Heaven and Earth

Posted on June 20, 2023 by Boris
Updated on July 5, 2023

One can casually walk into Good Wine and buy a few bottles of Sadie Family. And this fact amazes me. Maybe it also tells something about the perception of South African wines in the Ukrainian market. But I am not going to bash anyone. Instead, let me promote some of the wineries that should be on everyone’s radar. And I genuinely think that South Africa deserves more attention.

Today we focus on three producers - Sadie Family, Storm and Testalonga. All three are part of the South African wine revolution. Eben Sadie of the Sadie Family is a history-changing icon of the Swartland region. He (and also Tom Lubbe with The Observatory) ignited the revolution. Testalonga, in a way, is a ‘descendant’ of this flame. Hannes Storm is a man of focus, commitment and sheer fucking will. His goal is to handcraft the best possible Pinot Noir in Hemel-en-Aarde, Heaven and Earth. And I find it beautiful.

Big thanks to Lo Bar for hosting us.

Without further ado, meet our protagonists.

  1. Testalonga El Bandito I am the Ninja 2022
  2. Testalonga Baby Bandito Keep on Punching 2022
  3. Sadie Family Skerpioen 2020
  4. Storm Ridge Chardonnay 2021
  5. Storm Ridge Pinot Noir 2017
  6. Sadie Family Columella 2016
  7. Spier Wines Chenin Blanc 21 Gables 2020 (afterparty)
  8. Mtsvane Estate Pet-Nat Brut Tsolikauri-Tsitska 2021 (afterparty)
  9. Comm. G.B. Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga 2021 (afterparty)


rms sdev favourite price QPR
Wine #1 4.1712 0.0378 2.00 990.00 3.1254
Wine #2 3.9238 0.0556 0.00 690.00 3.0704
Wine #3 4.1126 0.0580 1.00 1620.00 1.7389
Wine #4 4.2032 0.0267 1.00 1793.00 1.8170
Wine #5 4.1801 0.0195 1.00 1830.00 1.7201
Wine #6 4.3018 0.0156 4.00 3800.00 1.0021
Bonus #1 - - 0.00 948.00 -
Bonus #2 - - 0.00 600.00 -
Bonus #3 - - 0.00 818.00 -

How to read this table:

  • rms is root mean square or quadratic mean. The problem with arithmetic mean is that it is very sensitive to deviations and extreme values in data sets, meaning that even single 5 or 1 might ‘drastically’ affect the score.
  • sdev is standard deviation. The bigger this value the more controversial the wine is, meaning that people have different opinions on this one.
  • favourite is amount of people who marked this wine as favourite of the event.
  • outcast is amount of people who marked this wine as outcast of the event.
  • price is wine price in UAH.
  • QPR is quality price ratio, calculated in as 100 * factorial(rms)/price. The reason behind this totally unprofessional formula is simple. At some point you have to pay more and more to get a little fraction of satisfaction. Factorial used in this formula rewards scores close to the upper bound 120 times more than scores close to the lower bound.

Testalonga El Bandito I am the Ninja 2022

  • producer: Testalonga
  • name: El Bandito I am the Ninja
  • vintage: 2022
  • grapes: Chenin Blanc
  • appellation: WO Swartland
  • location: South Africa
  • alcohol: 9.5
  • sugar: 6.2
  • price: 990 UAH

Craig & Carla Hawkins, without any doubt, are revolutionizing the South African wine industry. After long years of traveling around the world and making wines in known and established wineries (like Matassa and Niepoort Vinhos S.A.), Craig came to Swartland to work for Eben Sadie in 2006. Carla has been here since 1997.

Testalonga was established as a side-line in 2008. They produced 2 barrels of macerated Chenin Blanc. It is considered the first macerated wine in the whole of South Africa. They had to fight for the right to export their wines as regulators were against letting these wines out to the market. All those sediments and other traces of low intervention winemaking were quite suspicious back then. No surprises here, they figured that out. And today Craig and Carla are famous in the wine world.

In the 2015 they bought Bandits Kloof farm in the northern mountains of Swartland. Climate is similar to Sicilian, so they planted Frappato, Macabeo, Carignan, Mataro, Grenache and Garnacha Blanca.

Wines are not the only thing one can appreciate about Testalonga. Most of their bottles wear catchy labels of high-quality (e.g. paper and printing quality). It turns out Craig designs them all. He did art at school, but today he lacks time to paint. So he turned the labels into a canvas. Most of them are photos that friends or family have taken, which Craig then plays around to create various labels.

“I am the Ninja” is a méthode ancestrale made of Chenin Blanc from a 4 hectares vineyard on a sandstone. The average age of vines is above 60 years. Spontaneous fermentation in fibreglass tanks with indigenous yeasts. Made from grapes, isn’t it? So nothing is added.

Testalonga Baby Bandito Keep on Punching 2022

The Baby Bandito range was first released in 2015. It just required a proper label. And luckily, Craig found a perfect image in his brother’s new house. The Baby Bandito photo is a picture his brother took of some street art in Cambodia. Craig just played around with it to make the little girl the focal point of the image, as she has a plaster on her finger. In addition, Craig overlaid it with quotes by Banksy - Keep on Punching, Stay Brave, Follow Your Dreams, and Chin Up.

“Keep on Punching” is made from the same vineyard as “I am the Ninja”. Whole cluster, direct press, spontaneous fermentation in fourdres and stainless steel, malolactic fermentation. Aged in foudres and stainless steel. Minimal usage of SO2.

Sadie Family Skerpioen 2020

  • producer: Sadie Family
  • name: Skerpioen
  • vintage: 2020
  • grapes: Chenin Blanc, Palomino Fino
  • appellation: WO Swartland
  • location: South Africa
  • alcohol: 12.5
  • sugar: 1.7
  • price: 1620 UAH

Eben Sadie from The Sadie Family Wines is a true legend in the world of winemaking. He has a fascinating story that has taken him all over the world, honing his craft and learning from the best. Eben graduated from Elsenburg College in 1994 and began his journey throughout Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, the United States, and South Africa, always seeking to learn and improve his skills.

Re-evaluation of Swartland began in the late 1990s when Charles Back of Fairview set up the Spice Route. In 1998, Eben joined Spice Route as head winemaker. During his time there, he gained valuable experience and developed his style. Eben was quick to realise Swartland’s potential and, in 2000, produced his groundbreaking Syrah-based blend, Columnela.

Over the years, Eben has built a reputation for crafting exceptional wines that truly showcase the unique terroir of the Swartland. His passion for winemaking and dedication to quality has earned him numerous accolades, including being named Winemakers’ Winemaker in 2017.

If you look at old wines from the Swartland you’ll realise that we don’t really have to reinvent anything, we should just go and harvest the good, old things that were already there. The Swartland really is one of those places where you can say what we have is fantastic, what we have is enough – there is nothing better out there. Our soil is remarkable and while our climate is a bit tough at present due to the drought, this place is thoroughly amazing.

— Eben Sadie

In addition to his stellar Columella and Palladius blends, Eben is renowned for his Old Vine Series, which he started working on in the second decade of the winery’s life. The Old Vine Series consists of eight distinct wines - Skurfberg, ’T Voetpad, Pofadder, Kokerboom, Mev. Kirsten, Soldaat, Treinspoor, and Skerpioen. The grapes are sourced from some of the oldest vineyards in South Africa, located throughout the Swartland, with one or two falling outside the region’s official borders.

Skerpioen is a blend of Chenin Blanc and Palomino from a vineyard in St. Helena Bay (Swartland). This is one of the coolest parts of the Swartland region, located a mere 2km from the Atlantic Ocean.

After harvesting, the grapes are placed in a cooling room to reduce their temperature, as the average temperatures are often 35 degrees or higher, which can lead to a series of problems. Then they proceed with the whole bunch pressing. It takes approximately 3 hours for the juice to settle in the collecting tank. The juice is then transferred to two old foudres for fermentation.

Natural fermentation can sometimes take up to 5 days or more to start. The fermentation process may continue for 1 to 6 months and sometimes only finishes in the following spring. By this time, the malolactic fermentation would have usually been completed as well. The wine is left in old Acacia and Oak casks on the fermentation lees for the first 12 months. Eben bottles the wine from lees.

Storm Ridge Chardonnay 2021

  • producer: Storm
  • name: Ridge Chardonnay
  • vintage: 2021
  • grapes: Chardonnay
  • appellation: WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
  • location: South Africa
  • alcohol: 13
  • sugar: 2.9
  • price: 1793 UAH

Hannes Storm is a winemaker from South Africa dedicated to expressing terroirs of WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. After 12 vintages of working with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he discovered two tiny parcels of land with exceptional terroirs and planted them with Pinot Noir in 2008. His first vintage saw the light in 2012, and after 18 months in bottle, the wines were released in August 2014.

His approach - handcraft, small production, careful viticulture, minimal intervention in the cellar.

Now he works with 3 plots:

  • Vrede Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - low-vigor, stony, clay-rich Bokkeveld (Buck Veld) shale soil in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
  • Ignis Pinot Noir - decomposed granite soil in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.
  • Ridge Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, also from low-vigour, stony, clay-rich Bokkeveld shale soil in the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge.

WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is divided into Valley, Upper Valley and Ridge. And it means that Hennes grows Pinot Noir in all 3 appellations of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. And in fact, he is the only winemaker with this sort of achievement.

Ridge Chardonnay hails from a cool, eastern slope on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. This vintage was cooler than usual, so the harvest commenced on the 3rd of March, two weeks later than the previous vintage. Wild fermented, it spent 11 months in barrels, just 25% of them new. 5760 bottles produced.

Storm Ridge Pinot Noir 2017

  • producer: Storm
  • name: Ridge Pinot Noir
  • vintage: 2017
  • grapes: Pinot Noir
  • appellation: WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
  • location: South Africa
  • alcohol: 13.5
  • sugar: 3
  • price: 1830 UAH

This wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, grown using sustainable agriculture on an east-facing sloping parcel of land with poor, stony soil. The soil contains clay and schist. The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, and cold-macerated for 10 days in open vats. They are then fermented using indigenous yeasts, pressed in a traditional wooden vertical press, and matured for 9-11 months in French oak barrels, with around 25% new oak. The wine is neither filtered nor fined, and sulfites are used judiciously.

It is worth mentioning that 2017 was the first vintage of three years long bone-dry soils. Although vines are drought-tolerant, the situation was critical and reached a crescendo in 2019. Vines’ only purpose is to nurture their offspring - grapes and seeds. And when the vines are stressed, they focus so much energy on so few grapes.

Sadie Family Columella 2016

  • producer: Sadie Family
  • name: Columella
  • vintage: 2016
  • grapes: Syrah, Monastrell, Grenache, Cinsault, Tinta Barroca
  • appellation: WO Swartland
  • location: South Africa
  • alcohol: 13.5
  • sugar: 1.6
  • price: 3800 UAH

Columnela is a Syrah-based blend with Mourvèdre, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsaut and Tinta Barocca. The grapes are sourced from Paardeberg (2 vineyards), Kasteelberg (4 vineyards), Malmesbury (1 vineyard) and Piquetberg (1 vineyard). The vines grow on granite, slate, gravel and sandstone formations.

After harvesting, the grapes are sorted by hand in small “strawberry” cases. Fermentation takes place spontaneously in 3300-litre open concrete fermenters for about three weeks at a temperature of 24°C and is then followed by a post-fermentation maceration of another three weeks. No additions are made to the fermenting wine. Pressing takes place in a traditional basket press. The wine is transferred to the barrel (5% new) for malolactic fermentation.

The wine spends 12 months on the lees in tight-grain French oak barrels, just 5% of them new. The wine is then racked into big oval casks (foudres) for an additional year of maturation on the fine lees. After a total of two years, the wine is bottled without fining or filtration.

Displayed very dark red fruit that seemed to be all coiled up in tannins and very neatly woven together. The wine is under tension and rightfully so. The focus in this wine is serious and all in all this one shows very high potential and reminds one of a mega complex helix - the only aspect that will reveal the true potential is time! This wine should be left alone for at least the first decade plus and will drink well into 2048 and possibly beyond.

Eben Sadie & Paul Jordaan, 27th April 2020

Raw scores

Wine #1 Wine #2 Wine #3 Wine #4 Wine #5 Wine #6 Bonus #1 Bonus #2 Bonus #3
Oleksandr R 4.20 4.00 4.10 4.20 3.90 4.10 - - -
Julie B 4.10 3.90 4.20 4.10 4.20 4.30 - - -
Dmytro D 4.30 3.60 4.10 4.30 4.30 4.20 - - -
Ivietta K 4.30 4.25 3.50 4.20 4.10 4.40 - - -
Yaryna T 4.50 3.50 3.95 4.60 4.30 4.20 - - -
Yaroslav M 4.00 4.00 4.30 4.10 4.10 4.20 - - -
Maryna Yu 3.90 4.20 4.30 4.00 4.40 4.50 - - -
Anastasiia Z 4.30 4.00 4.30 4.10 4.10 4.40 - - -
Boris B 3.90 3.80 4.20 4.20 4.20 4.40 - - -