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south african wine, part 13
Eben Sadie

Sadie Family, Aprilskloof Rd, Paardeberg
(Postal address: PO Box 1019, Malmesbury 7299) 
+27 (0)224823138
Email: sadiefamily@mail.com

Eben Sadie started as winemaker with Charles Back, heading up the newly formed Spice Route venture. He left in 2000 and has since established a stellar reputation for his Columella and Palladius wines, which are widely regarded as among the best red and white wines, respectively, from the Cape.

He’s still only young (33), but has a commanding sense of authority about him. He speaks, and people listen. A sort of winemaking guru. I met with him and his wife Maria for a long Friday night dinner held at the home of Willi and Tania of Scali.

Eben grew up in South Africa making wine for other people, but felt that the wines always lacked something. He travelled to Europe and realized that what was missing was tradition. ‘There is a wheel of terroir’, he explains. ‘There’s history, tradition and time, as well as other elements, and these three aren’t always welcome in the world that we are living in today’.

So he left South Africa on a working journey of discovery that took him through Germany, Austria, Italy, Oregon and Burgundy. ‘I recognized that in Burgundy people have a heart in them: they breathe the wine. It is part of how they move’.

On returning to South Africa Eben started Columella on a shoestring. He made just 17 barrels in his first vintage, 2000, because he didn’t have the money to invest in it. His goal was to do something that had a bit of the greatness he’d seen in some European wines, and he found three vineyards where he thought he could achieve this.

Eben has quite a European philosophy on wine. ‘I don’t like the term “winemaker” at all’, he explains. ‘Until recently it didn’t exist: now we live in a world where we “make” wines’. Eben continues, ‘to be involved with a great wine is to remove yourself from the process. In all the “making” the virtue of terroir is lost’.

When Eben started Columella he knew the wine had to be a blend. His view is that in cool continental climates single varieties excel: there’s a dialogue with the environment and a long time to interpret the vintage. The coast is best for blends, he maintains, but adds, ‘there are always exceptions: you can never generalize in wine’.

What’s the Sadie secret? He takes incredible care in the vineyards. He doesn’t have machines in the cellar: everything is done by gravity and hand. Wooden open fermenters are used. ‘It’s a very pure way of producing the wine’.  

Sadie Family Columella 2003
Now made from seven vineyards this is a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre from a range of soil types. The intense, dark, smooth spicy nose has sweet, seamless pure fruit and lovely balance and complexity. The palate is dark and quite tannic with spicy red and black fruits and a rich, chocolatey character. It’s very well structured with lovely purity and integrated oak. A stunning wine. Excellent 96/100

Sadie Family Palladius 2004
‘I said I would never produce a white wine’, says Eben. ‘I like continental white wines such as Riesling and
Grüner Veltliner.’ He changed his mind and started growing Viognier, ‘but the problem with Viognier is that in mediterranean climates it turns into jet fuel’. The he started working with Lammershoek’s white vineyards, and blended Chenin Blanc and  a bit of Grenache Blanc in with the Viognier. The result is a great success, with the grapefruit and acidity of the Chenin complementing the rich spiciness of Viognier. It has a wonderfully rich nose that’s perfumed and spicy, with herby, melony fruit. There’s a bit of jasmine here. The palate is dense and rich with lovely open fruit and good acidity. 18 months in wood (500 litre barrels) adds toastiness and spiciness. ‘South Africa has a great library of old white vineyards because of its distilling history’, says Eben. This is a fantastic wine. Excellent 95/100

Eben also has some interesting things to say about South Africa as a wine-producing country. ‘South Africa is 300 km too far North’, he suggests. ‘If we could move it 300 km South, it would solve a lot of our problems. Moving it 400 km would do fantastic things.’ He’s also critcal of many of the soils found in the Cape. ‘South Africa’s soils are too old. The younger the soil the better for wine. This part [Paardeberg] is the area where the soils are youngest and poorest.’

Sadie Family Sequillo 2003 Swartland
A blend of Syrah (63%), Mourvèdre (30%) and Grenache (7%). ‘Columella is expensive’, says Eben. ‘This is a Monday–Friday wine’. It has a sweet, quite elegant nose of red fruits with a herby, subtly green edge. The palate is supple and fresh with some tannic structure under the attractive, green-tinged fruit. A well proportioned wine with a bit of spiciness. Delicious stuff. Very good/excellent 92/100

Availability in the UK: imported by Richards Walford 

Wines tasted December 2005
For a more recent report on Eben Sadie and his wines:
Columella vertical tasting 2012
Visiting and tasting October 2010

Wines tasted 12/05
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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