Tim James: A new grenache vineyard on Skurfberg

By , 26 October 2015



It’s a long drive from Cape Town to get to Basie van Lill’s Skurfberg farm, Arbeidseind – but not a tedious one when Eben Sadie is there doing the driving … and a lot of the talking. It means a 6.30am start from Malmesbury, up the N7 with all its roadworks, turn-off at Clanwilliam onto gravel in the direction of the Atlantic, then soon bumping and climbing the mild peak to Arbeidseind. But each time I’m there, I think that this is perhaps my favourite wine farm of all.


Skurfberg vineyards.

From the highest vineyard (red sandy soil, gnarled chenin bushvines, with adjacent dark pines set against the sky), from which Eben takes grapes for his Skurfberg blend, are fine views in almost all directions: to distant mountains, to other vineyards of the area. It’s not the rich, imposing loveliness of, say, Rustenberg in Stellenbosch (and Basie’s modest farmhouse is a far cry from a Cape Dutch manorhouse), but it is wide and open, and with its own harsher grandeur and beauty. And the vines are marvellously cared for – Eben never fails to remark on what a good farmer Basie is.

Sadie is not the only person depriving Klaver Wine Cellars of the fruit of the old vineyards which viticulturist Rosa Kruger “discovered” nearly a decade back, when she was employed by Anthonij Rupert Wines. Rupert takes some for their Van Lill and Visser Chenin Blanc, and the Alheits have an own-roots vineyard (just down the slope from Eben’s, slightly less picturesquely sited but still giving the vines a good outlook) which produces their magnificent Magnetic North Mountain Makstok. Incidentally, while there I sent Chris Alheit a photo of “his” flourishing and recently suckered vineyard, and he replied saying he’s travelling north to see them himself next week. Winemakers like Chris and Eben cover an awful lot of kilometres to care for their vines.

Eben Sadie

Eben Sadie and Basie van Lill.

These vineyards I’d seen on previous visits, but there’s also a new one which Basie and Eben have planted: a hectare of grenache noir. (The photo shows them hunkering down to discuss management of the young stock.) It’s one of a few plantings in the Cape of the first release of some excellent new grenache vine material, and Eben is clearly excited about its prospects. “Supervines” he calls these virus-free, totally clean vines.

So there they are, vigorously youthful in the red sandy soil of Arbeidseind, under the care of one of the Cape’s great wine visionaries and one of the Cape’s most meticulous, painstaking farmers. One day I hope to taste the vinified fruit: grenache expressing the Skurfberg soil and sun – and, I must believe, the view and the atmosphere. And one day other winelovers, when I’ve long since ceased visiting Arbeidseind and drinking its wines with pleasure, will see if Eben was right in thinking that old Skurfberg grenache should be as exciting as old Skurfberg chenin and semillon.

One of the most exciting aspects of the most progressive parts of Cape wine today is that it’s confidently about the future as well as the present – with the past voicing its opinion too.

  • 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.


3 comment(s)

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    Tim James | 19 June 2023

    Thanks for this reminder, Gareth. I’m afraid I’m less well informed about the Swartland these days than I used to be in the days when some people whinged about me always writing about it…. But I asked Eben and he says that they’ve just made the third vintage from this vineyard – the first “proper one”. It produced exactly one foudre of wine! Says Eben: “It is delicious. It has the same aromatic line and profile as Soldaat but it does not yet have the texture and depth, the vines need to age a bit….. In time we will find the perfect home for it but the vine age on Grenache is important. We are in no rush.”
    I do agree with you about the excitement regarding grenache here. But, as Eben says (and remember he worked with really old grenache vines in Priorat in Spain), it is a variety that benefits greatly from vine age, so the best is yet to come.

      Gareth | 23 June 2023

      Thanks for the reply, Tim. I assume the grapes from this vineyard will ultimately go into Columella, nevertheless I wish I could taste what it’s producing now out of interest’s sake. Likewise the wine produced from the grapes of the young vines interplanted in the Mev Kirsten vineyard.
      I imagine it must be interesting at worst and could be pretty damn good, despite the youth of the vines!
      Regarding people whinging – I don’t understand why anyone would moan about a wine writer writing about his expert subject matter. Certainly I enjoy reading it, as I am sure do many others – and I always especially enjoy your take on the ouwingerdreeks wines. I’ve been collecting them since the 2011 vintage, although in limited quantities like most of us, so I use your and Christian’s tasting notes as essential points of reference before broaching my own bottles from time to time. Nevermind the haters, they are just a small minority who ruin it for the rest of us.

    Gareth | 18 June 2023

    Hi Tim,

    Has there been any update on how this vineyard is doing? It must be producing some pretty decent fruit by now.

    I’ve always loved Soldaat. Each vintage seems to me to differ quite a lot in terms of expression. I remember my surprise at opening a 2016 last year with my brother, after waxing at length about the bright red colour and red fruit of the wine and pure red berry fruit flavours that he could expect (hes favours lighter, red-fruited wines), only to pour out a much darker wine than I expected. I remember it being delicious regardless. I have read that the 2021 was much lighter than usual although I confess I haven’t tried it yet myself.

    I absolutely love Grenache and I am so excited about how the variety is becoming fashionable in SA. I was lucky enough to try quite a few on a short trip to Madrid with my wife earlier this year and some of them were really incredible.

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