“Innovation, benchmarking and the sharing of knowledge spanning over thirty-eight years of winemaking excellence, is the proud accomplishment of the Cape Winemakers Guild.”
Every year the Cape Winemaker’s Guild tasting is an event that is highly anticipated. Everyone you know in the wine industry is there, plus the most admired South African winemakers and the most exclusive and exceptional wines that they produce. The event is like speed dating or speed tasting! The time pressure is on; if you don’t sniff and sip quickly, you may miss out on some of the most exciting acclaimed wines. It’s a hustle and bustle event, no time for small talk and one needs to have a strategy on how to rotate the room in order to capitalise on what it has to offer. Its madness I tell, wonderful madness! But for all the stress entailed, you sip on some of the most intriguing wines you have ever tried, which you will probably never have the joy of trying again.
This year unfortunately due to some rather unfortunate global pandemic the event was canceled. But the show will go on. The prevalent virus that is Covid-19 will not stop the Cape Winemakers Guild. The annual auction they present, is a significant source of finance required for the development trust programs they have spent years funding.
A little more information on the Guild and what makes it so special…
The Cape Winemaker’s Guild was formed in 1982. The Guild is an association of some of South Africa’s finest winemakers, it has evolved into a body of 48 members who jointly represent the pinnacle of South African wine achievement.
Membership, by invitation, is extended to winemakers recognised for their high standards of craftsmanship, who have been responsible for producing outstanding wines for a minimum of five years and are actively involved in operations in the cellar from harvest to bottling.
All experts in their respective fields, Guild members have played a significant role in the development of the South African wine industry. From the making of champion port-style wines and the establishment of Méthode Cap Classique and Cape blends, to the opening up of new, cooler wine regions and the introduction of sustainable, environmentally responsible farming practices, Guild members have always been at the forefront of innovation.
With leadership in an industry, comes the responsibility to educate, lead by example and drive an all-inclusive and diverse future of said industry.
“We are committed to addressing our need to embrace diversity and to become representative of all South Africans. Working towards change and for the Guild to become an organisation epitomised not only by excellence but also by equality remain an utmost priority,” says CWG Chair, Andrea Mullineux.
In 1999 the CWG Development Trust was formed as a part of the CWG’s journey to support meaningful transformation in the wine industry. Through this Trust, the CWG empowers farm employees through further education and contributes towards transformation by way of its Protégé Programme which was set up in 2006. Aimed at uplifting, educating, and inspiring those from disadvantaged backgrounds, giving them the skills and support they need to pursue their ambitions.
Since the inception of the Protégé Programme, 24 Protégés have completed the three-year internship and 10 are currently participating in this ongoing programme. Of those who have graduated, 16 now either hold leading winemaking roles or have their own winemaking projects. The CWG has become a unique institution in the way all 42 members remain involved in this uplifting initiative, providing mentorship to ensure that both the industry standards and the values of the CWG, exceeds all expectations, and are maintained by new talent and the future policymakers. The protégés are now becoming the role models.
Let’s get to the wines…
I was overjoyed to receive a case of 6 of the 28 wines going on auction this year. As opposed to the usual rushed tasting environment, I could savor each wine and give it the attention it so deserved. My thoughts as below;
Graham Beck, Cuvée 129 Extra Brut, Western Cape, 2009
51% Pinot Noir, 49% Chardonnay. Winemaker: Pieter Ferreira. The name of the Cap Classique, Cuvée 129, refers to the number of months on the lees ageing – equating to 10 years and 9 months on the lees. MGA is short for Multi Geographical Areas, as the grapes were carefully selected from six different places: Franschhoek, Robertson, Stanford, Stellenbosch, Slanghoek and Walker Bay. Hand-picked grapes. Whole-bunch pressed with only the cuvée fraction (450 litres/ton) used for the base wine. All seven components were fermented separately and after blending, lightly fined. Then tirage bottling occurred on 29 September 2009. On lees for 129 months. Disgorgement 29 June 2020. TA 6.2 g/l, pH 3.29, RS 3.5 g/l. 40 six-bottle cases made. 21 cases auctioned.
The beautiful golden complexion alludes to something quite special. A generous and vibrant nose of an aged bubbly; brioche, almonds, marzipan, and wafts of dried rose petals. A very fine mousse and surprisingly vivacious bubbles. A wonderfully fresh, fruit-driven palate at first sip; notes of peach and apple. Complex Umani flavors develop, and a slight salinity at the finish. Leaves you dreaming of a luxuriously buttered lobster… What a wonderful treat to see a Cap Classique showing off still after all this time in bottle!
Ataraxia, Under the Gavel Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde, Walker Bay, 2019
100% Chardonnay. Winemaker: Kevin Grant. Sourced from a single south-facing vineyard on The Skyfields, home to Ataraxia. Entirely fermented in small, tight-grained French oak barrels, custom-selected from specific Burgundian coopers. This wine was aged for a further nine months before being bottled. TA 7.4 g/l, pH 3.28, RS 3 g/l. 106 six-bottle cases made. 21 cases auctioned
Year on year, Kevin’s Chardonnay is one of the highest-rated wines in the Auction line up. This year it certainly lives up to its reputation. Chiseled and focused; the wine shows an immaculate, seamless matière, woven together by dynamic acidity. Balanced with an understated richness, it is a little more generous than his estate release. Layers and layers of fresh fruit flavours unravel; pineapple, citrus, freshly picked apples, ripe yellow peach, pear… Enticing orchid florals and a flinty mineral line flow through the wine and brings with it an intoxicating charm. South African Chardonnay in its finest form.
Raats, The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2019
100% Chenin Blanc. Winemaker: Bruwer Raats. Best barrel of Chenin Blanc that Raats produce, reserved for the Cape Winemakers Guild Auction every year. TA 5.5 g/l, pH 3.37, RS 2.2 g/l. 50 six-bottle cases made. 21 cases auctioned.
Bruwer Raats wears two crowns; King of Cabernet Franc and King of Chenin Blanc. His CWG auction wine has always been the best Chenin Blanc he can produce; he selects his best Chenin Blanc vineyard, the best two rows in said vineyard, and then he selects the best barrel. Initial honeyed notes on the nose and aromas of pineapple marmalade hinted at an older wine, but it soon became clear that true to a warm climate Chenin Blanc; it was an intense concentration of ripe tropical yellow fruit and a purity that made this wine so generous. In contrast, the palate was lean and chalky, with a mineral freshness that carried through. A great spicy finish to the wine that brings it all together. Its wine that makes you stop and think, and then smile and take another sip.
Newton Johnson, Windansea Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay 2017
100% Pinot Noir. Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. A bare-bones glimpse of Windansea, the powerful dimension of Pinot Noir on the farm. In the stoniest and most clay-rich of its granite soils. Bunches selectively picked by the family for this small cuvée. Made without sulphur. 11 months of maturation with a further six months’ élevage in large oak. Unfiltered. TA 5.6 g/l, pH 3.57, RS 2 g/l. 100 six-bottle cases made. 21 cases auctioned.
Allures you on colour and seduces you by fragrance, once sipped; you have fallen head over heels for this wine. With great Pinot Noirs come mutterings of purity of fruit, this is wine shows the definition of that expression; immaculate, clean, fresh, red fruit. Lucious dark red cherries, redcurrant skins, blueberries, and brambleberries balanced with necessary savoury notes of fresh mushrooms and dried herbs required for Pinot perfection. Chiseled, grippy tannins dance with bright almost Burgundian acidity. An absolutely delightful wine.
Boschkloof, Epilogue Syrah, Stellenbosch, 2018
100% Syrah. Winemaker: Jacques Borman. Grapes were harvested in three stages with 30% fermented with whole bunches. Fermentation with indigenous yeasts, in open-top fermenters. After fermentation, a portion was matured in concrete tanks and a portion was matured for 13 months in 30% new 400-litre French oak barrels. A special barrel selection was made for the CWG Auction. TA 5.4 g/l, pH 3.61, RS 1.8 g/l. 40 six-bottle cases made. 21 cases auctioned.
The 30 % whole bunch is immediately noticeable and delivers vibrant red fruit to this wonderfully balanced and silky Syrah. Aromas of purple flowers, licorice, black pepper, cinnamon, and an abundance of fruit; fresh plums, mulberries, ripe blackberries and cassis follow through and mingle on the palate. A herbaceous thread runs through. Tannins are gracious yet grippy providing the backbone to an extremely elegant and refined Syrah, more old world in style than new.
Luddite, The Lone Stranger Mark II, Bot River, Walker Bay,
50% Mourvèdre, 40% Shiraz, 10% Grenache. Winemaker: Niels Verburg. All portions of the blend were fermented in small, open fermenters with regular manual punchdowns. After fermentation, the wines were pressed directly into barrel and were allowed to mature for two years before the blend was made up. A Bot River interpretation of the Rhône. TA 5.69 g/l, pH 3.5, RS 1.78 g/l. 100 six-bottle cases made. 21 cases auctioned.
And last but not least a gentle giant from, well, a gentle giant. Last year Niels blew me away with his absolutely exquisite and delicate Grenache. This year his auction wine still has grace but he has beefed it up with a fair whack of Mourvèdre and Shiraz. The result is a savory and broody wine full of dark fruit and meat spice. It is powerful but has fine supple tannins and a silky texture reminiscent of a Châteauneuf-du-Pap.
It was an absolute privilege to be able to taste through these wines in the comfort of my own home. These are the finest wines emerging out of South Africa year on year. Just to put it in perspective after the tasting we opened up a 2017 Boschkloof Epilogue Syrah, the ‘regular’ estate version of the CWG wine I tasted above by Jacques Borman. This wine has, year on year, amazed critics and received the highest of accolades and praise. But next to the CWG Epilogue it was definitely overshadowed. This just opened my eyes to how special and unique these wines are, and why they deserve to reach such high prices at auction. Wine Collectors all over the world should participate in this auction.
There will be two separate and distinct auctions in 2020 and both will be hosted by international auction house Bonhams.
The CWG Vinotheque Auction hosted by Bonhams will feature small collections of past CWG Auction wines perfectly stored in the Guild members’ private cellars. All funds raised will be placed in a trust to help winemakers keep their businesses afloat in the aftermath of Covid-19 in order to continue employing those who depend on an income from the wine industry. Bidders will be able to place their bids on the Bonham’s website over a two-week period from Friday, 18 September 2020 until 16:00 (London time) on Saturday, 3 October 2020.
The 2020 Nedbank CWG Auction hosted by Bonhams will be held live and online on Saturday, 3 October 2020 from 12:00 (London time). Wines on offer will be the current year Auction wines and wine lovers will be able to bid as the auction progresses, either by watching and bidding live and online via the Bonhams website or by telephone; or by placing proxy or commission bids with Bonhams in advance.
Funds raised by the first case of each of the 28 wines will be donated to CWG member Samantha O’Keefe, whose Lismore Estate in Greyton was destroyed by fire in December 2019.