Tim James: A review of the Swartland Revolution 2015

November 9, 2015
by Tim James
in Opinion & Analysis
with 2 Comments

Swartland Revolution 2015This last weekend saw perhaps the best Swartland Revolution yet – but I suppose that’s excitedly claimed each year by at least a few attendees. For those who haven’t been paying attention for the past six years: the Swartland Revolution is a now world-famous gathering of some hundreds of people in the little Swartland town of Riebeek-Kasteel. They pay not a little money, to eat well, drink well and be merry, and to taste wine and learn things at three “seminars” – one of which features the wines of the four founding members of the event: (Eben) Sadie, (Chris and Andrea) Mullineux, (Adi) Badenhorst and Porseleinberg (owned by Boekenhoutskloof, with Callie Louw as presiding genius).

A friend I spoke to as he was leaving on the Saturday afternoon, a man never enthusiastic about Swartland hype, and attending his second Revolution, said that what he’d liked this year was that it was altogether more “grown-up”. Indeed it was – there was still plenty of life and fun, but there was less emphasis on partying and joking, more on the wines.

Friday evening’s tasting was devoted to eight wines in the Pax and Windgap labels of Pax Mahle. Pax is a leading member of the Californian equivalent of the Cape’s avant-garde, and the Swartland guys had got to know him well in California – in fact, it was the Hospice du Rhône event there that had inspired the Swartland Revolution, though the local affair is smaller and more focused.

Mahle makes a wide range of wines (mostly syrahs) in a non-interventionist manner familiar to those attending the Revolution: scarcely oaked, naturally fermented, unadulterated by additives, etc – and above all fresh. I didn’t much care for the white wine, from trousseau blanc, and the pinot noir was pleasing but unexciting. But the grenache and the vineyard-specific syrahs (including a rare 2006 that he generously shared just about his last bottles of) were lovely: fresh and lively. My favourites were the Windgap Grenache and Nellessen Vineyard Syrah 2013. It was exciting to make this international connection to what’s happening here.

Next morning – after an announcement by jovial Adi Badenhorst that we’d consumed an average of 2.7 bottles of wine per person at the excellent open-air dinner in Riebeek’s central square the night before – first up was a tasting of experimental and sideline wines from the four Revolutionary wineries. (I moderated this session, and have posted my introduction to it on Grape.)

Callie Louw showed us wines made from some small, young plantings of cinsaut and new-clone grenache grown on the Porseleinberg and revealing some of the austere, mineral loveliness that is a key part of the Syrah he makes under that name. Also on the more experimental, exploratory side were Eben Sadie’s wines from verdelho and – even more rare – the important Greek variety agiorgitiko, one of a number of varieties that Sadie has planted a few vines of (in conjunction with the authorities), in order to start making assessments with an eye to the future.

Adi Badenhorst showed his brilliant Ramnasgras Cinsault and his Brak-Kuil Barbarossa (both of which I wrote about last week, though will have to add to sometime, as more confusing info comes in about barbarossa….). From the Mullineux came the CWG The Gris, from red-skinned semillon, and a most promising and interesting experiment: their 2012 white which has been kept in (old) oak for nearly four years now, inspired by traditional white Rioja. It’s so far doing very well…

The final tasting seminar had the eminent John Platter sharing seven local wines that he waxed lyrical about in his new book (available for the first time to the public that day), My kind of wine. My kind of wine too, at least some of those he offered – especially, perhaps, Boland Coetzee’s Vriesenhof Piekenierskloof Grenache 2013.

How long the Swartland Revolution can keep its momentum is the question asked by tired organisers and happy visitors each year. Who knows? But it’s doing just fine, and a marvellous contribution to Cape wine culture.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.

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  1. Hennie TaljaardNovember 10, 2015 at 10:41 amReply

    I agree the entire thing is infectious. It was also my first revolution. Im still buzzing….

  2. Ankia PelserNovember 10, 2015 at 10:13 amReply

    Hi Tim, thanks for your review. This was my very first Revolution, and I can promise you that I will do everything in my power to never miss a Revolution ever again. The Swartland Secrets tasting was the highlight of the weekend for me, regardless of the fact that the wines were still very young (too young many will say). I cannot wait for Mullineux to release that Radical White (joining the Mullineux wine club now as we speak in another browser window). I enjoyed the passion that was portrayed – from the winemakers and from the wine-drinkers alike. And what a privilege to share the tasting venue with legends like Jan Boland Coetzee, John and Erica Platter just to name a few. The only thing that I don’t like is the fact that the Swartland Revolution has come and gone and now I am sitting behind a desk at my office job reminiscing of the past weekend and I am wondering how on earth I am going to get myself a job in a vineyard.

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