Sequillo – the art, the politics, the wine

The address on the Sequillo back-label is “Siebritskloof, Paardeberg, Malmesbury”. NB – not “Aprilskloof, Paardeberg”. It’s an Eben Sadie wine (perhaps unmistakeably so in its combination of sensuality and cerebral intensity) but distinct from his signature wines (Columella and Palladius) and the associated Ouwingerdreeks/Old Vines Series. Sequillo’s real home is a beautiful, finely restored ancient barn on the old Orangerie farm, not far from the Sadie Family HQ and its growing infrastructure in the Aprilskloof – but this is an entirely different kloof of the Paardeberg!

It’s not that the labels are the most interesting thing about the Sequillo wines (the 2011 red and 2012 white have just been released) but they are unique and challenging. I’m rather pleased to note, incidentally, that the wines are no longer being bottled in clear glass – they have even gone to the opposite extreme, where the green is getting very close to black. (And the bottles are horrible heavy!) But the labels continue the no doubt very expensive recent tradition of being fundamentally redesigned each year.

The woodcut-style latest pair are worth paying attention to. This is the remarkable description that the Sequillo website gives of the white label (when last did you see capitalism referred to on a back label, rather than bland talk of “perfect ripeness”?):

“The White 2012 was born in a year of political and economical unrest in its land – signs that our capitalist model is probably failing us. The Sequillo project wants to challenge the obvious and search for the gist of things, so we are sending this wine out with an illustration, open for interpretation, of the grower/labourer and vine with their love for the land in the midst of the uncertain economy and the marching of the masses.”

sequillo whiteSo. Interpret it. It looks to me like something of a defiance of politics – and, possibly, defiance of the anger and desperation of farmworkers. The wonderful old bushvine is harvested despite (it seems to me that it is despite) the marching crowd in the background. Any South African – ANY South African – is going to look for colour. The demonstrators with their banners are solid black silhouettes. The harvester? Sex seems certain – this is a male. The skin is white – but then so are the clothes, so we are probably asked to see this as colour-neutral. Certainly it is not shown that the harvester has a dark skin – which would be the overwhelming truth, of course.

It’s a lovely picture, interpret it as you wish. I like the little bird on the vine. Of course, birds are dreadful enemies of winegrowers at harvest time – they equally love ripe grapes!

sequillo redThe Sequillo website is also slightly vague about the red label, which shows a vineyard worker digging around a bushvine, with a background vignette of a monstrously smoke-emitting industrial scene. Is this about global warming (those noxious fumes?), about the encroachment on agricultural land? Again, about the true farmer’s persistence with his own truth in defiance of contemporary reality?

This is how the Sequillo website suggests we interpret the image:

“A growing population and its demands easily create industrial realities which might seem obvious and unavoidable; and this artwork would have been truly sad if the grower/labourer chose to give up the fight and not work the land, but there are countless people who take up this challenge every day and who keep going. We celebrate them.”  

It’s easy to say the important thing is the wine. It is not quite so. The important thing is the social circumstances in which it is possible, or impossible, to produce wine to be loved and drunk – by us. Only then is the wine more important. Deepest congratulations to Eben Sadie and Sequillo for insisting that the wider world is (sadly, perhaps) of crucial relevance to the most abstruse of wine debates, to the most ambitious of wines. Probably no-one knows better than Eben Sadie (perhaps he’s more honest than many) that crude politics have played a crucial role in the international success of his wines,

So what of the wines, apart from the labels?

I’ve only tried the red so far. It’s good. Very Swartland in its composition – syrah, cinsaut, mourvèdre, grenache,carignan and, for the first time, tinta barocca – which has been successful in the Swartland for quite a while. Lots of lovely red fruit there, also some darker notes. And Swartlandish in its structure: forceful but subtle, fine tannins; a genuinely dry finish. And very Sadie – no obvious wood; fresh and lively;  characterful. Buy it, I’d happily recommend (I guess it’s between R150 and R200) – but preferably only if you’re willing to store it for at least a few years. This is a serious wine, a proper wine, and needs a bit of time. There’s some intellectual and a good deal of sensual pleasure from it already now, but if you want something delciously tasty this evening you’d probably get more pleasure out of Swartland wines designed for early drinking (Badenhorst Secateurs, Lammershoek Lam range, Mullineux Kloof Street). This is not a Sadie second label; it’s a first-class Sadie wine which needs some time, some real respect. Then love it.

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