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lundi, 17 mars 2014

EBEN SADIE

EBEN SADIE: THE NATIONAL TREASURE OF SOUTH AFRICA


Claude Gilois

It may seem a little presumptuous to use this title, it is certainly not a term used by Eben Sadie, who would not dare use it to describe himself (the man is too level-headed). It is his old boss, Charles Back, at Spice Route, where Sadie was the cellar master, who described him with this rather laudatory sentence. However, it looks as though South Africa has found in Eben Sadie its driving force to finally put the country on the map of fine wine producers.

 

Eben Sadie is an iconoclast among winegrowers and winemakers, but he has the personality to become the natural leader of the revolution that is currently taking place in South Africa; he is knowledgeable, articulate, has a sense of humour and self-derision.

 

If you want to know what non-interventionist viticulture and wine making is all about, then The Sadie Family domain (he works with his brother and sister) is a fine example to choose, although Eben Sadie does not use this word to describe his philosophy.

 

Eben Sadie sources his grapes exclusively from old vines vineyards from the Swartland region, one of the hottest regions for viticulture, but none of his wines show any signs of heaviness and their alcoholic content is often lower than those made from cooler areas.  He openly admits that it is quite possible to make great wines from young vines providing that you control the vigour, but Swartland has many small and very old vineyards unaffected by leaf roll virus that is rife in other parts of South African vineyards. He chooses to use large containers to ferment and mature his wines (wooden casks, conventional and egg shaped concrete vessels). Bordeaux barrels (Darnajou and T5 from Taransaud) are only used for his top cuvée Columella. He openly admits that, in the past, he used too much wood, but he got the Parker and Wine Spectator points. Now he says: I use far less wood and by the time people realise it, a lot water will have gone under the bridge’.

 

He does not own any vineyards (he has his own views about ownership of land), but he works in close collaboration with growers and exerts a tight control on viticulture to get the grapes he wants. He sources grapes from 48 single vineyards (all farmed biodynamically) covering 43 hectares. The yields are very low, no more than 600 grams of grapes per vine on average.

 

Eben Sadie has a philosophy of wines closer to European definitions rather than those of the New World. He does not like the term winemaker.Until recently this word did not exist, we used the word vigneron’ and he adds  ‘when you are involved in wine making you have to extract yourself from the processes involved in making the wine. The moment you start making wine you lose the terroir definition, and you have to infuse rather than extract. Here we make tea rather than coffee.’

 

He created his own domain in 1999 producing only 17 barrels of his top cuvée Columella the following year. His top white cuvée, Paladius was released in 2002. In 2003, in partnership with Cornell Spies he created Sequillo, often considered his second label.  In 2003, he founded Terroir Al Limit in the Priorat. This domain was vandalised in 2011, the casks emptied and bleach added to them, which caused Eben Sadie to withdraw from the project. What really happened?  Nobody knows as yet, best to leave waters that run deep alone.

 

Eben Sadie is a firm believer in blends in warm regions. He argues: ‘in cold regions it is easy to make single varietal wines as the hang time of grapes on the vines are longer than in warmer regions’. But has Eben Sadie got the choice as he works with low yielding old vines from vineyards in which different grape varieties are often planted? However, his talent as a ‘winemaker’ sparkles in his blends as there is no single variety that dominates the others and his wines have great harmony, elegance and finesse and are at the opposite ends of flavourless manipulated wines so often found today.

 

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Sadie Family Wines, Skerpioen 2013

 

The name of the wine means scorpion. It is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Palomino coming from a non-irrigated 77-year-old vineyard and trained in Gobelet. Planted on sand over a substratum of chalk, the vineyard is located in northwest Swartland. The wine is made in concrete egg vessels and is only produced in a very small quantity. (About 350 cases).

 

An unusual blend, the Palomino is a grape variety from Andalusia in Spain. It is salty, mineral with aromas and flavours of melon, honey and apricot. It is a bright wine with overtones of orange peel and almond and bees’ wax. Nice aromatic complexity on this wine with a refreshing  finish. Unique. 16.5/20.

 

Sadie Family Wines, Skurfberg 2013


The name means ‘rugged mountain’ the vineyard is planted with non-irrigated vines of 88 year old Chenin Blanc in the north of Swartland on a soil of decomposed stones. The terroir is warm and the wine is a little more generous, but never heavy.

 

Nice aromas and flavours of figs, melon, pineapple and ripe Golden apple. It is at the same time creamy and crystalline and the wine has a crisp acidity that makes it digestible . We can feel the stone and the chalk in this wine. It is vertical, has good fatness, and is harmonious and long in the mouth. 16/10

 

Sadie Family Kokerboom 2013

 

 

Kokerboom is the name of a plant that grows near the vineyard and is part of the Aloes family.  It is a blend of Semillon and Semillon Gris coming from a vineyard planted in the 1930s. The blend is roughly 70% Semillon and 30% Semillon Gris. It is one of the best vineyards in South Africa as it has never seen any pesticides or herbicides and has been pruned meticulously every year. The yields are minuscule. Grapes are pressed in a wooden basket press and the fermentation and maturation take place in old barrels and the juice is left on the lees for 18 months.

 

Wow, what a wine!  I have been saying over the years that Semillon is probably the best white wine variety in South Africa, but sadly the variety is fast disappearing. Floral notes of buds and jasmine with white peach overtones. It is complex, mineral, tense, refreshing, balanced with an enormous length. Super wine. 17.5/10.

 

Sadie Family Mev Kirsten 2013

 

Vineyard of barely one hectare planted in the 1920s on decomposed granite soil on the slopes of the Bothmaskop Mountain in Jonkershoek Valley, which has been part of the Stellenbosch region since 2006. The vineyard belongs to the Kirsten Family and is the oldest vineyard of Chenin Blanc in South Africa. The wine made from this vineyard is subject to premature oxidation and this is why it undergoes a carbonic maceration before being fermented traditionally.

 

This 100% Chenin is broader than the Skurfberg 2013, but it has a quite a lot of depth. Aromas and flavours of orange and lemon with pinecone and tropical overtones. It is less mineral than the Skurfberg but it has beautiful bitter flavours that replace the acidity very favourably. It is rich, but harmonious and without any heaviness. 15.5/20.

 

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Sadie Family Voetpad 2013

 

It is a blend of Semillon, Semillon Gris, Palomino and Muscat  d’Alexandrie. The grapes come from a vineyard located in the north side of the Piketberg Mountain on schistous and decomposed granite soils. The yields are about 22 hectolitres per hectare. The name means 'path'  in  Dutch The vineyard, which stretches over 1.2 hectares, was planted between 1900 and 1928 to supply its owners and the neighbourhood.  Vines are on their own rootstocks and are non-irrigated. The vineyard, which is facing north, owes its survival to the proximity of the sea and to the river that flows underneath. There are no chemical products used and grape varieties are intermixed in the vineyard, all grape varieties are fermented together in old barrels.

 

The beautiful minerality of the wine compensates admirably for the relatively high alcohol (14.5O). The wine is not at all heavy and is zappy and zingy. Nice aromas of tropical fruits, pineapple and guava with some scents of rose petals. It also has some traditional flavours of cherry and strawberry. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether it is Old World or New World. It is complex, balanced and unique. 16/20.

 

Sadie Family Pofadder 2013

 

In the 19th century and for most of the 20th, Cinsault was a major component of Rhone blends in South Africa. It has now largely disappeared, as it is not an easy grape variety to work with, neither in the vineyard nor in the cellar. It is a prolific variety and it is not easy to control the yields to achieve phenolic maturity. If you add to this its oxidative characteristics, you can understand why it is disappearing. But, Eben Saddie wanted to include Cinsault in his collection of ‘Old Vines’ wines so he started looking for Cinsault vineyards in Swartland and selected five before he found one with consistently higher quality. It is located on Mount Riebeek on the northwest slope of the Kasteelberg Mountain; the name of the vineyard is derived from the shape of the mountain that looks like a snake. It is planted exclusively with Cinsault and produces yields of 28 hectolitres pre hectare on average. After picking, it is imperative to sort the grapes carefully to remove damaged berries and those that are under or over-matured. Grapes are placed in open wooden casks and are trodden by feet twice a day to extract the juice in the most delicate manner possible. After maceration that lasts a month, grapes are then pressed in a basket press and the juice transferred to old casks and is bottled after a year of maturation. The aim is to avoid any oxidation to preserve the freshness of the fruit.   Eben Saddie says ‘It is by far the most difficult wine to elaborate’.

 

What a lovely wine and what a delightful expression of the grape. It has all the aromatic qualities of Cinsault. It is pure and juicy with aromas and flavours of red fruits with floral overtones in particular violets. Perhaps the grape variety does not have the dimension of some of the others, but it produces wines that are gorgeous and with some complexity when it comes from old vines. 16/20

 

Sadie Family Treinspoor 2013

 

This wine comes from a vineyard located four kilometres from the town of Malmesbury near the road that leads to the town of Darling. The vineyard is planted in Tinta Barocca, a Portuguese grape variety that always had its place in Swartland. The vineyard is close to an old disused railway from which it derives its name. The soil is made of decomposed stones and granite. The pruning in Gobelet protects the grapes, as Tinta Barocca does not like intense sun, as the skin is not thick. Yields are only 18 hectolitres per hectare and it is usually used as a blending variety, but when it comes from old vines, the wine can acquire   complexity that allows bottling on its own

 

Good example of Tinta Barocca. Aromas and flavours of prunes, figs and red fruits, a little smoky. This is a medium density wine, well balanced with ripe tannins that support the fruit with some grip and stops the fruit from stewing. 15.5/20

 

Sadie Family Soldaat 2013

 

The name means soldier. Grapes come from a forty-year-old vineyard planted with Grenache at 700 metres of altitude on granite soil in the region of Piekenierskloof.

 

When you taste this wine you cannot help but think of Rayas. The wine is not hugely concentrated and it is its elegance and finesse that dominate. Aromas and flavours of strawberries and red fruits. The alcohol content is only 13.5 o but it has incredible depth. It is digestible, elegant and long in the mouth. It is a pity that, at this stage, the wine has a slightly powdery texture that penalises it. Let us hope it subsides. 16/20.

 

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Sadie Family Palladius 2011

 

Grapes come from a vineyard on granite and gravely soils located on the Paardeberg Mountain. The blend consists of Chenin Blanc, Clairette, Verdelho, Semillon. Palomino, Marsanne, Roussane and Viognier. Grapes are sorted one by one to eliminate damaged berries or those that are under or over-matured. Whole bunch pressing in basket press is carried out and the juice is transferred by gravity to barrels before settling.  Some of the Chenins and Viogniers are fermented for up to four days on skin before pressing. The wine is matured in old demi-muits (600 litres) and in concrete egg-shaped tanks. The wine stays on the lees for 24 months.

 

The blend gives the wine all its complexity, but there is not a single grape variety that dominates the others. There is a touch of exoticism in the wine with tropical fruit characteristics together with more classical flavours of lime, almond and hay. You can feel in the mouth the maturation on lees, which brings minerality, gunflint overtones, and saltiness that balances the fatness of the juice. The blend is limpid, harmonious and the wine has very good depth and drinkability.  17/20. To decant a couple of hours before serving.

 

Sadie Family Columella 2010

 

This is a blend of 80% Syrah, 17% Mourverdre and 3% Grenache. The grapes come from eight old vineyards from Swartland located on granite, slate, gravel and clay soils. Berries are sorted one by one and are fermented in open wooden vats for 3 weeks at 24o C. Pressing is done in basket presses and the juice is transferred into 228 litre oak barrels where it stays for 12 months. The wine is then racked for an additional 12 months on its lees in large wooden casks (Foudres)

 

2010 is an exceptional vintage that produced wines of great complexity and depth of aromas and flavours. The wine is velvety around a  core of red fruits with violet overtones. The tannins are ripe and they give grip to the wine and together with the acidity they give backbone to a velvety sensation of the wine. Great class. 17.5/20

 

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