IN THE week that saw the wrap-up of Cape Wine — the bi-annual export show hosted in Cape Town — the wine industry also managed its two most serious wine auctions, and the Veritas wine show results.
The old newsroom adage of feast or famine could not be better applied, except that this glut comes with a degree of premeditation. Editors know there’s nothing they can really do to optimise news management when Mother Teresa and Princess Diana die in the same week.
The salient facts — from these key industry occasions — are simple enough and can be briefly expressed. Cape Wine was pronounced a success: despite the tough international climate, buyers and hacks were delighted to come and play in the world’s most beautiful winelands. With better wine than at any time in our history, and a weaker rand than at any time in the recent past (do you think the industry will give President Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress its annual export achievement award?), Cape wine sales abroad are looking good.
The first of the two auctions was held at Nederburg, where turnovers dropped significantly for reasons that aren’t at all difficult to discern. The sale has lost its sex appeal — which means it’s not attracting the stocks and buyers that would make a difference in a tough market.
A week later it became clear that the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG) Auction has usurped much of that polish and gloss — and its turnovers (as well as the average prices paid for a smaller and seemingly more exclusive offering) reflect its current position on the podium.
Then, on the evening of the same day as the CWG sale, the Veritas organisers announced their list of laureates at the (inevitable) black-tie function. KWV repeated its 2011 performance — as well as its achievement earlier this year at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show — by taking top honours, closely followed by Nederburg. In fact, if there was any real news in the Veritas results, it was that there was a closer correlation between its top cellars and those of the Trophy Wine Show than at any time in the past.
When the same players are to be seen in several places at more or less the same time, it’s tempting to think they’re the only game in town. If, in addition, they’re traditional rivals, it’s very easy to divide things into a two-horse race and announce winners and losers, and nothing in between.
On the basis of this view, Nederburg — the auction — has been losing ground even as Nederburg — the cellar — has been producing many of the country’s finest cutting-edge wines, albeit in very small quantities. The CWG auction, on the other hand, has become the platform upon which many of the avant-garde producers are (sometimes quite precariously) perched, and the wines which are offered for sale at this event are cloaked in, and contribute to, the aura of the CWG’s avant-garde status.
The small batch wines made at Nederburg and KWV (and which bring in the medals and awards which have made both cellars enormously successful in the world of wine competitions) are easily as good (and often much better) than the select parcels which make up the CWG auction offerings. The punters don’t see things this way: they would rather pay three to five times more for a CWG sale selection because of the implicit boutique message.
This logic works both ways. The reason the Nederburgs and KWVs make their award-winning small batch wines is in the hope that their show successes will change the public perception of their high volume cuvées (which have actually improved dramatically over time).
However, what has been happening to the Nederburg auction (where the perception of volume has overwhelmed any sense of exclusivity) should give you a sense of how difficult it will be to change that mind-set: how often does the tail wag the brontosaurus?