The Cape Winemakers Guild reaches a big milestone this year as they celebrate their 25th annual Auction on 3 October at the Spier Conference Centre in Stellenbosch. The Guild, who has come a long way since its first auction in 1985, still strives towards elevating South African winemakers amongst the world's best in the eyes of international opinion leaders.
The first CWG Auction, formerly known as the Cape Independent Winemakers Guild (CIWG) Auction, took place in September 1985 in Rosebank, Johannesburg, supported by Stephan Welz & Co. Walter Finlayson, who was manager of the Guild's first six auctions, recalls the nervous anticipation leading up to that first auction and describes the bidding process as very exciting. Auctioneer David Molyneux-Berry conducted the bidding process.
Back then already the preceding auction week created a great sense of excitement, with a family-like atmosphere as families played golf and attended the Stephan Welz dinner, drawing great interest from winemakers and local residents. Today still, the preceding auction week creates a hive of activity with the CWG Sports Day where the public can join members of the Guild for a game of golf or boules or attend dinners with the winemakers at winery restaurants.
In 1995, Nedbank became the official sponsor of the Cape Winemakers Guild and its Auction, but it wasn't until 2000 that the Guild changed its name from the Cape Independent Winemakers Guild to Cape Winemakers Guild, making provision for top winemakers employed by the larger organisations such as Distell and KWV to become members. Sakkie Kotze of Le Bonheur was one of the first non-independent winemakers to join the Guild.
In the 1990s, which heralded major transformation and the end of sanctions against South Africa, international buyers began showing an interest in the Guild Auction and by 1999, 50% of all the auction purchases came from overseas buyers. Today the interest from local buyers exceeds the international contingent by far with 77% of the total auction sales going to local buyers in 2008. Since the beginning of the auction, the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah Auction Reserve 2005 claimed the highest bid at R5 400 per case in 2008 - a remarkable price per bottle of R900. Kanonkop 1996 also reached great heights in 1999, selling at R2300 for 6 bottles.
Despite the huge success of these auctions, Etienne le Riche, founding member of the Guild, states that it was not intended for the Guild to have any commercial function and that the auction was incidental, and secondary, to those primary objectives of the Guild, namely to elevate the quality standards of South African winemaking and to gain international recognition.
Working steadfastly behind the scenes, this year's auction will be a significant landmark event for Kate Jonker, who celebrates her 10th anniversary as the Guild's General Manager. During her tenure, Kate has witnessed the Guild's remarkable growth both in stature and in Auction sales. Over the past 10 years the Auction turnover increased by a remarkable 150% from R2 million to almost R5 million in 2008, thereby clearly establishing itself as the country's definitive wine auction.
At the Guild, Kate has come to expect success and record achievements and proclaims that the 2003 Guild Charity Auction was a big highlight for her. "We sold three separate 9-Litre bottles for R32 000; R32 000 and R37 000 each. This was a record and funds raised were used to renovate a local school and buy much-needed stationary for the classrooms."
The Cape Winemakers Guild was founded on 24 August 1982 by eight enthusiastic independent winemakers in the home of Billy and Ursula Hofmeyr, resident at Welgemeend in Paarl. At the time of the Guild's establishment, South African markets were still closed for exports. Kevin Arnold, appointed secretary at the Guild's first formal meeting, recalls that during the time, no wines were exported and that from an international point of view, South African wine was "not much". Imported wines were also hard to come by and only a select few had the privilege of owning a private wine collection.
Today, 36 top winemakers in the country are part of the Cape Winemakers Guild and continue to raise wine standards higher than ever before, single-mindedly striving to extract the full potential from the unique South African terroir and to set new world-class benchmarks for South Africa and indeed the world. Membership of the Guild is by invitation only and is extended to winemakers who have been responsible for the production of outstanding wines for a minimum of five years, and who continue to do so.
The Cape Winemakers Guild, along with Nedbank, has also introduced various programs such as the Protege Programme and Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Development Trust in aid of the winemaking community. The Cape Winemakers Guild Protege Programme was launched under the auspices of the Development Trust in 2006 with the goal of bringing about transformation in the wine industry through cultivating and nurturing winemakers from previously disadvantaged groups to become winemakers of excellence.
The 25th annual Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction takes place on Saturday, 3 October at 09h00 at Spier Conference Centre in the Stellenbosch Winelands. All the wines on offer are selected meticulously by members of the Guild to represent the apex of South African wine achievement with wines that can stand up to the world's best. Distinctly different from wines bottled under the members' own labels, the Guild's Auction wines are selected at a blind tasting and only those showing technical excellence and maturation potential are chosen.
This thorough process ensures that every wine boasting the CWG Auction label is a wine of exceptional quality. The final selection for this year's line-up will be announced later this week.