The percentage of Syrah decreases every year – it was once 80% and is now closer to 45% – allowing Eben Sadie to play with other Mediterranean grapes, namely Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Tinta Barocca. Remarkably well balanced and refined given the heat and dryness of the vintage, this is a scented, floral, nuanced red with red cherry and mulberry fruit, fine tannins and a lift of stony minerality. One of the best ever Columellas. 98 points, Tim Atkin MW, South Africa Special Report 2020
First released in 2000, Columella is Sadie’s most famous wine. While it is regularly described as an icon wine of Swartland – and indeed South Africa – Eben Sadie’s goal is simply to produce the best and most honest expression he can from Swartland as a whole. As such the blend includes six of the seven official black grape varieties that grow within the region, sourced from a range of soil types. The 2018 is a smidge less than 50% Syrah, with the remainder coming from Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Tinta Barocca and Cinsault.
The fruit is sourced from both Sadie Family vineyards and rented parcels. This release was grown on seven different soil types (including granite, slate, gravel and sandstone) across nine separate vineyards in Paardeberg, Kasteelberg, Malmesbury and Piquetberg. The majority of the vineyards are low-yielding, old-vine parcels, though some of the Estate’s younger material also plays its part. Many of the Syrah vines have been trained to their own pole, echelas style, as per the Northern Rhône.
Most of the fruit is destemmed, although each year an increasing percentage of the fruit is whole-bunch. Sadie has a sorting team of 25 who discard between eight and 15% of the berries each year. The sorted grapes then go into a huge open fermenter (with an average of three weeks on skins) before being basket-pressed into mostly old, French oak barrels, (less than 10% new). Following a year on lees the wine is racked into seasoned oval casks (foudres) for a further maturation on the fine lees. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration.
A quick note on the history and evolution of this wine. In its first decade the wine was a predominantly Syrah blend with Mourvèdre. Over the years, though specifically since 2009, Sadie has introduced ever-increasing amounts of the other varieties (listed above) into the blend. The fruit is now also picked earlier, and the winemaking has also progressed considerably. Before 2009 the style was geared towards ripeness and extraction, maximising the depth of colour, flavour and tannin. Post-2009 the maceration has become super delicate, with the grape cap being kept wet mainly via the use of handheld jugs, and the pouring of juice gently over the top of the ferment. The amount of new oak has also decreased radically. It is no coincidence that these changes happened around the same time that Sadie was experimenting at Terroir al Lìmit in Priorat.
Columella is still a more powerful and complex wine than those in the old vine series, with an unforced intensity and a corresponding increase in texture and ripeness. In our experience, decanting comes highly recommended.
“The 2018 vintage of Columella is testimony to the bigger dynamics a regional blend has access to: the challenges brought about by the drought were completely addressed in this multi-vineyard, multi-varietal wine from across the Swartland. This may be the darkest fruit we have ever been able to capture at 13.5% alcohol and with the presence of Syrah in decline in the final blend, the influence of Grenache, Cinsaut, Carignan and Tinta Barocca is more pronounced. Our Mourvèdre component is the strongest it has ever been. This 2018 bottling is a wine with a big temperament: explosive, but not excessive. It is like a plane with perfect aerodynamics, flying effortlessly; very much in line with the 2001, 2008 and 2011. Ageing required.” Eben Sadie