutionary basis, Sadie returned to past. With scientific understanding and precision, he’s adopted more traditional methods of turning grapes into wine: natural, simpler, with less intervention in the cellar. Transparent winemaking. More, working with viticulturist Rosa Kruger, Sadie has furthered the re-discovery of the old vines that (again surprising nearly everone!) have been lurking in surprising places – from good old Stellenbosch to obscure corners of the Swartland, and high hillsides in the Olifants River region where unirrigated vines had been trickling their small but exquisite yields into vast blending tanks at co-operative wineries.
Last week, at their winery on the slopes of the Paardeberg in Swartland, Sadie Family Wines showed their new vintages. If anyone sampling those wines arrived doubting that this is one of the Cape’s leading wineries, scepticism should have been pushed aside by the realisation that, in fact, there is probably no local producer that can quite claim parity with the range and depth of quality and fascination now evident here.
Perhaps this definitively conclusive vintage simply reflects greater experience and understanding, especially with regard to the sites producing grapes for the Old Vineyard Series. I suspect that it might be partly that Sadie, having given up his increasingly renowned establishment in Spain, has had more time to think about his vines and wines. For he is a remarkably thoughtful man, and his thinking has consequences.
There are eight 2012 wines in the Old Vineyard Series, five whites and three reds. One, the chenin blanc called Mev. Kirsten (all have Afrikaans names and labels), is made in tiny quantities and expensive. But most are remarkably good value – if you admit that a wine approaching R200 per bottle can be that. Many serious winelovers who could not meet the demands of some of the priciest local wines on the market (by no means all of them comparable to these in quality or interest) could venture that.
Anyone who has a genuine interest in wine should try to get one or two bottles from this series. But hurry; they disappear fast, many overseas. Most are drinkable now, though they will only improve with age. There’s more detail about the wines elsewhere on Grape), but I’m happy to recommend them all here, where there is no space for detail.
In what Eben Sadie calls his signature series (much more expensive), the excellent 2011 Columella confirms the movement this fine shiraz-based wine has made towards greater freshness in the last few vintages. Less new oak, lower alcohol, restraint – all these add up to more.
The white blend, Palladius 2011, typically Swartland in its generosity, is probably the best Sadie has made. Can there be a finer white wine, of any description, made in the Cape? I doubt it.
From the Mail & Guardian, 26 July-1 August 2013