“People plant grapes in the new world that sell – not grapes that suit the environment”, declares Eben Sadie as we sat down for lunch together at famed Japanese restaurant Zuma recently. “Six to seven grape varietals have become the fingerprint of the new world these days”.
Nothing too controversial from a man who is known for speaking his mind for sure; I am sure many of us agree with him – that most of the wines (and in my view especially the whites) we drink are made from commercial wine grapes that will be easily chosen from a shop shelf rather than delivering something special (there are exceptions of course – but you try finding me a Semillon on a supermarket shop shelf).
So Eben makes wines the way he wants and from grape varietals that don’t necessarily buck the trend but in his view are the ones that are best suited to the land he is blessed to farm in order to make wine. This means his whites are made from a combination of (mainly) Chenin Blanc alongside Palomino, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Semillon, Semillon Gris, Marsanne, Rousanne, Verdelho, oh, and a little bit of Clariette. Not bad huh? Well I can honestly say that the whites are out of this world good – his Palladuis 2009 (an amalgamation of many of the aforementioned grapes) is a stunner and one all white wine lovers should have a bottle or two of (hell, it’s not even expensive!) and his Skerpioen 2012 (a blend of Chenin and Palomino) is a beautiful crisp wine with fresh acidity and one that works so well with the delicate nature of Japanese food.
Asking why he makes the wines he does Eben says. “Wine is much more than numbers and competitions – it’s not a competition; it’s a lifestyle”. A lifestyle that the man is obviously loving living and one that he is extremely passionate about.
We crack on with his reds and begin with the Pofadder 2012, a wine aptly named after the Puff Adder snakes that hang out in the vineyard. The wine too has a bit of bite (sorry, couldn’t resist!) but once bitten, it’s hard not to be hooked. If a snake were to bite and intravenously inject Pofadder into my bloodstream, I’d be most impressed and certainly would not seek medical attention – I’d probably encourage it to bite me again. This is a 100% Cinsault – a ballsy move to make a wine as such; but one not unexpected from a man who just wants to make great wines. There are not any 100% Cinsault that I can say I can even remember tasting, let alone even enjoying but the Pofadder 2012 still gets me excited weeks after tasting it!
“Cinsault was the most planted grape in South Africa in the 1920’s”, says Sadie. “But it had to make way for the worldwide Cabernet movement”. Of course, there is no Cabernet planted on the Sadie Family Vineyards! He goes on: “People drink Cinsault at home but they never bring it out in public. It’s like the little brother in jail – you love him, but you never talk about him!”
Moving swiftly on to his more ‘commercial’ style of wine (he’ll kill me for saying that but the wines are Syrah / Grenache / Mourvedre – grapes people already have good associations with thanks to the Aussies and the Rhone Valley). We taste the Soldaat 2012 – a 100% Grenache that is named after the vineyard dog and very old world on the palate with clean fruit evident but a twinge of complexity that can, to the untrained palate be mistaken for ‘green-ness’ or un ripeness that actually gives the wine a fresh acidity and is really just one that is quietly and subtlely begging for a little bit of food to go with it.
We taste the Columella 2009 which is Syrah dominant with the remaining quarter of the blend made up from Grenache and Mourvedre. This is one of the wines that put Eben on the wine map and launched the river of praise that has since come flowing at this exceptionally talented winemaker. Personally, (and honestly) I was so dumb-struck with the Pofadder that I did not write one single word about this wine – partly as listening to Sadie talk is mesmerizing, partly because of the Pofadder and most likely because we were drinking rather than tasting at this point. But search it out on line – the Columella has rave reviews, high scores from other wine writers and, on face value was evidently a good wine as I tend to make negative tasting notes on wines I don’t like that on the whole never get published (I’d rather just not mention the wine at all!)
Lastly we tried something special; The Sadie Family Vineyards Treinspoor 2012. Memorable for many reasons but none more so that it is made from 100% Tinta Barocca – grape I had not heard of until this day. It was the genius of the sommelier team at Zuma to open this bad boy up long before lunch as it needed some time to breathe and, served at the right temperature (which it was – do not drink this wine too warm) it was an intense, voluptuous wine whose finish was wicked (in a devilish way) and whose mouthfeel was rounded and fat but at the same time, clean and fresh with loads of red fruit evident.
“Unfortunately today wine has become a science and not an art”, Eben says as we finish off the lunch. “If you go back to the way wine used to be made…it was an art form. This is why I started making natural wine in 1998”. And a good job too! Eben Sadie wines are arguably the very best that the Swartland is producing and they would certainly be contending for the best in South Africa. If you think that South African wines are best represented by the dross found on local supermarket shelves here you are sorely mistaken – in fact, once you try one of Eben Sadie’s wines, you will likely never buy a South African wine from a supermarket here in Hong Kong again.
Sadie Family Vineyards wines are available from Berry Bros and Rudd here in Hong Kong. For more information you can visit their website http://www.bbr.com/producer-4472-the-sadie-family-wines and for inquires as to buying the wine you can email Phebe Wong at Phebe.firstname.lastname@example.org
Look out for our one on one interview with Eben which we will publish next month.