The 2011 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction

The recent strength in the U.S. dollar offers American wine lovers an even better opportunity to pick up some scarce and superb South African wines at the upcoming 27th annual Cape Winemakers Guild auction this Saturday, October 1, 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.)

The limited lots of wines that will be on offer at this year's CWG auction 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 buyer.  New selection criteria this year encouraged winemakers to be more more bold and creative--even to engage in "creative experimentation"--in order to showcase terroir and to push the envelope of South African winemaking.

The selection of auction wines is distinctly winemaker-driven--hence my decision to provide the winemaker's name as part of 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. Members of the CWG are invited to submit samples of wines that are produced exclusively for the auction.  To be included in the auction, wines must be of outstanding quality, be free from technical defects, and meet the highest standard of wine health measurement. 

Most 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 500-ml. bottles or 12 x 375-ml. bottles) upwards.  The 2010 auction, for example, featured a total of 2298 cases of 6 bottles, with prices ranging from $92 for a case of 6 bottles to as high as $729 (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.  The bad news is that you are unlikely to see these wines in the marketplace, although a small percentage of these wines typically end up in the U.S., going mostly to private buyers and restaurants.

In fact, in my recent tasting of the overwhelming majority of wines to be offered at this year's event, I found a higher average level of quality than ever before.  Impressively, every wine I sampled merited an International Wine Cellar recommendation.  (I did not retaste bottlings that were sold in 2010 and are scheduled to be offered again this year.)  This year's group focused heavily on red wines (there were a larger number of excellent whites last year), and the majority of these reds should prove to be excellent mid-term agers, at the least.

If you are interested in bidding on any of these items, it's possible to accomplish this via proxy.  Here's how to proceed:  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.

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," 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.