Shining the spotlight on Eben Sadie was no easy task. He is a seeker, and understanding him demands a willingness to go deeply into all that we believe about life, because for him those depths are connected, part of the “reality of all things.” For example, while winemaking is what Eben is best known for, surfing remains a big part of his life. For him, surfing and wine possess the same essential elements that define the experience of their outcomes.
Terroir is the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate. The same concept of governing influences can be applied to a wave as well. A wave begins as wind at sea, a great distance from land. It experiences a myriad of natural effects, including the topography and geology of the sea floor and the climate, along its journey to the shore. This journey from sea to shore defines the “terroir” of a wave and distinguishes it from other waves around the world. As with wine, the natural elements that define its character also define the experience of engaging with it.
In tranquil places like Hawaii and Fiji, swells begin very far out at sea. The energy travels thousands of miles before offering itself to the shore. The terroir is long and temperate, resulting in waves that are groomed, very pure and ready to ride. Similarly, for a wine from a gentle climate such as in Roussillon, France, or Swartland, South Africa, life on the vine has been an easy one. The wine will offer itself without hesitation.
In contrast, in the wild seas found in places such as the West Cape or California, where the storms occur closer to the land, waves are still tempestuous when they make contact with the shore. They have not had time to expand and smooth out. So too with wines from vineyards in places with a challenging terroir, such as the high altitudes of Argentina or the continental chill of Burgundy. But after six to eight years in bottle the wine will become pristine, not a ripple out of place.
Seasoned surfers will tell you that the benefit of the pure wave that has taken the long journey to shore is that it delivers an opportunity to surrender and experience it more deeply. They can feel nature’s energy, as if they have become one with it. Time ceases to exist and they are lost in a state of euphoric bliss. So too for a wine of terroir when it has reached its purest form, whether its evolution was in the vineyard or the bottle: the sensation of tasting it will be epic.