The 2014 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction

The upcoming 30th annual Cape Winemakers Guild auction offers a unique buying opportunity for American wine lovers interested in picking up some scarce and distinctive South African wines from some of that country's most talented winemakers (45 of them are currently members of the Guild.)  A steady deterioration in the value of the South African rand against the U.S. dollar has made wine-and-food travel to the Cape more and more attractive, and has kept even the best South African wines affordable to those paying in U.S. dollars.  In fact, the dollar is a good 10% higher today than it was at the time of the 2013 CWG auction--and that's on top of an increase of about 15% between 2012 and 2013.

This year's CWG auction will be held on Saturday, October 4, at the Spier estate in Stellenbosch.  (The annual CWG event is sponsored by Nedbank, one of South Africa's largest banks. The Trust established by Nedbank supports the education and social needs of farm workers, their families and their communities.)

Wine lovers unable to attend the Auction can contact the Cape Winemakers Guild Office to sign up for the easy-to-use telephonic and proxy bidding options by contacting THIS WEEK.  You must complete a Purchasers Card and a Bidding Form indicating the number of cases of each wine you would like to buy and the maximum amount per case you'd like to bid. Proxy bidders will then bid on your behalf at the auction.  If your bid is successful, you can ship purchased wines either using your own shipping agent or through the Guild's courier company, The Vineyard Connection.  Interested bidders should contact General Manager Kate Jonker at 27 (0)21 852 0408 or for further details and to obtain a copy of the Purchasers Card and Bidding Schedule.

The limited lots of wines on offer at this year's event represent, in theory at least, the best of South African winemaking. The wines are specially crafted to showcase the potential of South African wines to the trade and private buyers.  As in past years, the selection of auction wines is distinctly winemaker-driven--hence my decision to list the winemaker's name with each tasting note.  In order to be invited to become a member of the Guild, winemakers must have established a track record for making outstanding wines for at least five years.

Most of the auction bottlings are extremely limited--typically just a half barrel to two barrels of wine--and are sold in lots of 12 bottles (6 magnums, 12 x 750-ml. bottles, 12 x 500-ml. bottles or 12 x 375-ml. bottles). The 2013 auction, for example, featured a total of 3,219 cases of 6 bottles, with prices ranging from $70 for a case of 6 bottles to as high as $620 (my figures represent conversions from South African rand prices at the then-current exchange rate). In other words, some very fine wines can be had at remarkably moderate prices--and this year's auction will be even larger.

As in past years, the quality level of the wines that I had the chance to taste was high. (This year, I was able to taste two bottles of nearly every item.)  Among my favorites were a consistently strong group of chardonnays and a couple of exceptional pinotage bottlings that will make new friends for this quintessential South African variety.  There were also numerous highlights among the cabernets and Bordeaux blends and syrah/shiraz bottlings.

I have chosen not to publish notes on only two wines:  the 2013 Simonsig The Red Ox White Roussanne Chenin Blanc, which was too advanced and lacked fruit, and the 2012 Teddy Hall Maria Van Loon nee Engelbrecht Shiraz Reserve, which displayed oxidative and leathery qualities and came across as dry.

Please note that, as in the past, I have had no choice but to describe CWG auction items without recourse to the words "Auction Reserve," which actually appear on a number of labels, as this phrase has been trademarked by a U.S. importer who is quite adamant about reserving it for his own use in the U.S. market.  But it should be clear from my notes which wines I am referring to.