Made from fruit sourced from another Skurfberg vineyard owned by grower Basie van Lill, this Sauvignon Blanc vineyard planted in 1997 used to be sold off to a co-operative winery before John Seccombe secured the fruit for his maiden vintage of the Thorne & Daughters Snakes & Ladders Sauvignon Blanc.
Made from tiny yields of around 2.2 tons per hectare, the grapes were whole bunch pressed and fermented with wild yeast in mix of 225 and 600 litre old oak barrels where the wines remain on their gross lees for 9-10 months before blending and bottling. John Seccombe favours malolactic fermentation over early additions of sulphur dioxide, and the wines only see a first addition of SO2 in the early winter as they look for wines that show tension without losing their suppleness and core, and wines that will reward time in the cellar. The finished wines were bottled unfined.
John Seccombe succinctly sums up… “My natural inclination was to have little interest in working with Sauvignon Blanc, but seeing the vineyard and the soils, I felt compelled to work with it.”
From the first sniff, you know this is something special in the glass showing a beautifully complex nose of lemon grass, lime peel, white citrus and black currant leaf, crunchy white pear and subtle hints of bergamot. The palate is equally unique and utterly mesmerising showing a nervy steely liquid mineral core, oyster shell water and West Coast sea breeze nuances, a grassy sappy textural wood spice intensity and a fabulously tart complex finish with subtle hints of granadilla, naartjie peel and briney rock salt. Not really like any other Sauvignon Blanc on the South African market. Drink now to 2026+.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Now distributed in the UK market by Liberty Wines.
I recently watched another zoom interview with Eben Sadie after his new 2019 vintage releases and it became crystal clear that he has now officially joined the exclusive global ranks of iconic wine producers who don’t actually have to “sell” their wines but merely allocate them on a spreadsheet, thus joining the likes of Coche-Dury, Romanee Conti, JL Chave, Thierry Allemande etc., as one of the most sought after producers in the world.
But with this fame comes the added clamour from customers to drink his wines on release, highlighting and indeed exacerbating one of Eben’s greatest disappointments – that not enough people cellar his wines long enough to allow them to reach their true drinking potential. So, with the recent 2019 Skurfberg Chenin Blanc garnering a lofty 100 points from Tim Atkin MW in his recent South Africa 2020 report, I thought I’d revisit an older vintage of this iconic wine to check on its evolution.
Made from unirrigated parcels of old bush vines planted between 1940 and 1955 on decomposed sandstone in the Oliphants River Region, these knarled dry grown 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 such sumptuously expressive grapes. So if you have the ability to cellar any wines, save some of your allocation and follow Eben’s advice.
Sadie Family Wines Old Vine Series Skurfberg Chenin Blanc 2012, WO Olifantsrivier, 14.5% Abv.
Drunk over 3 nights, just incredible to see this wine slowly unwind and unfurl over time. At its height of expressiveness, the bouquet positively bursts forth with lemon and lime marmalade, tangerine peel zest, pressed oranges, sweet dried herbs, honeysuckle, nougat and a fantastically expressive granitic mineral under vein. The breadth, depth and complexity of flavour on the palate is just mind boggling, with multiple layers of lime preserve, caramelised figs, grapefruit jelly and an intense finish of lemon cream biscuits and spicy, pithy gravelly minerality punctuated by a final zippy acid reprise. A wine that encapsulates perfectly why Eben Sadie’s wines are so sought after the world over! Start drinking this one now but certainly no rush. A true white icon wine for a new generation of drinkers.
This is the first vintage that Chris Alheit has bottled something from the Oudam farm as a stand-alone wine. Chris has been working with the Visser family since 2011 and has been planning this wine since 2015. They chose the name Huilkrans, the name of a cliff on the farm that weeps when it rains. Since the untimely passing of the owner’s son Kallie last year in 2017, the name now has an unintended double meaning. Even so, they’ve elected to keep it unchanged.
Chris Believes this wine is absolutely thrilling. Despite the excellent form of Magnetic North, Huilkrans might well be his best wine of the 2017 vintage? This is benchmark Skurfberg Chenin Blanc loaded with pithy minerality, charged with electric energy and is drenched with citrus and vibrant acidity. You can expect this to be impossibly rare and collectable from the moment it is released. So act quick!
Alheit Family Wines Huilkrans Chenin Blanc 2017, Citrusdal, 14.2 Abv.
Made from a vineyard on the Skurfberg from 42 and 32 year old Chenin Blanc plantings owned by the Visser family. This young nervy Chenin shows a wonderful melange of pure minerality, a granitic heart, wet hay, grated apple, yellow citrus, white peach and crunchy green pear with subtle hints of orange blossom, tangerine and dried herb spice adding extra backing complexity. Incredible harmony and balance, this wine has a very precise, polished textural focus but piercing concentration, crystalline acids and a profound liquid mineral depth. A thought provoking wine in so many ways, expertly delivered by Chris Alheit. This is Grand Cru in all but name and certainly ranks among the top Chenin Blancs ever produced in South Africa. Drink now until 2035+
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.
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!