Valuable, vintage wine treasure salvaged

Monday, 12 January, 2004
Kim Maxwell
Originally published in The Cape Times, Friday 2 December 2004
Originally published in The Cape Times, Friday 2 December 2004

By Kim Maxwell

Struisbaai - Two winemaking siblings salvaged a valuable wine treasure this week while holidaying at Struisbaai near Africa’s southernmost tip. Springfield Estate winemaker Abrie Bruwer and sister Jeanette recovered their lost Cabernet Sauvignon wines during a fishing expedition, nearly three years after dropping two weighted metal cages 10m to the ocean floor.

Made from 23-year-old vines, matured for two years in French oak and four years in bottle, only 17 to 20 barrels of their flagship 1997 Method Ancienne Cabernet Sauvignon wines are produced in Robertson. In 2000, two cages holding 100 wax-capped bottles of the maiden vintage were deposited four miles outside Struisbaai harbour. Springfield planned a media launch of the wine for Easter 2003, but had to cancel when murky waters prevented the wines from being located.

The Bruwers returned to the site after a deep-sea fishing expedition with friends this week, and sent a diving friend 10m underwater to investigate. The diver noticed red bait growth on the sandy ocean floor, and uncovered the hidden cages holding wines encrusted with barnacles. The unlabelled bottlenecks had been hand-sealed in red wax, which faded to pink underwater. ‘We were just trying to have fun with our friends, and see what the wine would do,’ explains Abrie Bruwer. ‘We drank two bottles on the boat immediately, and they appear to have aged more than those in the cellar. It’s probably got something to do with the warmer sea temperatures in summer.’

The Bruwer siblings have been fishing at Struisbaai for over 35 years. ‘Many people spend their lives picking up other peoples’ treasures, so we decided to do something special and make our own,’ says Abrie. ‘We knew fishing trawlers sheltered at Struisbaai from the westerly storms, and that this spot was too shallow. Imagine the haul a fisherman would have otherwise!’ Springfield’s Method Ancienne 1997 isn’t for sale yet, but the current release sells for R195 per bottle. Jeanette Bruwer confirms that the salvaged wines should fetch a higher price. ‘But then, it’s a new year, and you never know what could happen to 200 wines when there are thirsty people around…’