Revolution in South Africa — one immediately thinks of the colonization by the Dutch, French and British, the resistance by the Zulus and other South African tribes, Apartheid, etc. The Swartland Revolution, on the other hand, is not political nor racial. It is a wine revolution in the Swartland region of the Western Cape winelands, located about 40 miles north of Cape Town (and a little northwest of the more famous wine town of Paarl).
We were extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to have a full morning private tour, interview and tasting with South Africa’s “first certified celebrity winemaker”, the “enfant terrible” Eden Sadie who founded The Sadie Family Wines in 1999 near Malmesbury and is one of the five leaders of the Swartland Revloution. The Wine Enthusiast magazine in Septermber 2014 documented the revolution: “It’s not easy to start a revolution. When it comes to a winemaking region with hundreds of years of history—and corresponding traditions—it’s especially difficult to challenge conventional wisdom.
“There always seem to be visionaries, however, who see beyond the status quo…the Swartland is home to vast wheat fields that cover most of its landscape. As the Cape’s traditional breadbasket, the region’s wine quality was often overshadowed by areas like Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch.”
“It wasn’t until 1997 that the region started to garner buzz, when Fairview’s Charles Back purchased vineyards in the Swartland and opened a new project called Spice Route. Back’s arrival sparked a surge of private estates investing in the region.
“It also signaled greater quality potential for the wines. Spice Route’s inaugural releases from young winemaker Eben Sadie eschewed the region’s then-common styles of big, high-alcohol reds and off-dry whites.
“In 2010, The Swartland Revolution—a weekend celebration of the region’s wines, with ticketed tastings, seminars and meals—was born, brainchild of the new Swartland Independent Producers association.
“The mission: To improve quality standards and educate consumers about the unique “Swartlandness”—what traditionalists might call terroir—found within the region’s wines.
“Now in its fifth year, the key players behind The Swartland Revolution have been integral to the region’s development. They produce must-try wines that convey a sense of place, putting South Africa more firmly on the global wine map.”
Bartholomew Broadbent, proprietor of Broadbent Selections, who imports The Sadie Family Wines, notes “Eben Sadie is considered one of the great preservationists and visionaries in the new generation of South African winemakers. To Eben, the vineyard and fruit are part of the story—the truest expression of his art and philosophy.”
The wine writer Neal Martin recently called Sadie an “outspoken, peripatetic, terroir-obsessed winemaker who has been instrumental in putting Swartland on the map. He produces a small portfolio of comparatively expensive, but highly coveted wines based on Rhone varieties sourced from his seemingly never-ending search for pockets of old bush vines and unique terroirs. These are cerebral wines built to age.”
Our ship’s head sommelier, who worked in the South African wine industry for six years and organized and led our excursion, notes “The Sadie Family has enjoyed success beyond any other modern South African wine producer as Columella [their signature Rhone-style wine, a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre] is the most highly rated South African wine, and the only one to achieve a 95 point rating by U.S. wine magazine Wine Spectator.” We were fortunate to hear Eben’s philosophy about wine and agriculture and to taste his extraordinary wines. Unfortunately, the winery sells out every new release within days of its availability, and we were not able to purchase any wines to enjoy in the future. However, we headed off to Paarl to the exquisite Grand Roche Hotel and its restaurant where we had a fabulous luncheon and scored some 2004 Columella.
The Manor House of the Grand Roche Hotel is the original homestead of Hermanus Bosman, who was granted the farm De Nieuwe Plantatie in 1707. The Manor House, built in 1715, was home to the Bosman family for 214 years, until it was sold in 1929. After 1978 it changed hands several times, until it was bought by Hans George Allgaier and was restored to represent the period 1869 – 1876.
Our luncheon was served on the hotel’s terrace, where we had magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, Paarl, and the mountains.
For the first course, we had a choice of SLOW BRAISED BABY BEETS with goat cheese parfait, pumpernickel crumble & horseradish creme,
or PAN FRIED KINGKLIP MEDALLION with truffled flavoured mushroom veloute, sauteed Asian mushrooms & cranberry gel:
For the main course we had a choice of PAN FRIED KABELJOU FILLET (drum fish) with pulpo-chorizo risotto, baby Patagonia squid & mussel cream,
or SOUS VIDE SPRINGBOK (antelope-gazelle) LOIN with broccoli puree, classic Austrian bread dumpling, marinated enoki mushrooms & juniper sauce.
And with the luncheon we had Sadie’s 2004 Columella — an absolutely delicious Rhone-style red wine (80% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre). It was easy to taste the difference aging makes for this wine — at the winery we tasted the 2012 Columella — the wine gained considerable smoothness and was an outstanding accompaniment to the food.
At the end of the meal we were able to say thank you to the restaurant’s executive staff and share our appreciation for an outstanding introduction to the local Winelands cuisine and wines.