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Auctions helping South Africa break through ‘glass ceiling’

South African wineries are on the right track to overcoming consumer misconceptions about their standing in the fine wine world, but it will take time, says Accolade's chief winemaker in the country, Bruce Jack.

Bidders begin to gather for the AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction earlier this month

The past year has been relatively kind to South African wine. Producers took advantage of favourable exchange rates and their country’s rising reputation to achieve record exports of nearly 527m litres – equivalent to 700m bottles – in 2013.

But, there continues to be a stigma around South African wines that prevents them from reaching the upper echelons of many restaurant lists, according to Bruce Jack.

‘There’s a glass ceiling,’ he told a masterclass at a recent trade tasting held by UK supplier Matthew Clark in London. ‘But, we’ll eventually break through it, once people realise how good the wines are.’

He highlighted Shiraz and Viogner as key varietals now in South Africa’s wine arsenal. ‘There’s been huge growth in Shiraz plantings. They made up 7% of vine plantings in South Africa in 1999 and now its 38%,’ he said.

He also said Viogner clones have shown more promise in South Africa than many parts of Australia, where it initially found a New World home after being imported from France.

Recent auctions have boosted South Africa’s fine wine image. In late 2013, the 29th Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction saw a 14.5% increase in the price paid per litre. And at the inaugural charity Cape Wine Auction earlier this month, South African wines contributed strongly to the sales total of 7m rand ($640,000), even though the lure of foreign travel appeared to fuel prices for many of the best-selling of the 40 lots.

Among the wine lots, a 220l barrel of Waterford Estates’ The Jem, split between bottles and magnums, fetched 160,000 rand ($15,000), while 27 vintages of Meerlust Rubicon from 1980 to 2009 – plus lunch at the estate and a Rovos Rail train journey from Pretoria to Durban – sold for 150,000 rand.

Auction trustee Mike Ratcliffe said he was ‘overwhelmed’ by the success of the sale, which attracted 250 bidders based based in South Africa and overseas and was sponsored by AfrAsia bank.

Written by Chris Mercer

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