Records toppled at the annual Nederburg Auction in Paarl at the weekend, when buyers paid an average of almost R600 a litre for wines – more than 60% higher than those paid the previous year.
On its 40th anniversary, the Nederburg Auction has returned to its roots. To explain this, let’s look back to the first of these annual events back in 1975.
Nederburg’s then winemaker, Gunter Brozel, had created a sweet wine unlike anything on the South African market. Made from grapes infected with botrytis fungus, it had a high sugar content but was balanced with clean acidity. At that stage there was no official wine category in which the new wine fitted. The rules stated that wines with a sugar content above a certain level had to be fortified with wine spirit. Brozel’s wine was naturally sweet and unfortified.
Nederburg decided to hold an auction to test the market for the new wine. A few other cellars were invited to submit special wines for the event, and the Nederburg Auction was born. A total of 67 wines were sold at that first event and Gunter Brozel’s innovative new wine sold for about 70 cents for a 750 ml bottle. At this year’s auction it fetched about R700 for a 350 ml bottle.
Over the years the auction has developed, expanded, changed. At one stage it became more of a social event than a serious outlet for rare wines. The fashion shows, rather than the wines, grabbed the headlines. It also became a vehicle to sell large quantities of Nederburg wines made specially for the auction.
This year, however, the catalogue was trimmed to 112 wines, all chosen for their exceptional quality and rarity by an independent judging panel. Many of the wines were old and carefully matured and will not be available again.
A single (probably the last one left) six bottle case of Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1964 was knocked down for R22 000. Imagine that! R3 600 a bottle…
The last case of 1964 Lanzerac Cabernet attracted fierce bidding and was knocked down for a whopping R20 000 – and that’s for just six bottles!
A few (six-bottle) cases of Rietvallei 1980 Muscadel went for up to R3 000 a case. Rietvallei has a 40-year history of producing exceptionally fine muscadels.
In most cases the prices paid were at least three times the reserve price shown on the catalogue. These prices, however, do raise some interesting questions. What do you do with a bottle of wine for which you’re paid R3 600? It’s probably one of the last six of those wines left in the world. Drink it and it’s gone forever. Keep it and it will eventually turn to vinegar. Tell people what you paid for it and you will be considered a braggart. Keep quiet about it and your friends might not appreciate the greatness of the wine in the glass in front of them.
Luckily, not many of us are faced with problems like that. Events like the Nederburg Auction have helped to raise the standard of South African wines across the board and there are literally hundreds of fine wines of all styles at prices that are considered cheap by international standards.
Competition for acceptance on the Nederburg catalogue is always fierce, and competition is good in any industry.
Read more of David Biggs’ wine commentary at www.davidbiggsonline.com.