Most recently, Glou Glou was invited to attend the new vintage launch of Sadie Family Wines. Now, this is not something either of us took lightly. In fact, we may have performed a little hop, skip, jump (channeling our best Fred Astaire) when we got the invitation. Revered in wine circles as one the finest South African winemakers this country has to offer, Eben’s Columella and Palladius wines have a Bieber-esque effect on those lucky enough to try it. So on a late-winter Saturday morning, a community of culture vultures encircled the Sadie Family Wines estate, eager to drink up Eben’s new range. Put very simply, a cult wine is a wine that dedicated groups of committed enthusiasts will pay large sums of money for. They’re the philosopher’s stone of the wine world – shrouded in mystery, fables and high price points. Some of the most popular cult wines in the world include the likes of Screaming Eagle from Napa Valley ($2,400–$5,000 a bottle) and Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti ($4,000–$12,000 a bottle – and the most counterfeited one in the world). Sadie Family Wines are certainly more humbly priced (e.g. R750 for a bottle of Columella), but considering our rand exchange rate and feeble economy, that’s a relatively comparative price to the fat cats aforementioned. And the question stands: is it worth it?
As Eben’s croaky voice opened up on how the impact of the drought is a serious reality, and how affected we all are by it, we were amazed at how he effortlessly commanded the room. He went on to share his philosophy, describing the importance of finding new ways to grow our vines and his personal investment in new varieties for today – “if you’re not planting today, you’re not picking tomorrow”. It quickly becomes clear that Eben’s success arises from more than his talented hand in the cellar – but from him. His humble but charismatic personality is what keeps the room listening, laughing at how we are “all white wine racists – willing to pay more for red wine than white” and how he advocates for local winemakers to start using varieties’ original names such as Groendruif (Sémillon) and Steen (Chenin Blanc). A tasting of his new vintages shows us that he’s not just all talk, and while they need lots of time to age (like Eben says – “just put it down and walk away for 10 years”), his rich character is definitely reflected in the quality of his product.
While they might rack up price points that are scary for some, that’s directly because of the consumer’s demand (so yes, it’s our fault). It’s a status thing, and you may never get to try it, but it does a lot of good to uplift the perception of the local industry. And if anything, Eben’s wines serve as a benchmark – a marker for the region’s potential quality. After all, REMEMBER IT’S JUST FERMENTED GRAPE JUICE – so similar vineyards in the same region can produce equally outstanding wines in the hands of a skilled winemaker. Eben’s consistent high quality production and vision has pushed the Swartland into a revolution, making way for a wave of new, artisanal winemakers to shine, shine, shine. In sum: don’t hate the player, hate the game.