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MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2004-04-6)

The 30th annual Nederburg Wine Auction, held at Paarl on April 2 and 3, produced slightly lower prices than last year but also gave renewed emphasis to the importance of the auction to the Cape wine industry and the importance of the industry to the South African economy.

Total sales reached a figure of R6,727,500, compared with R7,581,770 last year, a decline of about 10 percent. The auction manager, Bennie Howard, said afterwards that the lower prices were probably due to two reasons: the liquor industry already has substantial wine stocks in hand, and tourism is not as buoyant as it has been in the past five or six years.

One result was that there were some good purchases available for discriminating bidders. One Durban bidder was delighted to get the 1977 vintage of Nederburg Private Bin Auction Cabernet Sauvignon at just under R100 a bottle. A typically good buy among the whites was a wooded Semillon from the small and high-quality Nitida farm at Durbanville at about R60 a bottle.

Among the reds the top prices were paid for Lanzerac Pinotage, six bottles of the 1966 vintage going for R12,000. This is a collector’s item. At a more mundane level six bottles of the Lanzerac Pinotage of 1964 went for R6,200.

Three distinguished whites fetched prices of over R200 a bottle: Vergelegen Chardonnay Reserve 1999 went for R450 a bottle; the Hamilton Russell Chardonnay of 2001 went for R270, and the 2001 vintage of Iona Sauvignon Blanc fetched R210.

The celebrated Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, 1986 vintage, a dessert wine that had its origin in the wines that put Constantia on the map 200 years ago, fetched R1,100 for a 500ml (two-thirds bottle).

As has been the pattern in recent years, the supermarkets were the big buyers, headed by Pick ‘n Pay (R726,260 worth of wine), Checkers (R533,980) and Makro (R482,300). Other significant buyers were Cape Town Fish Market, the Butcher Shop and Grill, and Spar.

The Cape wine industry as a whole is important. The total area under vines is about 108,000 hectares, placing South Africa 16th among wine-producing countries. The Cape has 428 wine cellars with a combined investment of over R15,000-million. About 400,000 people depend on the industry for their livelihood.

Among the countries whose buyers bought wines at the auction were Britain, the United States, Russia, Germany, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Denmark.

Irina von Holdt, whose Old Vines chenin blanc has become celebrated, told me that she was doing very well in Japan. No more nice rice wine, nice chenin blanc. And Pekka (equals Peter) Suorsa of Helsinki told me that South African sauvignon blanc was the top seller among white wines in Finland. He writes for Ilta-Sanomat, the second biggest daily in Helsinki, with a sale (250,000) far in excess of any South African daily papers. Makes you think. – Michael Green




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