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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
15 Sep 2018

A shorter version of this article is published in the Financial Times. See also David and Nadia spread their wings

As bordeaux and burgundy prices shoot through the roof, it makes sense for any serious wine collector to explore new sources of fine wine. South Africa is now well worth considering because the wines are seriously undervalued, and a new wave of producers is making distinctive, ageworthy, appetising, definitively South African wines both red and white.

Any well-informed observer of the Cape wine scene would readily mention in this context the name Sadie (rhymes with Hardy). It was the admirable Eben (pronounced 'earbin') Sadie who put Swartland, focus of new-wave Cape wine, on the international map with his Sadie Family bottlings.

But another Sadie is increasingly a force to be reckoned with. For obvious reasons, David Sadie does not use his surname for his magnificent range of Swartland wines. I first came across his wine four years ago in a Cotswold hotel that happens to be close to the home of the Cathay Pacific pilot who used to be his principal UK importer. A 2012 Grenache labelled simply David leapt out of the glass to land as a wine of the week. Refreshing Grenache is no longer a novelty now that we have a host from places such as the Gredos MountainsMcLaren Vale and the south of France, but in 2014 I described this Swartland wine as 'mould-breaking. Mineral somehow and beautifully balanced, even delicate. Not too sweet. Very appetising and clearly lovingly made. A triumph!'

When that wine was made, David and his soil-scientist wife Nadia were in full-time work elsewhere, making a tiny amount of wine in their spare time in rented space. The 2016 vintage was the first that saw them established in their own winery on the slopes of the Paardeberg, on what David describes as 'a lifestyle farm' owned jointly by a Norwegian and a local. They now have some of their own vineyards, and take fruit from others on the basis of a handshake, as is the way for the numerous young guns in Swartland.

David is particularly proud of being unusual among this energetic new band of winemakers in being of Swartland stock. The Sadies, German originally, have been Swartland farmers (wheat is the principal crop) since the eighteenth century. Tall and well built, David looks every inch the farmer. His father is an accountant, which must be useful, and his brother plays rugby for Agen in south-west France.

Although they have had several approaches from would-be investors, David & Nadia (the brand name they have settled on) eventually want their own farm to hand on to their two young sons – and are already making preparations for the return of the rugby player, in the form of the sourdough bakery they are opening in the nearby town of Malmesbury.

No South African farmer can be unaware of the immense social challenges of their environment. One wine estate that went more than the extra mile to provide better conditions for its workers, Solms-Delta, part financed by a member of the Anglo-American Astor family, has just been threatened with liquidation, and a government takeover of some of the land. The Sadies' permanent staff comprises four local homeless people. Part of the Sadies' move to what they call 'biological farming', away from machines and agrochemicals, is 'to try to employ people instead, to give hope to them'.

David and Nadia met when studying at Stellenbosch, South Africa's leading wine university. Their studies, in 2006 and 2007, happened to coincide with a peak in the number of student winemakers, which drove many of them out of the country to find work. David Sadie worked inter alia for Yves Cuilleron in the northern Rhône, land of Syrah. When he and Nadia were getting going as weekend winemakers in 2011 they initially thought their signature grape would be what he calls 'Sheerah' but realised subsequently that they preferred the southern Rhône grape Grenache, which he describes as 'poor man's Pinot'. Château Rayas, the most delicate of Châteauneuf-du-Papes, is his model. He buys a few bottles of its cheaper stablemate Pignan every year. Grenache has come into its own on the Cape during the last two years' severe drought; it needs only half as much water as Syrah. Although, according to David, the average yields in 2018 on their dry-farmed vineyards were barely 10 hl/ha, about a quarter of the average for fine French wine.

David & Nadia now make a range of red Grenaches and white Chenin Blancs, all enlivened by the tense, grainy freshness that they conjure from their vineyards on granite and shale. Ten of the 15 vineyards they work with are older than 35 years so qualify for the admirable South African Old Vine Project. But unfortunately there is a shortage of good Grenache grapes on the Cape, with severe and sometimes well-funded competition for the produce of the best old Piekenierskloof vines. David and Nadia with their deliberate, long-term goals have been planting a hectare of carefully selected (no clones) Grenache a year. Presumably the thought is that by the time their sons are in their prime, this too will qualify for the Old Vine Project.

Part of their long-termism has been to set up an international sales network. Their website lists importers in 21 countries with the enthusiastic South African specialist Pascal Schildt of Rhode Island their US importer. They have had some ups and downs in the UK market but recently landed rather smartly in St James's Street on the glamorous list of Justerini & Brooks, the traditional fine-wine merchant founded at much the same time as the Sadies settled in Swartland.

Even on the J&B list, the prices – which are considerably more than you would pay in Cape Town – seem to me to be ridiculously low for the quality. Their single-vineyard bottlings from Höe-Steen and Skaliekop vineyards are £240 in bond for six-bottle cases while their brilliant white blend Astargos is just £105 and the exceptionally airy Pinotage (also sold by the Swedish monopoly) is £175. These are fifth-growth prices for first-growth quality.

Justerinis' rivals across the street Berry Bros & Rudd import The Sadie Family wines, which are also superb old-vine marvels, and a little more varied than David & Nadia's current range. They are so sought after that they rarely feature on Berrys' retail website – and prices are considerably higher than the other Sadies'. Six bottles of The Sadie Family 2015 Columella is currently on offer at £425. I would be surprised if David & Nadia's wines remain at their current price levels.

WHITES

Aristargos 2017
340 rand, Wine Cellar, South Africa
£105 for six in bond, Justerini & Brooks

Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2017
595 rand, Wine Cellar, South Africa
£240 for six in bond, Justerini & Brooks

Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2016
605 rand, Wine Cellar, South Africa
£52 Vin Cognito; £52.99 Handford Wines

Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2014
£49.99 Handford Wines

Höe-Steen Chenin Blanc 2017
580 rand, Cyber Cellar, South Africa
£240 for six in bond, Justerini & Brooks

Höe-Steen Chenin Blanc 2016
£52.99 Handford Wines

REDS

Grenache 2017
340 rand, Wine Cellar, South Africa
£115 for six in bond, Justerini & Brooks

Grenache 2016
340 rand, Wine Cellar, South Africa
£22.95 Master of Malt, £34 Vincisive, Theatre of Wine
£115 for six in bond, Justerini & Brooks

Grenache 2015
£29 Vin Cognito
$34.99 K&L, California; $36.94 Saratoga Wine Exchange, New York
£32.99 Handford Wines

Grenache 2014
$45 Vintry Fine Wines, New York

Pinotage 2016
£175 for six in bond, Justerini & Brooks
$24.99 Corx, New York; $27.99, Astor Wines, New York
239 Swedish krone, Systembolaget, Sweden