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The Sadie Family Columella 2016

The Sadie Family Columella 2016

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"The 2016 Columella was matured for 12 months in 10% new oak and then 12 months in old foudres. There is something warm and comforting about the nose: blueberry, crushed violet, a touch of burning embers, almost a damp clay scent. The palate is medium-bodied with fine-grained tannin, the Syrah not as pronounced as previous vintages (a policy pursued by Eben as he increased Grenache), and delivering gentle grip toward the slightly peppered finish and long, black-pepper-tinged aftertaste. Very impressive. Drinking window: 2020-2035. 93 points

Eben Sadie was fated to become the figurehead of the Swartland revolution, whose ripples of influence can still be felt today. Yet, it is a role that Sadie has never felt entirely comfortable with. He has never been one to seek the limelight. He was just one of the first to realize the potential of Swartland and translate that into bottle, then one of the first to recognize the value of old vines and together with Rosa Kruger, introduced his “Old Vine Series” of wines with all their unpronounceable Dutch names. I remember him pouring me the first vintage at a café in Riebeek Kasteel with Chris Mullineux and South African writer Tim James. They were not your typical South African wines. There were differences in terms of aromas and taste, challenged the senses and asked questions rather than just giving you what you wanted. And in turn, you end up acquiring a taste for their attributes and understand that they could only be possible from these small parcels of ancient vines. In turn, he has revised the label that made his name – Columella. Where once Sadie followed the trend of bathing in new oak, he exacts a more prudent approach with little new oak and greater emphasis on concrete eggs and small wooden foudres that I inspect during my visit. The new oak is now just 5% or in other words, four new barrels each year.

Eben Sadie is a charismatic winemaker in the same category as say, Aubert de Villaine or Paul Draper. He has a constant train of thought that he sometimes articulates and you go with it. Not unlike one of his protégés Chris Alheit a week earlier, he spoke about the turning of page as his son Markus Sadie begins to take a bigger role in the winemaking so that he can spend more time in the vineyard. That is where he calls home and that is why I filmed him amongst a new parcel of vines that he planted just down from the winery. I did detect a desire to move his focus towards his own vines instead of just renting parcels of old vine. That’s not to infer he has any desire to stop them, rather I think he wants to look out his bedroom window and survey his own vitis vinifera, those that will ultimately belong to the next generation. To that end, he has a project to renovate and construct a new winery, although he lamented that it all depends on cash in the bank.

These are rightly considered some of the finest South African wines and it is remarkable that they continue to be sold for such good prices. It would never be countenanced in Bordeaux! The red and white, Columella and Palladius respectively, are outstanding and the former is certainly all the better now that Sadie has dialed back the new oak (even though older vintages have aged well). The Old Vine Series is thrilling. His Cinsault, the 2017 Pofadder, is elegance personified but the standout of not just this tasting, but of all my South Africa tastings, is the remarkable Chenin Blanc, the 2017 Mev. Kirsten, from vines planted in 1905. Eben Sadie, a self-effacing man at the best of time, suggested that it might be the best he has ever produced. I think he is right."

Neal Martin, Vinous (08/18)