Most wine industries in the new world have evolved to such an extent over the past 5 to 10 years that there can be no doubt who is calling the shots. Big businesses, along with all the relevant commercial considerations, are definitely the order of the day. Thankfully, on the more practical level for the consumer, wine quality and winemaking expertise has never been better.
And for serious fine wine buyers, there is no more exciting hunting ground than the trenches of the various auction rooms. While the European and American markets are spoilt for choice, and have been so for many years thanks to the likes of Sotheby's and Christies, new world buyers in Australia and South Africa have no such luxuries.
Well almost none. In South Africa, no one can ignore the wine fever that infects the industry every year during the months of February and March as the annual Nederburg Auction approaches and a host of award-winning wines goes under the hammer. Held at the Nederburg Estate in Paarl, 144 top Cape wines from 70 participants will take centre stage this year (the 27th of this event), with bidding commencing on April 6th. Once again, record breaker Mr Patrick Grubb will preside over proceedings, just as he has done so for over a quarter of a century!
The auction traditionally always opens and closes with the famous Lanzerac Pinotage, and this time round, the 1964 and 1967 vintages have been selected. Even the official auction catalogue does not list tasting notes for these wines which are just too rare to taste pre-auction.
With the support from local producers growing year to year, organisers are now able to offer a whopping 8930 cases of wine to hungry local and international buyers. Included in the line up of 144 wines are 26 whites, 86 reds, 10 noble late harvests (NLHs), 16 fortifieds and 4 sparkling wines. Whites include 15 Chardonnays, 3 Sauvignon Blancs, 3 Semillons, 2 Chenin Blancs, 1 Gewürztraminer and 1 Pinot Blanc. Reds include 30 Cabernets, 13 Shirazes, 12 Pinotages, 6 Merlots, 1 Pinot Noir and 24 red blends.
Of the sweeter wines, the sought-after Nederburg Edelkeur (Chenin Blanc NLH) and Eminence (Muscat NLH) are sure to steal a good deal of the bidding limelight, or at least whatever's left over after the legendary first commercial release of the Vin de Constance 1987 comes up for sale. Other curiosities like the first ever NLH Riesling 1999 from Paul Cluver of Elgin Valley should also bring in their own fair share of interest.
As well as the 2 special cases of 30 year old Nederburg Auction Cabernet Sauvignon 1971 (hey, we're talking New World here, not Bordeaux!), there will also be a few other classics to satisfy specialist collectors. One such wine is the Groot Constantia Pinotage 1972, which is described by Patrick Grubb as "a classic vintage with sweet raisins and Christmas pudding flavours! Superb and still well preserved for such a museum rarity. Do not hoard it, drink it with your dearest on your knees." Surely not to be missed!
Some of the rare wines that will feature on the Charity Auction, part of the main auction, include a bottle of circa 1820 Madeira Boal from Henriques & Henriques, a magnum of 1969 Chateau Margaux, a bottle of 1961 Chateau Ausone from St. Emilion, a bottle of 1961 Lanzerac Cabernet Sauvignon, a bottle of 1966 Alto Cabernet Sauvignon, and a whole barrel of Nederberg Pinotage from the 2001 vintage made by new cellar master at Nederburg, Razvan Macici.
And for the second year running, the auction will be held live on the Internet via webcam on the Cybercellar Link, where auction wines, reserve prices and progressive sales updates will also be listed.
And finally, it is no secret that woman have become some of the key movers and makers in the wine world, and South Africa is no exception. This year, the Nederberg Auction will honour several women by putting their wines under the hammer. For this special feature, the award-winning and trailblazing Mrs Zelma Long will be flown out from California to act as guest speaker. Apart from being chief oenologist for Robert Mondavi in the 1970s, Zelma has had a long and varied career until her retirement in 1999 as Executive Vice President of Moet Hennessy California Wineries, serving Simi and Domaine Chandon.
Just one of the women winemakers to be featured is Riannie Strydom, whose wines netted 3 double golds and 3 gold medals at the recent Veritas Wine Awards 2000 for the Morganhof Estate. The Morganhof 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a double gold winner at the 1995 Veritas Awards, will also feature in the auction this year.
Over the years, the Nederburg Auction has developed into one of the biggest and best of its kind in the world, to be mentioned in the same breath as those of the Hospices de Beaune, Kloster Eberbach, and Napa Valley. It's almost an institution and certainly an event every fine wine buyer should aspire to attend at least once in their lifetime!