Cape Winemakers’ Guild Auction

Tuesday, 5 October, 2004
Neil Pendock
In a case of exquisite bad timing, the headline in the Cape Times the day before the annual Cape Winemakers’ Guild Auction ran “rand blow to SA wine industry” with vinous identities like Colin Collard of the Wine of the Month Club predicting “a rash of bankruptcies” thanks to the relatively strong currency exchange rate.

It turned out to be a bad day for vinous pessimists, with turnover up 10% on last year.  Demand for the Auction's vinous crown jewels was strong in most cases.  The largest bidder, Alan Pick from the Butcher Shop & Grill, bought because "my customers demand consistency and in my experience, Guild wines over deliver."

Another point made by Pick is that consumers follow individual winemakers rather than brands or estates, with his customers explicitly asking for bottles by Teddy Hall, Andre van Rensburg, Kevin Arnold and Dave Trafford.

This vinous hero worship was clear in the extended ovation given to Beyers Truter at the pre-auction tasting of probably his last auction offering of Kanonkop wines in the shape of a barrel selection Paul Sauer 2001.  Kanonkop owner Johann Krige called the wine "the second best Beyers ever made" giving the '95 a slight edge.

Likewise Kevin Grant's Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2003 was "the last time you'll see Hamilton Russell wines on a Guild auction for a few years at least."  Both wines attracted high prices and Vergelegen winemaker Andre van Rensburg made use of the public forum to decisively scotch rumours of a move to L'Ormarins.

Kevin Arnold made a welcome return to the Auction arena after a break of six years with a red blend of seven varietals - Alan Pick obviously approved as he bought 60 cases.  It was an emotional return and Arnold was visibly pleased to be back.  High prices paid for bends and wines made especially for the Auction, like the Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz, confirmed public preference for special wines rather than a barrel selection of commercially available stock.

For smaller producers like De Trafford, the auction is an important retail opportunity, with around 10% of annual turnover accounted for at the Auction.  Auction day is a red letter day for De Trafford farm workers, as a percentage of the takings come their way as a bonus.

With the auction open to the public, unlike the Nederburg Auction which is limited to trade, it makes sense to move the Auction back to Johannesburg, perhaps to coincide with WineX or the Juliet Cullinan Festival, so that the largest market for SA fine wine can spend its money on Auction wines rather than airfares and hotel bills.