For the last few years, I’ve been nursing a growing obsession with the wines of Citrusdal Mountain. Or more specifically, Trekpoort, Oudam and Arbeidsend; the three remote farms of the Skurfberg.
Not yet familiar with all of Eben Sadie's wines, it began with the first vintage of Alheit’s Magnetic North. I had never tasted anything like it before, and was fascinated by the unlikely location of the vines and the Alheit’s ambitions. Butch and Suzaan are not just exceptional winemakers, but also storytellers. And as we know, the two go hand-in-hand. This was a wine. And this was a story.
In fact, let’s pause and allow them to tell it:
Compelling. Rich. And assuming you haven’t abandoned this to search your cellar for that bottle, perhaps this would be a good time to hear a little more about this mountain.
With that aforementioned obsession with those gnarly, dry farmed, wind-battered vines, the idea was to gather a number of 2019 Skurfberg Chenin’s and taste them blind alongside one another. Credit where it is due, this little experiment was the brainchild of Dom Wills, indirectly inspired by Shayne Holt, who alerted me to the existence of one Villa Esposto Chenin Blanc.
That’s a great story too, so indulge me once more:
Prior to the Skurfberg being ‘discovered’ by Rosa Kruger, most if not all of its fruit went en masse to Klawer Cellars, an Olifants River producer of erstwhile cheap and cheerful wines.
Once Rosa had made it clear that this site deserved some focused attention, the likes of the Anthonij Rupert Wines, Eben Sadie, the Alheits, and Ginny Povall started paying a handsome fee (read: a more equitable price) for the grapes farmed by Basie Van Lill, Jozua Visser, and Henk Laing. Klawer Cellars held on to a small parcel. And rather than throwing everything into the same bulk ferment, began vinifying these grapes separately. And so, for the absolute giveaway price of about R120 Zars, a bottle is all yours. If you manage to track one down.
But back to the tasting. Botanicum in Constantia played host to this landmark event, kindly putting out a wonderful lunch for our hard working tasters. Sparing you the details, because nobody likes a humble brag, their relaxed sophistication was perfect for the occasion.
Scholars and smart asses will point out - quite correctly - that this was not a perfect experiment. Mary Delany was a 2017 vintage (2019 as yet unreleased), Huilkrans was absent (deemed to be too sexy?) and the Fram, it turns out, now hails from neighbouring Piekenierskloof (immediately an interesting ringer).
But this tasting was never meant to be definitive. Rather, an opportunity to avoid responsibilities and learn from some very knowledgeable and experienced wine folk. Of whom there are few more qualified than Lorraine Geldenhuys. Quietly one of the most important figures in South African wine, Lorraine is responsible for the resurgence of Elsenburg and every student who passes through its doors. Sadly, Rosa was unable to join us, but having Lorraine to describe the clay soils, the Atlantic breeze and the fluctuations in temperature set us up perfectly for what was to come.
And what of the results?
The big surprise was that there weren’t many surprises. It was a tale of similarities rather than differences, with a few wines taking turns to raise their heads ever so slightly above the pack.
There was a thread that ran through all of them. That thread was one of great intensity, acidity, minerality, and salinity. And if those descriptors are confusing, don't worry about it. The point is, in this embarrassment of riches, the terroir shone through each wine, pointing to both the quality (restraint) of the winemaking, and the quality of this remarkable site. In each wine, you are tasting the Skurfberg.
There were of course differences. The Esposto and the Fram were picked blind by everyone. Fram, in all likelihood, for the reason previously mentioned - it's made from grapes grown down the road. Esposto, because it didn’t have quite the same length as the others. However, both were drinking beautifully.
The Mary Delaney was stunning. Perhaps further benefitting from the additional age, this perpetual darling of the critics once again proving itself in illustrious company.
Sadie’s 2019 Skurfberg is a commanding wine. So concentrated yet weightless. So rich yet focused. But as Eben himself has said, it needs time. Or rather, deserves time. There's plenty of magic in this wine that will only be revealed in the years to come. If you're lucky enough to have a bottle or two, be in no rush to open.
The same is true for all of them, of course. On a personal note, I was unable to separate Magnetic North - a wine I knew very well - from Cape of Good Hope's Van Lill and Visser - a wine I knew not at all. I expected MN to shine, and it did. I expected nothing from the CoGH, and it blew me away for the same reasons. Purity, Power, Acidity and Length were off the charts. And both wines so accessible in their youth.
We agreed on many things, but one thing above all. These are arguably the most terroir-specific wines in our country, making the Skurfberg our very own Burgundy. And having tasted a Sadie Kokerboom, T’Voetpad and Cape of Good Hope Laing Semillon subsequently, I believe that in this special place, the terroir has more influence on the wine than grape variety.
Before revealing the order, wine no.4 was narrowly but unanimously agreed as the wine of the day. Most of those present recognized it as Magnetic North, and they were correct.
But this was no competition. And if it was, the real winners were
three industrious farmers, and a remarkable stretch of land that lies on a mountain between Clanwilliam and Lambert’s Bay.
If you’re struggling to track down some of these wines, you’re not alone. But Publik.co.za has some Alheit treats, Cape of Good Hope unsurprisingly have Cape of Good Hope, Wine Cellar can help with Botanica. While Botanicum has managed to secure a few cases of Villa Esposto, including their equally sublime Muscat straw wine. They are also about to open up a second restaurant at Morgenster in Somerset West. So there’s that.