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South Africa’s top six “iconic wine farms”

September 21, 2015
by Christian
in Opinion & Analysis
with 9 Comments


During a conversation over lunch yesterday, a winelands property agent asked me which South African wine farms I considered to be “iconic”. In 2011, self-made billionaire Zdenek Bakala and business associate Charles Harman acquired Klein Constantia for a reported R200 million and I guess the agent was asking what other properties would warrant that sort of premium.

How to determine “iconic”? Factors to consider for me would be 1) historical legacy, 2) regional pedigree, 3) reputation of wine and 4) architectural grandeur.

My six iconic wine properties would therefore be:
1. Vergelegen
2. Kanonkop
3. Rustenberg
4. Klein Constantia
5. Meerlust
6. Boschendal

Others in contention would be:
Bouchard Finlayson, Buitenverwachting, Delaire Graff, De Wetshof, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Jordan, Morgenster, Neethlingshof, Oak Valley, Paul Cluver Estate, Rust en Vrede, Steenberg, Thelema, Tokara, Uitkyk

Those who probably aspire to icon status but to my mind are not quite there include:
Delheim, DeMorgenzon, Diemersdal, Graham Beck (Robertson), Ernie Els Wines, Guardian Peak, Hartenberg, Simonsig, Springfield, Waterford, Warwick

Not in contention although high-profile:
Boekenhoutskloof – as much a brand (with grapes sourced from all over) as a property
Groot Constantia – owned by a non-profit trust and presumably not up for sale

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  1. Hennie LouwSeptember 24, 2015 at 10:30 amReply

    Ai jai jai mr Ratcliffe, the Winemag is also read by novices, like myself and not only experts like yourself. Nice article to confirm one’s judgement. O sorry I see your estate is mentioned later on in the article.

  2. Pierre NaudeSeptember 22, 2015 at 1:42 pmReply

    Thinking of some of the Iconic Wine Farms around the world, my perception is that the long-established quality of their wine plays a far more important role in gaining icon status than historical legacy, architectural grandeur or regional pedigree (although, admittedly, those things help!).

    If your ranking criteria are ‘in no particular order’ then I can largely agree with them, although I would have arrived at one or two different conclusions, especially wondering down into your ‘also-ran’ groups.

    Having recently done a tasting at KC (which has always been one of my ‘icons’) I notice that the price of their wines has increased, apparently, proportionately to the cost of the farm, but there seemed to be no similar increase in the quality or enjoyment of the wine!

    • MarthelizeSeptember 22, 2015 at 4:53 pmReply

      Hi Pierre
      I think the increase in price is in line with a) new vintage releases and b) pretty much a rise in prices of pretty much everything else we pay for.
      Huge topic of conversation in wine industry is that SA wines are underpriced (and/or undervalued, depending on the conversation).
      Frankly, that sucks for us locals but KC wines are incredibly popular in the USA and they sell very well there. The increase in price brings them more in line with their international competitors and is overall a good thing.
      Just not for our local wallets, filled with measly ZARs.

  3. Stephen FleschSeptember 22, 2015 at 12:58 pmReply

    Maybe Capaia should be on the aspiring list ?

  4. James VisserSeptember 22, 2015 at 9:20 amReply

    When mandated by an investor to source an iconic wine farm, one which they intend holding in their portfolio for 100+years, understanding the parameters and distilling out properties most likely to fit the bill becomes very real.

  5. Mike RatcliffeSeptember 22, 2015 at 7:51 amReply

    In my opinion, topics like this are better discussed by punters over Sunday lunch rather than on your carefully cultivated forum. Winemag strives for gravitas and authority and should protect from whimsical opinions which shoot from the hip – in my opinion.

    On another note: one could argue that KC was a bargain – in global terms. The timing – from an exchange rate point of view – was slightly off though. South African wine properties are dramatically under valued relative to their foreign peers – an entire debate unto itself.

  6. Mike RatcliffeSeptember 21, 2015 at 10:10 pmReply

    Seriously Christian – are you going down this path? What the hell is iconic? Can a wine property be iconic? As a professional with ‘skin in the game’, revealing a blanket bias cant really be helpful or useful – especially in such an off-the-cuff’ article. Am I the only person who thinks this way? Please don’t hesitate to disagree.

    • ChristianSeptember 22, 2015 at 7:00 amReplyAuthor

      Hi Mike, As I’ve said on Facebook, this was hardly a scientific undertaking and is indeed a matter of opinion – it is, however, precisely the kind of thing that people in the wine industry talk about over Sunday lunch, so why not put the subject to a wider audience and let everybody chip in?

      Let me substantiate my criteria. Firstly, historical legacy is valuable (if somewhat intangible) because it goes towards a proven track record; secondly, regional pedigree basically comes down to property prices – Stellenbosch trumps Worcester; thirdly, reputation of wine speaks for itself – a property needs to have its owns vineyards and further there needs to be common agreement that the resulting wine is of high quality; lastly, architectural grandeur equates to the pile of bricks on the property, whether classic or modern.

      Ultimately, the market will decide when it comes to matters like this – Bakala’s R200 million on KC suggests its icon statuts is pretty much irrefutable.

  7. Angela LloydSeptember 21, 2015 at 5:41 pmReply

    Before I looked at your answers, Christian, I made my own list – it agrees with yours 100%. Now others can disagree!

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