Auctions are theoretically the best way of establishing the true market value of whatever is up for sale so what to make of turnover at the 26th annual Cape Winemakers Guild Auction completed on Saturday coming in at R3 867 200, down 25% on 2009, which saw the highest ever sales in the auction’s history of R5 204 400?
Alan Pick of The Butcher Shop & Grill was the biggest spender for the ninth consecutive year at R644 600, but this was significantly less than the R1 056 200 he dropped in 2009. “We had a World Cup coming up last year. As far as I’m aware there’s no World Cup in 2011,” he says.
There was speculation among many of the participating winemakers that a key reason for the depressed sales was the record number of 13 white wines out of a total of 39 on offer, a confounding trend being that local premium whites generally go under-appreciated by the punter despite being acclaimed by most critics.
“I wouldn’t say there were too many white wines on offer but rather not enough top-end reds,” commented Pick. It was the first time in 25 years that Kevin Arnold of Waterford did not have a wine selected for auction, while Carl Schultz of Hartenberg submitted both a Merlot and a Shiraz that also failed to make the cut, as did a Syrah put forward by Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof.
A more general point is that with membership now up to 41, not all the winemakers represented share the same standing: there are well-respected industry doyens through to relative youngster still establishing their bona fides. With a more diffuse membership, it is to be expected that some wines will fetch more of a premium than others.
Even so, there must be some question marks about the selection process. Wines that go on auction have to first be vetted by a panel compromising of Guild members, and while most members I spoke to swear by this system of peer review, it does seem unduly controversial. One solution would be to involve independent critics in the process, in order to mitigate at least some of the backbiting and infighting about who gets wine onto auction and who doesn’t.
Another solution would be simply to let every winemaker submit a wine without it having to undergo any review . The advantages of this would be to encourage more risk-taking rather than the safe but dreary “barrel selections” that are so often in evidence and it would also do away with the contentious ruling that sees a member potentially being ejected from the guild if he fails to get a wine approved over three consecutive years. It is a great injustice that the only time that this ruling has ever been applied is in the case of the late Ross Gower.
Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between the results of this year’s Nederburg Auction, which saw sales of nearly R5.7 million, up 41% on 2009 but it has been said that comparisons are odious, and this one particularly so. The Nederburg Auction’s primary target audience is large-volume liquor retailers, the CWG Auction a more eclectic target audience including private collectors. Volumes traded are consequently vastly different, 5 242 twelve-bottle cases sold at Nederburg 2010 compared to 2 298 six-bottle cases at CWG 2010. This, in turn, means a different average bottle price: R125.50 at Nederburg versus R280.48 at CWG. The organisers of Nederburg had to affect a reversal of a four-year downward trend in turnover otherwise that particlular event was in danger of becoming obsolete; prices fetched at the CWG auction were due for a correction.
Clearly, it was a buyer’s market and yet the total number of buyers was down to 139 from 159 in 2009. Punters scared away by the inordinately high prices in 2009 missed out on some bargains this year but will no doubt be back next year – that is simply the nature of these things.
As for me, I would dearly liked to have picked up a lot or two (Rijk’s Auction Reserve Chenin Blanc 2009 at an average case price of R684 or Flagstone Happy Hour Sauvingon Blanc Semillon 2009 at R725 seemed like particularly good buys) but my disposable income goes on nappies for fifteen-month Zoë at the moment. I did not go away entirely disappointed, however, as throughout the auction, various examples of the members standard-release wines were available on a complimentary basis for tasting, and I made damn sure to sample a glass or three of Le Riche Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Spotting value was never so easy.
For highest, lowest and average price per case for each item, click here.