There’s been a lot of discussion about “best” recently, and I’m grateful to a late commenter on my reaction to Tim Atkin’s ranking of SA wineries, who suggested that possibly Eben Sadie wouldn’t even want “to be called the best wine maker the Cape has”. I know Eben reasonably well from many years of discourse and I suspect that (1) he would have no fundamental objection to the title, and (2) that he realises it’s a pretty nonsensical one.
The real point (one that I have absolutely no doubt about Sadie agreeing with) is it that it’s not a competition. The whole thing, the whole Cape wine thing, is on a roll, with a whole range of winemakers and grape-growers learning ever better how to produce exciting stuff from the same bloody soil, slope and sunshine.
How meaningful is it to compare Eben Sadie with, just for example (and the following list is pretty arbitrary):
- Gottfried Mocke of Chamonix, who took over a winery in contemptible Franschhoek in 2002, known for some decent white wines perhaps, and through brilliant work in vineyards and sensitivity in his cellar now produces a whole range of first-class wines.
- Abri Beeslaar, who succeeded to one of the Cape’s classiest positions, at Kanonkop, and has made the estate wines, if anything, even better, without feeling the need to impose himself. Not to mention making a few wines from pinotage that any serious winelover must admit are magnificent.
- Dewaldt Heyns, who has made vastly more out of the possibilities of hot Tulbagh than anyone could reasonably have expected.
- Chris & Andrea Mullineux, not to mention Callie Louw of Porseleinberg, who have shown that the Swartland can make great wines from single terroirs.
- Andries Burger of Paul Cluver in Elgin, who makes a wide range of wines of exceptional standing.
- Schalk-Willem Joubert of Rupert & Rothschild whose Classique is made in quantities and at a price that would be the envy of just about everywine.
- Marc Kent, overseer and cellarmaster rather than hands-on winemaker these days, perhaps, but who is still the presiding genius behind one of the most successful set of brands and individual wines of excellence in Cape wine, centred on Boekenhoutskloof.
- Razvan Macici who turned Nederburg from a dull brand into a house of excellence at all levels of quality and ambition (is Nederburg a bit off the boil at the moment? – I hope not).
- Rudiger Gretschel. wine director of Vinimark, who makes unprecedentedly fine wines (in conjuction with viticulturist Johan Reyneke) , at Reyneke Wines.
- Miles Mossop of Tokara, another Stellenbosch winemaker away from the glamour of Swartland and other trendy areas, whose achievements are remarkable: brilliant wines getting better and better all the time (what more, actually, can you ask of a winemaker?).
- David & Nadia Sadie, representing the many tiny winemakers of great individuality, devotion, and brilliance, with vastly more passion than capital driving them on – and there are many more, Bacchus be praised!
To which list one can only add – etc, etc. I haven’t even mentioned Chris Alheit, one of the brightest young stars, or André van Rensburg still glowing very brightly at Vergelegen! And I suspect I shall wake up at 2am tonight in a sweat, wondering how how I could have omitted mentioning …
If I were pushed, however, I admit my vote would still go (at 2am or in the cold light of dawn or the glow of evening) to Eben Sadie as the Cape’s “leading winemaker”, whatever that means. What’s more, I suspect that a poll of other leading winemakers would reveal their agreement. The important point, however, is the ultimate irrelevance of the category and the totality of the excitement.