Born to be Great: The Swartland Sadies

A winemaker’s confidence comes effortlessly if it is earned. During a recent presentation of the new vintages from David & Nadia, the ease David Sadie showed in his own skin bordered on the edge of audaciousness for such a young man and relative newcomer to the South African wine scene. Firm, steady voice seamlessly jumping between English and Afrikaans. A no-nonsense and pared-down description of the vineyards and earth from which he and wife Nadia make their wines, and how they make it. Not a moment’s hesitation shown during question time, steering curve-balls to fine-leg and without an iota of doubt in his answers.

But if you can make wines like this, what is there to doubt and what is there to hesitate upon?

With only nine years in business, the David and Nadia two-step is breezing along, making some of the greatest wines in South Africa. It all looks so damn easy: Nadia the soil fundi and viticulturist helps David find interesting and available vineyards over the Swartland. David nurses the juice through the cellar with the hands-on approach and in the restricted volumes one has come to expect from the new-wave Swartland ethos.

And without any hype or marketing glitter, the wines get wine critics weak at the knees and send scores into the stratosphere.

It is all undefinable. There is not one discernible factor you can pluck out and say “here, look, this is the reason for the stirring magnificence in the David and Nadia wines”. Old Chenin Blanc and Grenache vines? They’ve all got them in that neck of the woods. Granite and iron soils and typography stroked by the sunlight and sea of the desolate West Coast? In the Swartland, this is all over the place. Focused, minimum-intervention winemaking? Everyone does it now.

While going through the red and white wines, listening to David speak and watching Nadia listen to her team-member and checking glasses were full and all is fine, it struck me that this Sadie wine-magic is here for a simple reason: And that is that it is all meant to be.

David, a Malmesbury local, wasn’t going to join his father’s financial services firm or play top-league rugby like his brother. As a kid he’d accompany his dad on consultation visits to farmer clients and became attracted to the wonder of nature and farming, and the vines growing low and flat in those wide Swartland spaces. It all got under his skin, and it stayed.

He studied wine, and in Nadia found a partner whose understanding of the soil, typography, geography and the vine complemented his vision of converting all that stuff into nature’s finest and most complete expression – wine. Because that’s what they want to do, and that’s what they were meant to do.

Thinking of all this while tasting the wines of David and Nadia Sadie I take another sip of Chenin Blanc. And to rephrase Burgundy expert Remington Norman’s words on wines from that mythical French region, I am not tasting a Chenin Blanc here. But a white wine made from a vineyard in the Swartland.

With the Grenache too, the varietal characters comes second to a red wine with an overriding sense of place, made presentable by a set of artists.

The Sadie presentation was comprehensive and generous, with the white wines especially captivating.

The Topography Sémillon 2018 motivates the reason for this variety to find its rightful place among South Africa’s leading varieties. Vines planted in 1960 and 1972, soils partly granite, partly clay. The juice spent a week on the skins before aging for a year in an old 2 500 litre vat.

Delicate like rain, but twice as pure. It is bone-dry, invigorating without out a pin-prick of acidic harshness. Floral notes feed off lemon-peel, with a seductive, feral and intriguing line of savoury.

David & Nadia Chenin Blanc 2018, conjured from various old vines planted from 1962 to 1982 on a variety of soils: shale, granite, iron and clay. Signature Swartland winemaking: whole-bunch pressed, natural ferment, old barrels for 11 months. The senses see long citrus bordering on a sherbet-umami sensation, making for a wine filled with an extraordinary amount of life and personality. A gum-sucking dryness expands into a Neverland of Eden-esque proportions, an array of subdued fruit and flowers anchored by a firm muscular presence on the palate. Alluring and truly wonderful, the wine is cool yet heart-warming in its ability to portray the honesty of its origins with such charming openness.

It was David and Nadia’s three single-vineyard Chenin Blancs from 2018 that, for me, closed the circle of the quest for greatness.

Skaliekop from shallow shale soils, a wine that would have won many an 18th century duel were it a rapier sword. Pointy and sharp, it slashes the air with whistle-sounding whips commanding attention and causing the blood to run cold due to a combination of awe and admiration. Direct and loud, the wine folds out layer-upon-layer of stony, sharp-rock edges upon which ice-cold ocean waves smash dreamily. Much juicy yellow winter fruit, with just the slightest alert astringency of a green rhubarb sliver.

Ain’t no mountain high enough to describe the Hoë Steen Chenin Blanc made from vines stuck into clay and iron. But here be perfume and honey-suckle, a surprising rich and brawny spread of Packham pear, quince and green-apple, corralled into a large and round world of supple tannins and seductively fleshy rivets of golden, late-afternoon sunshine.

And last but not least, the Platbos Chenin Blanc from vines on granitic soils. There is a half-eaten oyster on the shell, and it is fresh and briny. I good dollop of thick-peel, old Cape lemon adds zest and zip, while a wind has risen bearing scents of wild-flowers, spring citrus blossom and kukumakranka. The wine lies on the palate like a lazy, tanned surfer, bopping along before the next wave of flavour brings it to its feet and everything is covered by a glistening wet barrel, a surge of something bigger than what this world was made for.

And, perhaps, even greater than that.

 

 

 

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