Swartland has an unusual affinity for grapes. Reds prefer mediterranean varieties but whites succeed best with the distinctly South African blends of Chenin Blanc alongside a crazy mix of Rhone variety whites, often Chardonnay, and also often the occasional Italian or Spanish white variety. These whites are often field blends with site-specific lineage back to the European colonial settlers who brought such an unusual bevy of grapes from the old world to plant alongside each other. You will not find such blends anywhere else in the world. Other wineries, such as Badenhorst, blend various parcels of fruit – but in my view they still seem at heart to be mimicking the old-vine field blend, but with greater control and precision.
An Experimental Revolution
Badenhorst makes one of the most interesting white wines from South Africa. There are wines with greater finesse and even complexity, but there are few with the same level of idiosyncrasy. Both the blend and fermentation vessels change from year to year as the winery discovers new parcels of old-vine fruit they want to work with. Tweaking the blend from year to year means you cannot compare vintages based on year-specific qualities as too many variables are at play. Rather, the seam is one of discovery and evolving personality seeking a core identity.
This unusual approach reflects the Swartland Revolution-s experimental heart. Despite the old field-blends and old-school wineries with ancient equipment, and despite the professed inspiration from the old-time bottles made prior to the modern winemaking revolution, the movement really is about the new, using modern understanding of old grape varieties and a level of precision previously unavailable to coax the greatest quality out of the region’s grapes in a manner that truly expresses Swartland.
This means the top producers really aren’t emulating any particular tradition. For instance, they are not seeking to make a Loire-style Chenin white. They are inspired by South Africa’s pre-modern bottles but are not bound by them or sanctimoniously recreating them. Rather, they are using Chenin Blanc as the base of the wines because it creates a unique experience when grown in South Africa – and I can attest that none of the Swartland Revolution white wines resemble the Loire.
This distinction is important to understand when talking about young generations in the wine world. In California, for instance, the New California movement in fact divides between more traditionalist approaches and experimental ones. Wineries like Ridge have inspired new winemakers (e.g. Bedrock, Carlisle) to make more wines in that style, but it is an old style, and reflects tradition. These wineries significantly contrast with wineries like the Scholium Project, which are making all sorts of funky and weird wines, some of which fail and some of which succeed.
The Swartland Revolution is much more heavily weighted to experimentalism in a manner that I think distinguishes it from the New California movement. It is less about rediscovering lost potential and more about setting new parameters for quality and success.
The 2010 lacks some liveliness and freshness, which I imagine is unique to this year as I have tasted other vintages with more verve and life. That said, there is a lovely textural quality to this medium-bodied, just opulent enough wine that brings considerable pleasure. Not at the level of the Sadie Family Paladius, this is nevertheless worth following as the experiments continue.
The wine a blend of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Verdelho, Roussanne, Viognier, Sémillon, Grenache Gris, Clairette and Colombard. It is fermented in 1200l old oak foudres.
$40 USD ($45 CDN through trialto for prior vintages)