This year marks the 34th annual Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction, a South African event recognized as the country’s leading wine auction open to both the general public and wine trade. Taking place on Saturday, September 29 at Spier Conference Centre in Stellenbosch, the auction features rare, limited-edition and small-batch selections produced exclusively for the event by members of the Cape Winemakers Guild, an association of 47 of South Africa’s best winemakers.
Formed in 1982, membership to the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild is by invitation only. It is extended to winemakers recognized for their high standards of craftsmanship that have been producing outstanding wines for a minimum of five years and are actively involved in the winemaking operations of a cellar from harvest to bottling. Only one employee of a winery may be an active Guild member at a time.
The wines the Cape Winemakers Guild members supply to the auction are created exclusively for the event, and cannot be sold commercially elsewhere, meaning they are some of the greatest unicorn wines of the world. They all bear a Cape Winemakers Guild label (though the capsule is subject to the winemaker’s personal or brand aesthetic), reinforcing the organization’s intent to represent winemaking excellence and skill through the member’s name and quality of wine, not necessarily the employing winery or brand.
These wines represent winemaking excellence, raising the standard and international reputation of South African wines. In our blind tasting of this year’s auction wines, virtually all of them rate 90 points or higher on our 100-point scale, and many are Cellar Selections that will mature magnificently over the next 5–15 years, some even more.
There are a few items of note for this year’s auction. First off, many of the whites on auction are from the superb 2017 vintage, which is showing stunning precision, balance and long-term aging potential. They are sure to be some of the finest white wines the country has ever produced. And many of the reds hail from the outstanding 2015 vintage, so while they might be showing a bit brawny or flashy now, certainly have the stuffing to go the long haul.
Additionally, this year’s auction will be the last for three of the guild’s most prominent and established members: Kevin Arnold of Waterford Estate, Jan Boland Coetzee of Vriesenhof and Etienne le Riche of Le Riche Wines. Their swansong auction releases will surely be of tremendous interest for savvy collectors and fans of their lifetime of work.
There are only 48 items on auction this year, down from 65 in 2017, representing only about 1,000 cases of wine available for purchase as opposed to nearly 1,500 cases last year. This year’s offerings include 31 red wines, 14 white wines, two Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines and one fortified wine.
There’s no better time to build your collection or stock your cellar with some truly special, unique, world-class wines of distinction from many of South Africa’s best winemakers.
For more information about the Guild’s 34th auction on September 29, 2018, or to sign up for proxy bidding, visit the Cape Winemakers Guild or email CWG General Manager Kate Jonker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top White Wines
Paul Cluver 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild The Wagon Trail Chardonnay (Elgin); 94 points. Winemaker: Andries Burger. Berger is a specialist in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from cool-climate Elgin, and this wine showcases his strength and talent for white winemaking. From the fabulous 2017 vintage, it is a laser-beam of precision, with superbly focused aromas of lightly toasted red apple, peach pit, clove-spiked orange and dried fynbos. Those notes all carry though to the medium-weight mouth, augmented by a pronounced line of citrusy acidity and an orange oil tone on the close. A toasted sweet-spice accent unfolds on the long finish. A focused and pure expression now, this will continue to flesh out and mature well through 2033. Cellar Selection.
Ataraxia 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild Under The Gavel Chardonnay (Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge); 93 points. Winemaker: Kevin Grant. From the Ridge zone within the larger Hemel-en-Aarde appellation, this Chard is a tight and focused pour, offering an initial flood of flinty, mineral-laden citrus zest and tart apple aromas. The palate is similarly alive and vibrant, with already well-integrated notes of fresh hay and lightly toasted oak adding depth and weight to the precise lime, melon and apple fruit flavors. The finish endures and evolves, starting off crisp and mouthwatering but then veering towards some richer, spicier impressions. It’s a baby now, but with a clear line of sight for long-term splendor; drink from 2023-2033. Cellar Selection.
Mullineux 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild The Gris Sémillon (Swartland); 93 points. Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. The nose leads with attractive scents of yellow apple flesh, fresh Anjou pear and ripe green melon, all laced with hints of salted butter and hay. The medium-weight palate boasts a beautiful seam of acidic lift and vibrant minerality, raising the ripe fruit flavors. Notes of orange blossom, soft honeycomb and verbena add depth and sustained interest through the enduring finish. This is hard to resist for it’s purity and precision now, though it will continue to develop and evolve wonderfully through 2028.
Top Red Wines
Etienne Le Riche 2015 Cape Winemakers Guild Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Stellenbosch); 94 points. Winemaker: Etienne le Riche. A pleasant herbal overlay sits atop the fruity core of ripe blackberry, boysenberry and black plum on the nose of this rich, powerful wine. Hints of cigar box and blackcurrant leaf add an earthy lift throughout, while ample acidity and structuring tannins keeps the intensity and lush fruit in check. The bold, plush and seductive palate boasts intense dark-fruit flavors that are decadent but not overly done or sweet, with final notes of toasted spice and tobacco. This is an ager, for sure, so best to enjoy after 2028 and likely well beyond. Cellar Selection.
Kanonkop 2016 Cape Winemakers Guild CWG Pinotage (Simonsberg-Stellenbosch); 94 points. Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. There’s a stunning floral vibrancy right upfront on the nose of this wine, expressed in dense waves of pressed purple violets, fynbos and bramble. Those tones are supported by a solid core of wild strawberry, raspberry and boysenberry, with an orange-oil accent in the background. The plush palate boasts a texture like crushed velvet and brambly berry flavors that are rich and fresh all at once, thanks to ample acidity and a framing structure. It’s long and enduring finish shows great intensity, and the whole package is harmonious and well balanced. A stunning wine, this will age and evolve beautifully through 2038. Cellar Selection.
Hartenberg 2015 Cape Winemakers Guild CWG Auction Shiraz (Stellenbosch); 93 points. Winemaker: Carl Schultz. This wine is already so immediately attractive, it will be hard to resist and hold, though it should mature well through 2030. The bouquet offers plush, ripe black cherry, raspberry and brambly berry tones, accented by decadent glimmers of cocoa powder, pressed violet and just a hint of gaminess. The medium-weight palate is smooth and satiny in feel, with fine tannins and ample acidity that provide great balance from start to finish. The palate offers more fresh berry tones, with final hints of tea, tree bark and black pepper on the enduring close. Cellar Selection.