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Sadie Family Wines

Trail Blazing Swartland from a South African Visionary

The first rule of the Sadie Family: tasting is believing. On tasting through our first, mini allocation from this Swartland visionary, the Bibendum team were left in a kind of collective shock. The fact is, you can be a total believer when you order the wines, but the moment your first allocation arrives in Australia, it’s kind of a moment of truth. Will this first shipment live up to expectations? Will these wines stack up to everything we’ve told our clients? As we tasted, the faces in the room collectively lit up. This is why we get up in the morning—to bring to our market wines that move wine people.

Of course, the Sadie name will be familiar to many of our clients, either through Eben Sadie’s international profile or via the link to Terroir al Límit (where Sadie was a founding partner but is no longer involved). Regardless of whether or not you know these wines, you MUST do your best to make their acquaintance (or reacquaintance). If you knew the wines in the early days, be prepared for a shock, they are totally different today. In short, they are far, far finer than the early releases. As Eben puts it, “…until 2009 we made wine like you make coffee, since then we have made wine like you make tea.” But forget about style, the Sadie Family bottlings, crafted from old vine, high-grown vineyards in South Africa’s Swartland, are simply some of the greatest non-European wines we have ever tasted. 

The Sadie Family team work with roughly 30 hectares of vines, one-third of which are estate, with the other vines farmed entirely under their control. This is quite the undertaking when you consider, at their furthest point, the vineyards lie some 250 miles apart and are spread across 53 separate parcels. Then consider that everything is dry grown and organically farmed and that each parcel, having different geologies, aspects and often grape varieties, will require different management. These vines, (from overwhelmingly old parcels), lie mostly on the high-altitude slopes of Swartland’s Atlantic-influenced mountains, one hour north of Cape Town on the Western Cape. The terroirs include Paardeberg Mountain (on granite), Riebeek Mountain (slate), Piquetberg (sandstone and quartz), Coastal Plain (chalk) and Malmesbury (Glenrosa clay). Further afield, several of the Old Vine Series plots fall outside of the Swartland WO, notably Soldaat in the Piekenierskloof highlands and the Skurfberg vineyards in Citrusdal Mountain. 

“Eben Sadie has become the great curator of the old treasures out in the field of South Africa's Swartland, with his Old Vines series the reliquary.” Jon Bonné

While the terroirs differ significantly, Sadie notes, in general, that he’s farming with very old, low fertility, decomposed soils which are exceptionally demanding to work. With poor soils, an absence of irrigation and old vines, yields are naturally tiny—25 hl/ha at best—and three consecutive drought years have seen these figures drop far lower. There are no chemical additives to either the vines or the soils—a philosophy which extends to the cellar. Sadie’s key challenge in the vineyard, he notes, is preserving the grape’s acidity, freshness and purity—a challenge that starts in the vineyards with building the (previously neglected) soils’ life through inter-planting and organic composting. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working as the wines lack for nothing when it comes to energy and freshness.

As mentioned above, Sadie’s winemaking philosophy has evolved considerably over the years and his wines have become far purer, better balanced and now offer wonderful transparency of place. There is almost zero new oak in the cellar and these days extraction for the reds is limited to foot-stomping, the odd, irregular punch down and, what our own Dave Mackintosh calls, jugotage, whereby the team scoop the free juice over the top of the whole bunch ferments. All the wines are spontaneously fermented and there is no stainless steel, only concrete vats, a few eggs and mostly large format oak. Sadie uses no sulphur additions until the very end of the aging — and there are no other additions for that matter — with a final total of 60 milligrams that he finds is the minimum for aging and travelling. All the wines clarify naturally and are bottled without filtration.

Since we have been shipping the wines, Sadie’s Domaine has increased with new plantings on the West Coast (near the Skerpioen vineyard), and there’s a new project in the Cedarberg Mountains. Then, there are two extensions at Rotvas (Sadie’s home farm in Paardeberg) where the fruit is destined for Columella and Palladius. These vineyards bring Sadie’s holdings to nine hectares—still small, yet spaced over a huge distance of some 400 kilometres. Eben has bought in vineyard manager, Morné Steyn and viticulture consultant Jaco Engelbrecht to manage the increased workload. Despite this increase, Sadie notes that with these new sites, the aim is not necessarily to make more wine. Instead, it’s in planting a plethora of Mediterranean varieties more suited to Swartland’s ever-drier climate—including Vermentino, Picpoul, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Cinsault Blanc and Assyrtiko. He hopes these vineyards will help The Sadie Family adapt to the ongoing challenges of global warming and climatic shifts.

Currently Available

Sadie Family Swartland Columella 2021

Sadie Family Swartland Columella 2021

Signature wine. First released in 2000, Columella is Sadie’s most famous wine. While it’s regularly described as an icon of Swartland (and indeed South Africa), Eben Sadie’s goal is simply to produce the finest, most honest expression he can from Swartland as a whole. As such, the blend includes six of the seven official red grapes that grow in the region. The 2021 is a blend of one-quarter Syrah, with the remainder a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Tinta Barocca and Cinsault. Eben notes that the incremental growth of Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and Tinta Barocca in the final blend has contributed to the depth and complexity of tannins and that there is also more fruit purity.Eben also wants to capture as many Swartland soils and climates as possible. This year, the grapes came from seven soil types (including granite, slate, gravel and sandstone) across 11 separate vineyards in Paardeberg, Kasteelberg, Malmesbury and Piquetberg. Most are low-yielding, old-vine parcels, although some of the estate’s younger material also plays its part. Many of the Syrah vines have been trained to their own pole (échelas style, as per northern Rhône). Most of the fruit is destemmed, although an increasing percentage of whole bunches are used each year. Sadie has a sorting team of 25 who discard 8 to 15% of the fruit each year. The grapes go into a huge open fermenter for an average of three weeks on skins before being basket-pressed into primarily old French oak barrels (less than 5% new). After a year on lees, the wine is racked into seasoned oval casks (foudres) for further maturation on the fine lees. The wine is then bottled without fining or filtration.A quick note on the history and evolution of this wine. The wine was a predominantly Syrah blend with Mourvèdre in its first decade. Over the years, specifically since 2009, Sadie has introduced ever-increasing amounts of the other varieties. The fruit is also picked earlier, and the winemaking has progressed. Before 2009, the style was geared towards power and extraction, maximising depth of colour, flavour and tannin. Post-2009, the maceration has become progressively gentler to the point where the cap is simply kept wet, mainly via handheld jugs. The amount of new oak has also decreased radically. It is no coincidence that these changes happened around the same time that Sadie was experimenting with similar techniques at Terroir al Límit in Priorat. Columella is nonetheless a more powerful, complex wine than those in the Old Vine Series, with unforced intensity and a corresponding increase in texture and ripeness. We recommend decanting, and Sadie suggests a minimum of eight years in the cellar before opening. Good luck with that! The notes below tell you all about the style and brilliant quality of the 2021 release. It has the finesse, sappiness and vibrancy of great Burgundy (from a powerful year) and the depth and structure to live for decades.

“This 2021 vintage of Columella displays extremely bright red fruit aromas. The wine is incredibly fresh, and the 24 months of ageing in old casks are unmarked; it almost seems like the fruit is still hanging on the vine. Some velvety spicey herbal aromas of the bush come through on the aromatics, and then violets and perfumes follow. There are darker, deeper lines of graphite, black olive and cedarwood aromatics, and the structure of the wine is quite seamless; the tannins flow into the acidity at the end of the palate. It is incredibly balanced, and delicate layers of stitching make up this wine. Time is your friend on this one.” Eben Sadie

“The latest in a remarkable run of Columellas from Paul Jordaan and Eben Sadie, this is an eight-variety blend with Syrah taking the lead role assisted by a supporting cast of 74% Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, Tinta Barocca, Pinotage and Alicante Bouschet. It's a Rhône Valley meets Pinot Noir style, with a combination of grace and intensity. Spicy, floral and alluring, it has aromas of incense and fynbos, detailed tannins, some meat and tapenade and the grip and focus to evolve for a decade or more in bottle.”
98 points, Tim Atkin MW, South Africa Report 2023
Sadie Family Swartland Columella 2021
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“The wines shine through with a level of magnificence that is simply stunning [although the] wines are tough to find as most of these wines are on allocation.” Anthony Mueller, The Wine Advocate

“...That these rare and beautiful bottlings continue to be sold at prices that would not encourage a Bordeaux Classed Growth proprietor out of his bed each morning is still quite unbelievable, especially when you've seen the passion and commitment up close.” Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate

“I remember him pouring me the first [Old Vine Series] vintage at a café in Riebeek Kasteel with Chris Mullineux and South African writer Tim James. They were not your typical South African wines. There were differences in terms of aromas and taste, challenged the senses and asked questions rather than just giving you what you wanted.” Neal Martin, Vinous

“To understand the split character of the Swartland, the old and the new, it is instructive to simply stand amongst Sadie’s unirrigated, organically treated, gnarled old bushvines, knowing what they produce, and to see on a neighboring hillside the thick green of long hedges of the same variety—knowing that they are grown to produce abundant, easily harvested crops for Distell.” Tim James, Wines of the New South Africa

Country

South Africa

Primary Region

Swartland

People

Winemakers: Eben Sadie & Paul Jordaan

Availability

National

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