Spotlight on the Swartland Revolution: Sadie Family Old Vine Series Treinspoor 2013
Though Swartland is best known for its red blends and its Syrahs, because of its exceptional diversity of old-vine material, there are some impressively old vines of obscure varieties that have the age to turn from blending grapes into substance worthy of single variety bottlings.
Eben Sadie is arguably the greatest winemaker in South Africa and one of the very best in the new world. He is instrumental in exposing the potential of Swartland and bringing it recognition as capable of stunning, world-class wines. His Sadie Family Columella (red) and Palladius (white) are, in my view, the two greatest wines of South Africa. Much rarer than these two wines are the small-batch bottlings he makes under his “Old Vine Series”, which seeks to highlight some of the most fascinating vineyards in Swartland.
The Diversity of Swartland’s Soils
Sadie’s preservationist tendencies have been the vanguard of the Swartland Revolution – seeking out and preserving old bush-vines and treating them with the care and attention necessary to produce something exceptional. The sheer quality of these wines is remarkable given that Sadie Family’s first vintage was only 15 years ago in 2000.
Sadie is also a soil expert, with a deep understanding of South Africa’s geology and, through long experience, an understanding of what characteristics are provided by specific soils. For instance, the very common Swartland granite (from the Paardeberg mountain) provides red grapes that produce wines with spice, herbs and garrigue.
Red slate and schist (from the Riebeek mountain) provides fruit with freshness and brightness. It is similar to the soils in the Douro and Cote-Rotie. Sadie also uses grapes planted in alluvial soils, which he says provide minerality. Red clay gives structure and tannin and “argilocalcaire” (loamy clay) give florals such as violets.
Eben’s philosophy is decidedly anti-sugar. He explicitly picks to ensure freshness and sorts out over-ripe grapes to ensure the wines are not jammy or sweet. He also uses foot treading and basket-pressing to ensure the wines are not over-extracted.
Of Rail Lines and Portuguese Settlers – The Wine
The Treinspoor (which means a railway line – one runs through the vineyard) benefits from this method and is planted in the granite soils of the Paardeberg Mountain. The wine is 100% Tinta Barocca, a Portuguese grape traditionally used for blending that was brought to South Africa by Portuguese settlers. It is not considered of sufficient quality to bottle on its own. Sadie, however, found a plot of bush vines planted in 1974 and felt they produced wine worthy of their own bottling. I must agree with his decision. This wine is quite unlike any I’ve tasted and clearly varietally true.
Expect intoxicating aromatics – red fruits, florals, savory spice and herbs. The wine is quite tannic on the palate and needs a serious decant at this stage in its development. The fruit is red, but also has an intriguing bitter edge. The freshness, pep of the red fruit reminds me a little of cru Beaujolais. This is wild, wonderful wine and is the quintessence of the sort of holy grail wines sought by die-hard wine geeks. While the Treinspoor is not at the same level as Columella, it is engaging and unique.
For more on Eben, I highly recommend listening to I’ll Drink to That’s interview with him from about a year ago. It is a thoughtful and thought-inspiring discussion that demonstrate’s Eben Sadie’s subtle mind.