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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MICHAEL GREEN’S WINE NOTES (article first published : 2003-04-17)

The 29th Nederburg wine auction, held at Paarl on April 11 and 12, realised a record total of R7,581,770 for wines equivalent in quantity to 6,162 nine-litre (12-bottle) cases. The arithmetic is necessary because these days many of the wines are sold in six-bottle cases.

This was about R25,000 more than last year’s figure and a far cry indeed from the total of R237,000 paid at the first auction, way back in 1975. The Nederburg auction has become very big business and reaches far beyond our borders. This year 32 foreign buyers attended, and one of them, Igor Ledecky, bought wine to the value of R433,810. Igor Ledecky is a lithe, blonde young man who lives near Bratislava, in Slovakia, but his purchases were made for liquor firms in Russia. Igor describes himself as an investment banker. He likes wine and has a private cellar of 5,000 bottles at home in Slovakia. Who wouldn’t be an investment banker?

In spite of the foreign presence, local buyers took 82 percent of the wines sold. The two top buyers were Makro and Pick ‘n Pay, who between them bid successfully for R1,350,000 worth of wine. As usual, red wines accounted for roughly two-thirds of the sales, and prices for reds averaged out at R1,423 for a 12-bottle case. Dry white wines averaged R712 a case, noble late harvest wines R1,756, port R1,225 and Methode Cap Classique sparkling wines R899.

Patrick Grubb from Britain conducted the auction for the 29th successive year and opened the proceedings with the traditional rarity, old Lanzerac Pinotage. This was the 1968 vintage, and the six-bottle case on offer went for R7,000, just under R1,200 a bottle.

A higher price was paid later for six bottles of the 1966 Lanzerac Pinotage. The irrepressible Igor Ledecky paid R140,000 for this lot, R23,333 a bottle. But this was after the auction proper, when special items are sold for charity and prices are inflated in the spirit of giving to a good cause, in this case the Hospice Association of South Africa. The money paid for this and other charity items was not included in the official sales figures for the auction.

This year Nederburg launched a new bottle label intended to be modern, relevant, contemporary, etcetera. Nederburg is the best known brand name in the Cape wine industry, and no one would dare change it, but the new label has the word Nederburg in capital letters instead of upper and lower case, to use printer’s language. It is generally reckoned that upper and lower is much easier to read (if it were the other way round, books and newspapers would be printed in capital letters) but I don’t suppose this makes any difference to designers who are anxious to make changes.

The new label was launched at a dinner for several hundred people at the British High Commissioner’s baronial residence in Cape Town, and it was less a wine function than a fashion function. At the behest of the organisers, all of us guests were dressed in black, and there seemed to be a heavy representation (or should I say a dainty representation) of dress designers and their friends. I’m old-fashioned enough to think that people buy the wine, not the label, and Nederburg wines have been consistently good for half a century.

The auction was opened by Allan Cheesman, who has been involved with wine sales in Britain for the past 31 years and who in that time has seen consumption there increase from two litres a head per year to 21 litres. The opportunities for Cape wine are obvious, and Britain now accounts for almost half of all our wine exports.

Allan Cheesman concluded with a neat and elegant aphorism: “Wine is the flower in the buttonhole of civilisation”. – Michael Green




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