GVG Black Land Bargains Neil Pendock and the GVG take a daytrip to the Swartland on the trail of value for money wines you’ve likely never heard of. The Swartland, that bowl of Bokomo cereal tinged green by sprawling vineyards, is one of the oldest appellations in SA: producers like Allesverloren date back to the 17th century. Yet in reality, it’s barely ten years old. The Swartland popped onto my radar screen when GVG and I visited Eben Sadie and Tom Lubbe in their tumbledown bucolic Eden that was Charles Back’s Spice Route operation on the farm Amoskuil outside sleepy Malmesbury back in 2001.
Eben Sadie, King of the Swartland
Miles Davis was playing ascenseur pour l’échafaud (lift to the scaffold) on the tapedeck in that pre-iPod period and Tom was wet-nursing barrels of the first Swartland terroir blend, tentatively called Caldera. Later revised to Kalbas after they found out some Americans were already producing a Caldera. Which was a pity, as Spain’s most famous architect, Antonio Gaudí, was raised at Mas de la Calderera in Catalonia. Tom and Eben are big fans of the intense reds of the Pyrenees; Eben calls Priorato, just south of Barcelona, "the best wine-growing region in the world" and spends half the year there.
Tom went one better and married Nathalie, the daughter of Gérard Gauby on the other side of the mountains in French Roussillon where he now makes a kickass white blend called Matassa which tastes remarkably like something… grown in the Swartland! The GVG swallowed the fifties avantgard jazz hauntingly filling the cellar hook line and sinker but today he’d be more aware of Eben’s finely tuned marketing antennae that sees him offer his R550-a-bottle Syrah/Mourvèdre blend Columella in Riedel crystal stemware, subliminally reinforcing the quality assumption Swartland Tasting at Bar Bar Black Sheep in August
that this is no Swartland dop but rather the best rated SA red ever by Wine Spectator magazine. Which explained the twitching of GVG’s own moustache when he received an invitation from Eben to a Swartland appellation tasting at Bar Bar Black Sheep. BBBS is Mynard Joubert’s hedonistic HQ in Riebeek-Kasteel, the thinking person’s Franschhoek, an hour from Cape Town. Further investigation revealed that Eben “wanted to keep the tasting tight” so the usual hoards of freebee freelancers who crowd-out tastings, would hopefully be thinned. The GVG doesn’t usually play crowd scenes but he’s
propositions. So the prospect of 20 Swartland producers at a haal uit en wys (showing their cards) was too tempting to pass up. Johan Simons from Dragon Ridge in the Joubert’s Kloof of the Paardeberg made a dense and intense white blend in 2006 “inspired by Eben Sadie. We sell ours for R55 a bottle while his is in the several hundreds. But R100 a bottle is a cutoff for my friends. Any more than that and they buy a bottle Johan Simons of whisky.” So the GVG took Johan’s advice and restricted himself to wines under the R100 glass ceiling.
GVG Swartland Whites Least expensive white to make the grade was Babylon’s Peak Chenin Blanc 2009 (R30). Winemaker Stephan Basson’s 40 year old Chenin vineyards are older than he is. Most of his 200ha of grapes are sold off to famous brands but a tiny percentage is bottled under his own label. This fresh and fruity Chenin is floral and zingy with acid pear drops fading to a lingering, peachy farewell. The Porterville Co-op is located in the northeastern corner of the Swartland, next to Tulbagh, which explains why the co-op’s blend of Viognier and Chenin Blanc 2009 (R40) is labeled André Oberholzer
Paddagang for the Tulbagh restaurant of the same name. Cellarmaster André Oberholzer reckons the flavours are deep enough to deal with a chicken curry which given the profusion of chicken farms in the vicinity, must be a popular dish.
Hugo and Stephan Basson
White blends are suddenly in fashion and make complete sense as the vintage weaknesses and strengths of various
components may be finely balanced by a canny winemaker like Hugo Basson. 2007 was arguably the vintage of the naughty noughties and the Annexkloof White 2007 (R45) has oaky richness and food friendly acids. Pieter du Toit’s Kloovenburg Chardonnay 2009 is a steal at R48. Defiantly New World in style with big, booming fruit and 15% alcohol, it has a fragrant nose reminiscent of church incense. Irishman Bernard McCoy has a 2008 blend of Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc for R55. It is made from Chenin grown on slate near his Roundstone B&B in Riebeeksrivier while the exotic Grenache Blanc component comes courtesy of the inevitable Mr. Sadie. Bernard’s maiden vintage, only 600 bottles were made. Matured in old wooden barrels, it has the lively elegance of a leprechaun’s jig. Bernard McCoy 2009 is Pieter Euverard’s first vintage and his oxidative white blend (R60) of Chenin, Sémillon, Chardonnay and Viognier made on his Orangerie farm, tastes of… oranges. Once it’s bottled and labeled, it will be well
worth searching out.
GVG Swartland Reds In the red department, Swartland is synonymous with Shiraz and Eric Saayman made a classic baked black plum pie at Riebeek Cellars in downtown Riebeek-Kasteel. The 2006 vintage at R60 is the same price as Andries Blake’s sour cherries and figgy interpretation of the same vintage from Swartland Winery located just before the potholes as you drive on the R45 into Malmesbury. Pity about the R100 limit
as the Swartland Idelia 2006 (R120) is an amazing achievement of perfume and balance. Rudi Wium hedges his bets at Meerhof by producing a blend of four vintages (04-07) for R80 that is deep and delicious. Allesverloren make an Old World style Shiraz – big and full bodied – with spices and smoke reminiscent of those ancient cattle rustling raids from which the farm earned its lugubrious name “all is lost.” The farm is the birthplace of SA prime minister DF Malan while Boer general (and another prime minister) Jan Smuts was born Rudi Wium
in Riebeek West, a couple of kilometers up the road from RiebeekKasteel. The Smuts homestead is now located next to a giant PPC cement plant, the expansion of which is very much no cause célèbre in both Riebeek towns.
Gilmar Boschoff from Allesverloren
Shiraz is not the only string to the Swartland bow. Anton Espost has a fresh and spicy blend of Pinotage and Merlot from the 2007 vintage which he sells for R70. This is no obvious coffee/mocha Pinotage, but rather a symphony of sour figs with strong mineral notes. His wine is called 1120, which resolves disputes over a brand name among the several owners of farm 1120 on the Kasteelberg mountain.
Billy Hughes hails from Argentina and his spicy red blend of Shiraz, Pinotage, Mourvèdre and Merlot called Nativo from the 2007 vintage is an excellent buy at R70 as it’s organically farmed, not overwooded and bursting with fresh and tangy red fruit flavours. Billy’s day job is designing underwater mining equipment, but with De Beers profits down 99%, the bounty of Bacchus must be a better bet than that of Neptune.
Charles Back’s Spice Route, the brave gamble that kick-started the whole Swartland Renaissance, is still delivering the goods. Kalbas, alas, never did see the light of day, and its place is now taken by Malabar, a blend of Shiraz and Petit Verdot. The Platter wine guide calls the 2005 being poured a “high-toned Rhône reflection.” Gobbledygook to the GVG, who did react to the selling price however: R350, premium whisky prices to the inhabitants of the Dragon’s Lair.
Contact Details 1. Allesverloren 022 461 3220 2. Annexkloof Wines 022 487 3870 3. Babylon’s Peak Private Cellar 022 487 1614 4. Bar Bar Black Sheep 022 448 1031 5. Dragon Ridge Winery 022 487 1153 6. Hughes Family Wines 082 493 1565 7. Kloovenburg Vineyards 022 448 1635 8. Porterville Co-op 023 230 1001 9. Riebeek Cellars 022 448 1213 10. Roundstone Estate 022 482 3245 11. Spice Route Winery 021 863 2450 12. Swartland Winery 022 482 1134