I have been not unwilling, but reluctant, to add my penny to the fortune of riches amassed by the Swartland region over the past few years. The area holds a dear place in my weary heart, as the family farm called Swartboskraal is situated in the Swartland’s sandveld soul. To me the Swartland is a desolate and mysterious place, filled with tales of hardship told by people to whom the term “salt of the earth” does not do justice.
These people have been living close to the earth and to nature for centuries farming potato, wheat rooibos tea, citrus and grapes. They have sand in their blood, veld in their flesh. Their eyes are brightest when there is rain on the horison.
And I have known them, been part of them, for over forty years.
When the Swartland wine gig thus rolled into town half a decade ago, I had earned the right to be a cynic. Especially as the au naturel counter-culture approach to wine-making ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ not to mention the hairstyles ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ sported by the rabble-rousing Swartland gang all seemed a bit, well, contrived. Add to this the torrent of sycophantic voices claiming that the Swartland can do no wrong, and that “bullshit detector” Hemingway warned objective scribes against was wailing like a Nederburg Auction gavel.
As far as the marketing goes, however, credit must be given where credit is due. The Swartland has added spice to the local wine industry with a new spread of innovative wines and a few colourful characters in Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst who are genuine enough to give the whole move street-cred and true originality. This makes the Swartland thing a piece of action, one in which many wine scene egos wish to tap into: note discount supermarket wine-spokesmen and events co-ordinator Michael Fridjhon hitching a ride on the Swartland Revolution bandwagon after initially gleefully dissing Sadie’s Ou Wingerdreeks concept.
In Tim James the Swartland even has its own publicist, though I dare not repeat the words of regional insiders who admit that the consistently glowing missives of this sycophantic groupie are becoming a bit embarrassing for the local producers. The expectations of Swartland wines created by James’s ,gushing writing sit uncomfortably with some producers who say that restaurateurs and retail now “expect the earth each time we release a new wine”.
But the wine must speak, as it always does, and two forays into the Swartland convinced me that away from the sideshows, the revolutions, the facial hair and the groupies, the region can deliver.
A bottle of Sequillo White 2009 from Eben Sadie found its way to the glass recently, and the big thing I like about it is the difference. Yes, the difference: in a wine market flooded with unimaginative fresh, tarty whites this wine’s uniqueness comes to the fore.
Okay, the oxidative clamminess is initially a tad assertive. But after 20 minutes the wine does an about turn and bursts into life.
The blend is 60% Chenin Blanc, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Roussanne and 10% Viognier, chucked in old wood, everything minimum intervention and hands-on.
Once the oxidised fart moves off, the wine opens up to reveal a floral perfume and an edgy whiff of wild veld. The taste opens with a Rafael Nadal first serve: a supple, sweaty, lean and focussed Mediterranean swoosh of sun-baked mussel shell, fresh Monastery well-water, peaches picked two weeks prior to shipping to the Barcelona market and waxy white pear. Unlike the Nadal serve, the Sequillo does hang around in the palate a bit. The saltiness mingles with a brisk mineral edge, finishing on the subtle tropical side with a bite of custard apple and quince.
It really is a beaut, worthy of another 10 yrs in the cellar at least.
The complexity and longevity can be ascribed, obviously to the old vines. The vines’ fourth root system, the one charged with absorbing nutrients once veraison has kicked in, becomes a real old soak over the years and greedily delivers goodness from deep down the Swartland earth to the developing fruit.
At a recent tasting of Spanish and Southern Rh?+¦???+¦?+¦????ne wines, the host chucked in an AA Badenhorst Red 2007. With Shiraz dominating, this wine by Adi Badenhorst also handles Mourv?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëdre, Cinsaut and Grenache. It’s all old wood, cement tank stuff and comes out the other side pure, elegant and so bright you need Adi’s shades to drink it.
The Shiraz has an edge of wild savoury to offset the massive concentrated fruit the region gives. There is spice. There is a smoke. There is juice. Fruit ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a lot. Hell, there is even a bit of forest-floor earthiness in there as well.
But most of all, there is an edge of excitement in this wine. The feeling that the Swartland ship is being steered into uncharted waters. The horizon may look black, but so far, so good.