Tasting Eden Sadie’s Old Vine Series Skurfberg 2013 Chenin Blanc…

Last week I visited Eben Sadie’s new winery next to Lammershoek. What an amazingly impressive spot on the Paardeberg. Despite the water shortages and attempted sand mining, the new cellar space (combined with a beautiful homestead on the hill) should all contribute to yet more increases in focus and wine quality.

Sitting in London 2 days later, with spring time weather drawing me into the garden to dust off my BBQ, I felt I had to open one of Eben’s finest, and one of my favourites… the Iconic Skurfberg Old Vine Series.

Dinner with Eben at the Roundstone Farm of Chris and Andrea Mullineux shortly after receiving his Master of Wine Winemakers’ Winemaker Award

Made from unirrigated parcels of old bush vines planted between 1940 and 1955 on decomposed sandstone in the Oliphants River Region, these knarled old vines struggle to survive with only the sparse local rainfall to rely on. But it is precisely this struggle that makes these old vines produce sumptuous grapes that perhaps some bird may eat and then propagate elsewhere… or so the natural selection idea goes.

Tasting Note: Sadie Family Old Vines Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2013, 13.5 Abv.

Made from pure Chenin Blanc, this wine reaches levels of complexity and intensity normally only white blends from SA can hope to achieve. The nose is dusty and slatey, leaving the fruit nuances to fight through the minerality. Plenty of dry citrus peel, nectarine skins, crunchy white peaches and sweet pear blossom. The palate is taught yet textural, saline, citric and bright. The palate is laden with dusty white citrus, honey suckle, with finely balanced breadth and depth. Tantalising cassis leaf, yellow crab apple and crunchy white peaches dominate a long, vibrant, fresh finish. The 2013 is slightly more overt and fleshy than the taught 2012 I drank with Eben at the Adi Badenhorst Oesaf last week, but still boasts amazing concentration and classism that should allow this wine to age gracefully for 20+ years. An epic expression of Chenin!

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

South African Winemaker Eben Sadie’s Greatness is Recognized Internationally at Prowein…

The Institute of Masters of Wine and international trade publication The Drinks Business are delighted to announce Eben Sadie as the winner of the 2017 Winemakers’ Winemaker Award.The honour, which has been given annually since 2011, recognises outstanding achievement in the field of winemaking. The winner is chosen each year by Master of Wine Winemakers and previous winners of the award.

Eben was revealed as the Winemakers’ Winemaker at ProWein today, in front of Masters of Wine and industry professionals. On receiving his award Eben said, “It is a major honour to be receiving this award and I would like to dedicate this to the great team of people I have by my side that have helped me over the years to grow closer to a dream. For a great wine is not the work of one.”
Eben graduated from Elsenburg College, Stellenbosch in 1994, and worked various harvests in Germany, Spain, France, United States and South Africa. He ventured out on his own in 2000 to pursue his passion for blends and terroir in his Swartland home. From what Eben describes as a ‘little shack’ in the Paardeberg, he began creating The Sadie Family Wines’ two signature wines – Columella (a red blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan and Tinta barocca) and Palladius (a white blend of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Semillon, Clairette, Verdellho and others).

After a decade of producing these signature wines the Family released the Old Vine Series, a bottling of eight single vineyard old vine parcels; Skerpioen, Skurfberg, Voetpad, Mev. Kirsten, Kokerboom, Pofadder, Soldaat and Treinspoor.

Jane Masters MW, Chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine said, “Eben’s determined search to produce outstanding wines has put Swartland and South Africa on the map. I am delighted that the Master of Wine Winemakers have rewarded his dedication and talent – it’s truly well deserved.”

Eben now joins Peter Sisseck (2011), Peter Gago (2012), Paul Draper (2013), Anne-Claude Leflaive (d) (2014), Egon Muller (2015) and Alvaro Palacios (2016) as winners of the Winemaker’s Winemaker Award. 

Tasting the Profound Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2013 Tinta Barroca… 

Eben Sadie is a super intelligent, obsessive winemaker who has always focused on mastering the terroir in his individual vineyards, believing that ultimately, great wine will be easier to make if you pay detailed attention to the farming of your vines. 

The Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2013, named after the railway line that runs alongside the vineyard, is 100% Tinta Barocca from 40+ year old vines. Eben noted that “In 2013 the Treinspoor, with cooler weather, a bit of rain and later ripening just seemed to be a perfect fit to this parcel.” As a result, he succeeded in making one of the best Treinspoor vintages to date.

Tasting Note: With already 4 years age, the colour remains a vibrant bright cherry red with a black plum core. The nose is also still very youthful showing a pronounced cherry sherbet bon bon zesty lift, freshly crushed red currants, fragrant rose petals, strawberry shortbread, and pretty parma violets. There is such wonderful, profound aromatic complexity that has developed in bottle since I first tasted this wine on release in 2014. The palate reveals an incredibly sleek fleshy balance, showing textured layers of mulberry and raspberry fruits, powdery slatey mineral tannins in perfect harmony and fine acids with great definition. After a little more time in the glass, darker, spicy sappy hedgerow notes develop adding to this beautiful wine’s complexity. Incredibly pure in character, this 13 Abv wine is a very special expression of the Swartland.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Alternative varieties in South Africa? It’s all Greek to me… 

I’ve had a few days to reflect on my profound recent visit to the Greek Cyclades island of Tinos, the T-Oinos winery and their Clos Stegasta vineyard.

Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko vines on granite soils
Assyrtiko made in barrique, amphora and stainless steel

I’ve always known how hot and dry Greece and its islands can be, but what made this visit extra interesting, is that in 2001/2 the winery and their consulting enologist re-examined 1000+ years of Greek viticulture to decide what indigenous varieties would be the most suited to the sites they were looking to plant on.

Assyrtiko used for Clos Stegasta flagship white

For these granitic, sandy soils, they chose Assyrtiko and Malagouzia. For the reds they chose the noble Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis. So far, with only 4 or 5 proper vintages under their belt, they are finally starting to hone in on a more assured style and direction for both the whites and the reds.

In South Africa, they may have 350 years of winemaking history to reflect on, but all the varieties planted were brought in from the European diaspora and none were indigenous. Trying to replicate Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone in Africa can come with its challenges. 

After about 30+ years of ‘modern’ viticulture in South Africa, and many false starts, growers are finally finding suitable microclimate sites for cooler climate varieties such as Pinot Noir. But it is the recent attention being paid to new, ‘exotic’ varieties that is drawing a lot of interest. Varieties that could protect the future quality of South African wine as the world heats up and water becomes an even scarcer commodity. Sustainability is the word on everybody’s lips.

Luckily in South Africa, there is a lot of freedom and a real sense of not having to stick to a fixed set of rules. Between 2011 and 2015, fifteen new varieties were planted including Nero d’Avola, Gruner Veltliner, Barbarossa and Alicante Bouchet. 

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger at the Cape Wine 2015 Terroir Seminar

But for me, it is undoubtedly what Eben Sadie’s been up to that has captured peoples’ imagination. One of South Africa’s foremost experimental winemakers, he has been toying with new varieties like Grillo and Cataratto from warm climate Sicily as well as Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, and Xinomavro from Greece. 

Assyrtiko in Tinos, trained in a gobelet style

Indeed, speaking to Eden Sadie at Cape Wine 2015 last September, he reported fantastic results with Assyrtiko whites, a variety that has shown great drought, heat and sunburn resistance abilities. 

Maverick experimenter Eben Sadie

So having just tasted some very impressive reds and whites in Greece, I’m convinced more than ever that Assyrtiko, as well as some of the noble Greek red varieties, could certainly be the next big wine varieties to go mainstream around the world. 

Watch this space… Australian and South African Assyrtiko whites on merchants’ shelves alongside Greek versions from Santorini and perhaps even Tinos!?