Is the west coast the best coast? Getting fired up with Swartland’s revolutionaries, next stop Olifants River?

I’ll be heading out to South Africa in November.  Top of my list of things to do – indeed things that I’ll be doing – are the Swartland Revolution and International Chenin Blanc symposium.  Chenin is a common thread.  Old vine Chenin from the Paardeberg is the much sought after backbone of Swartland’s revolutionary white blends, of which the pioneer was Palladius.

Its maker, Eben Sadie, is also taking the revolution north to Olifants River where he’s discovered aged vines for his Ouwingerdreeks (Old Vines Series) range.  Made in minsicule amounts, in June I had the good fortune to taste two wines from this super-limited edition range, another Chenin-based white blend and a single vineyard Chenin (pictured).   At the other end of the price spectrum, my favourite white from Sadie’s fellow Swartland revolutionary Adi Badenhorst is his entry level Secateurs White, a straight Chenin which I actually prefer to his top wine, a white blend.

Here are my notes on their white wines, also Badenhorst Family Red (and click here for my earlier report of a (sublime) vertical tasting of Sadie’s top red, Columella).  First, a few words from Badenhorst on what makes the Swartland revolutionary.

Never one for understatement, Badenhorst claims “the west coast is the best coast.”  Its appeal?  As he points out, it’s not the gable houses, rolling lawns and fancy oak trees that characterise Stellenbosch, where he previously worked at Rustenberg.  No, the Swartland, he says, is “quite humble and barren.” Appropriate perhaps for the land dubbed the Cape’s bread basket.

But get off the beaten track and, beyond the rolling expanse of wheatfields that border R44, the main highway, lie pockets of excellence – great vineyards which have been a major draw for young winemakers, many of whom are making natural wines.  Especially the Paardeberg, “a piece of granite rock” says Badenhorst, for whom “granite and grapes equals freshness.”

AA Badenhorst Family Wine Blend 2006 – hmm, thought this was the first vintage I’d tasted back in 2008 but, when I checked, it was the 2007 which showed plenty of mouthfeel and richness of waxy stone fruits and mandarin with a freshness and mineral core.  Inevitaby, the 2006 is very much in tertiary mode now with a long nutty spine – a little too nutty and oxidative in style for my palate – but there’s a freshness and lingering intensity so, if you like your wines nutty, this is for you.  I’d drink it earlier and enjoy the fruit.

AA Badenhorst Family Wine Secateurs Chenin 2010 – describing the lees as “the mother of the wine,” Badenhorst says “they should never be separated from the mother,” so he leaves them in contact with the wine for as long as possible “for texture and protection [the lees are an anti-oxidant].”  Packed with tons of flavour, intensity and layer, Secateurs punches well above its weight, offering so much more than just fruit.  It’s leesy, textured and funky with white chocolate toblerone (vanilla, honey and nougat) layers to its juicy succulent fruit and an edge of balancing greengage bite.

AA Badenhorst Family Red 2007 – joking that he’s had the conversation with his son about private versus public education, Badenhorst says though it’s commercial suicide and “not lekker [cool] from a show point of view,” like Sadie he’s picking earlier for reds in search of freshness.  When I showed the 2006 vintage at a tasting a few years ago, had it then been available in the UK, Badenhorst would have picked up some nice sales.  This vintage is equally engaging.  Saying “Grenache adds a nervousness to the wines,” it has plenty of liquorice and spice box top notes to its bright red and black fruits, while saddle soap and leather notes add an earthier dimension. A really sensual wine with ripe but present fruit tannins putting the accent on freshness, spiciness and savouriness over mere fruit.  Lovely balance and complexity.

The Sadie Family Palladius 2008 – this was one of my top Cape wines of last year and it was in fine fettle this summer.  Though still well endowed with a good girth of rich stone fruits, this wine just gets sleeker and sleeker, finishing long, bright, focused and persistent with spicy’n fresh fennel and a stony, mineral undertow.  Refined but still characterful.

The Sadie Family Skurfberg Ouwingerdreeks (Old Vine Series) 2009 – from Olifants River, north of Swartland, this powerful Chenin Blanc hails from a single aged vineyard.  It has a great concentration of aniseed, liquorice even!  In the mouth it’s mineral – a tensile minerality – spicy and powerful.  Immensely individual.  Wished I’d had time to linger and see it unfurl.

The Sadie Family T Voetpad Ouwingerdreeks (Old Vine Series) 2009 – also from Olifants River, this blend of Chenin Blanc, Semillon Blanc, Semillon Gris and Palomino has a great intensity of tightly coiled quince, pear and apple peel, with exotic citrus hints playing around the edges.  Subtly tannic and textural, it finishes long, dry and mineral.  Great character.

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  1. Cerina van Niekerk

    Hi Sarah

    Almost 2 years ago I moved from a cellar in Paarl to one in the Olifants River. It has been a very exciting journey of discovery and I think you are spot-on with your question on whether the Olifants River might be the next big region in South Africa. There are some fantastic pockets and with time more and more people will become aware of it.



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