CWG auction 2017: Fresh, young and new

It’s auction season again, and what with a re-energised Nederburg Wine Auction on Saturday September 16 (which I wrote about two weeks back) and the upcoming 33rd Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) Auction two weeks later on Saturday September 30, there is much excitement in the air in wine cognoscenti circles.

To be sure, they are very different auctions, and although the quanta of price per litre achieved, overall auction revenues and charity auction prices achieved are compared, such comaprison makes no sense.

Nederburg is all about older fine wines, CWG is all about youthful exuberance and pushing the edge of the winemaking envelope, which is why you see the likes of cinsault, barbera, roussane and marsanne making a showing this year at the auction, varietals that have tiny plantings in the national vineyard, largely because they are unexplored in the South African context.

By way of example, Johan Malan, while presenting his Simonsig Die Kluisennar Roussane – Marsanne 2016 at the CWG Tutured Tasting at the Westin Grande last Thursday, noted that plantings of roussanne are a mere 75ha and of marsanne a tiny 21ha industry-wide, barely percentage points each of the national vineyard.

But it is this exploration of new varietals, to some extent driven by the need to find alternatives that will help the industry combat the challenges of climate change, that is a hallmark of CWG members and what they bring to the auction each year.

Talking age for a moment, the oldest wines on auction are John Laubser’s Big Dog III Methode Cap Classique 2012, a svelte plump bubbly with fine creamy mousse, complex fruit richness with an oxidative edge, and crisp refreshing acidity, and Peter Finlayson’s Bouchard Finlayson Auction Reserve Pinot Noir 2012, elegant, poised and fine as ever.

The rest are distributed across 2013, 2014, 2015 with a good sprinkling of young and fresh 2016s as well.

In his opening address, CWG chairperson Miles Mossop reminded the assembled company that pushing the boundaries has always been part of the CWG’s mission, and indeed, in each year, somebody does something quite different.

Sebastian Beaumont of Beaumont Family Wines in Bot River prefaced his presentation of his debut Chenin Blanc Demi-Sec 2016 with the question: “Anybody here from north of Kimberley” while gazing hopefully out over the audience.

I don’t recall seeing a hand go up, but when he explained why, it all made sense. “I get visitors to the tasting room who ask ‘Het jy miskien iets wat effe meer soet is?’ (‘Do you perhaps have something that’s a little bit sweeter?’), and they are usually from north of Kimberley, so that’s why I made this demi-sec chenin with 16g/* residual sugar.”

Needless to say, that raised a ripple of good-natured mirth in an audience dominated by winemakers, trade people and wine hacks.

Sweet wines tend to be viewed with disdain, even well-made “stickies” – noble late harvests – and in this case a well-made demi-sec, but the reality is that the market for sweeter wines is huge. Take 4th Street, a local wine brand, distributed locally and in some African countries, by way of example. Started in 2009, the range of naturally sweet wines – a rosè, a red and a white – was rated top growth brand internationally and 29th overall in the world in an International Wine and Spirit Research report last year.

It will be really interesting to see what price per case Sebastian’s wine achieves at the auction.

Sebastian, along with Bruwer Raats of Raats Family Vineayards and Morné Vrey of Delaire-Graf Estate joined the CWG this year, bringing the membership tally to 49.

Adi Badenhorst and Duncan Savage collaborated – a CWG first – to produce The Love Boat Red 2016, a blend of shiraz, grenache and cinsaut, all from the Swartland, and the intriguing dimension to this wine, is that neither knew what the other had done in preparing their respective blend components.

But whatever they did, it worked. Plush, rich red fruit, spice and fynbos notes, generous and juicy mouthfeel make this an intriguing wine.

There is more on offer that is new and intriguing, like Bruce Jack’s The Drift Farm Comfort Zone “Whole Bunch Tinta” 2016, a blend of tinta barocca, barbera and montrasell, grown in the Overberg Highlands, and Andrea Mullineux’s Leeu Passant Old Vines Cinsault 2015 from Franschhoek, and of course the old favourites that appear each year – Peter Finlayson’s Bouchard Finlayson Auction Reserve Pinot Noir (2012), Andries Burger’s Paul Cluver The Wagon Trail Chardonnay (2016), and ~Pierre Whal’s Rijk’s CWG Chenin Blanc (2015), to name a few.

Two thousand nine hundred six-bottle cases will go under the hammer of Henré Hablutzel, his 20th CWG Auction, at the Spier Hotel on Saturday September 30 and it will be intriguing to see whether the trend will continue – a continually increasing average price per six-bottle case (R5 697 in 2016) and total auction sales revenue (R13 833 200 in 2016) for the event.