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South African wine auctions feel fiscal pinch

The results of two annual high profile auctions of South African wine reflect economic and political uncertainties.

Last month’s Nederburg auction – open to the trade only – achieved ZAR4.79m (£320,000), down 6.6% from last year’s total of ZAR5.13m (£343,000). The average price of ZAR1,270 (£85) per nine litre case was also down 10 % over 2007. Both auctions donate some of their proceeds to charity.

The Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild sale – open to all buyers – fetched just under ZAR5m (£335,000), 3% less than 2008, though the average price per nine-litre case of ZAR1,958 (£131) was only slightly down.

‘There were fewer buyers this year, as well as fewer successful buyers,’ said Bennie Howard, who managed the Nederburg auction for 16 years and is now a consultant.

‘Anyone selling premium wine this year is going to have to work very hard. On the other hand, I think it’s a buyers’ market. This may be the opportunity for those who bought the wines to turn around and offer them to customers, encouraging a new audience to try some top wines at a very good price.’

The Nederburg auction focuses on mature vintages – this year’s roster included Monis Collectors Port Stamp Collection 1948 and Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1964 – and is considered a platform to demonstrate the ageworthiness of South African wine.

Philip Constandius, chairman of the Cape Winemakers Guild auction – which features boutique-style wines made specifically for the event, and holds pre-sale tastings around the world – said he felt the local political situation also may have scared potential bidders.

‘Just minutes after our former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel stepped down – following the resignation of President Mbeki – ZAR220bn (£14.8bn) was wiped off the Johannesburg Stock Exchange,’ he said. ‘No wonder buyers were not as bullish this year.’

The Cape Winemakers Guild auction broke its own record for red and an all-time record for white, pocketing ZAR5,400 (£369) for six bottles of Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Auction Reserve 2005, and ZARR3,300 (£225) for the same number of Steenberg The White Savage 2008.

Both Constandius and Howard pointed out that the sales in 2003 and 2005 were particularly buoyant, and that a decline should be expected. They likewise dismiss the results as a bellwether of day-to-day sales of current vintages of South African wine.

Written by Maggie Rosen

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