Sadie epitomises much of what’s great at the cutting edge of Wine SA – rooted in the soils, reaching for the stars

ALTHOUGH THE EXACT pecking order regarding the very best wine producers in South Africa will forever be debatable, there is little argument amongst the cognoscenti that The Sadie Family is comfortably among the Top 10 in terms of the special nature and interest value of what they produce. Yet to many, this cellar in the foothills of the Paardeberg outside Malmesbury in the Swartland is a mystery: it’s off the beaten track and isn’t signposted, plus there aren’t many bottles to go around (45 000 a year in total) and the top-tier wines sell out in days, let alone weeks or months – despite the pricing which, for locals paying with rands and who aren’t serious wine enthusiasts or people with deep pockets, can be difficult to swallow.

The separately-branded Sequillo blends at just under R120 a bottle for the just-released 2012 red and 2013 white are as close as things get to being Sadie second labels. Whereas the Sadie Old Vine Series of eight wines including Treinspoor (from Tinta Barocca), Soldaat (from Grenache) and Mev Kirsten (from Chenin) range from around R180 to R695 a bottle, with the Sadie Signature Series including the particularly highly rated Columella (a Shiraz-based red blend) and Palladius (a multi-varietal white blend) fetching close to R508 and R366 per bottle respectively – that’s ex-cellar, where they only sell by the case. But hey, that’s the way of the world, supply and demand…

Sadie wine tastings on the farm are almost out of the question for the general public – there are some held at the time of the annual releases in July/August, and then another couple in September and November for those who can bear the frustration of not being able to buy anything to take home with you afterwards because everything’s sold out. It costs R200 pp to reserve a seat at the table, payable in advance but refunded on arrival at the tasting – it has to do with discouraging no-shows. And the tastings are well worthwhile, with proceedings conducted by the star himself and with who knows what among the surprise inclusions in the line-up.

Eben Sadie is the heart and soul and brains behind this pioneering winemaking venture dating back to 1999. Though a huge fan of red Burgundy, he doesn’t believe that great Pinot Noir can be made in South Africa. Instead he focuses on Shiraz- and Chenin-led blends, on experimenting with varieties that are rare or new to the Cape, and on making wine from bought-in grapes grown on very old vines at various hallowed locations in the Swartland district as well in the Olifants River region of the Western Cape. If he was to build another cellar it would probably be just north of Piketberg.

Considering himself now out of his rock and roll phase (but still big on the surfing lifestyle), Sadie tells a good story about Cape wine and his own bottlings past, present and future. He’s collected in his thinking, considered in his planning, but accepts that some people still regard him as “a bit crazy”. He strives for purity of fruit and believes in little to zero extraction or wooding or anything that might detract from regional and vintage expression in his wine – rather that it “draws you in” than “jumps out” of the glass.

SA wine industry hero. No question! For some of the others, check out Top Wine SA’s Hall of Fame.