A character-driven tale
Author: Damian Carrington
One of the primary drivers of my love for the wine industry are the characters that you meet along the way. On a pre-Christmas trip to South Africa, I was privileged to meet – in their natural surroundings – two of the most inspirational characters I have met in over 20 years in the business.
Now before I reveal who they are and tell you a bit about them, I need to give you some of my impressions of the nation and its wine industry. (I should also say that this was my first visit to the Cape Winelands and they are every bit as beautiful and dramatic as you may have been told by those that have seen them.) Since my trip I have tried to remove my rose-tinted sunglasses and come to a dispassionate assessment of what we saw and tasted.
My impressions? I honestly can’t remember coming back from any wine region more impressed by the quality of the wines and the desire to improve than I did on this visit. There is a real sense of vibrancy in the industry with young and old determined to make the very best wines.
Now for my two ‘characters’. The first is Shelley Sandell. Shelley is a true inspiration, not just as a grower or winemaker but as a person. She won’t like me writing this because, like all the most inspiring folk, she is quiet and unassuming yet she has triumphed over personal tragedy to establish the Tierhoek wine farm in the Piekenierskloof region of the Western Cape. Tierhoek is one of the most special places I have ever visited, perched as it is in a natural amphitheatre high in the mountains with a genuine aura that is reflected in its increasingly special wines. Look out for the outstanding Rhône blend (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre) and a straw wine which has that magic combination of luscious sweetness and fresh acidity.
The second is Eben Sadie. The word charisma is much over used these days yet Eben has it by the bucket-load. Katherine Dart MW (our Buying Manager) and I had an unforgettable day with Eben touring around the Swartland in his bakkie (the ubiquitous South African pickup truck), visiting the old vines of the region about which he is so passionate. Anyone that has been lucky enough to taste any of the Sadie Family Old Vine Series will testify as to the extraordinary wines these ancient vines are making. The final test of character for me: how many people do you know that can talk vineyards and soil types with passion and eloquence, simultaneously cooking up brilliant bacon and egg sandwiches on a camp fire, all while warning you not to step on a snake? Quite.