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High prices achieved by SA wines on prestige auction

WHEN Tabernacle in Stellenbosch auctioned off a treasure trove of iconic South African and international wines at one of Strauss & Co’s most talked-about events earlier in July, South African wines performed outstandingly well. 

All the wines for the auction were drawn from the esteemed underground cellar, the Tabernacle, that houses over 12 000 vinous gems from around the world. 

South Africa’s showstoppers of the evening were the legendary GS Cabernets (thought to be made by Stellenbosch Farmer’s Winery winemaker, George Spies). They fetched by far the highest prices of any South African wines on the auction. 

Authoritative UK wine critic, Jancis Robinson had previously given the GS Cabernet 1966 a perfect score of 20/20, the only South African wine ever to merit such a rating by her.  Her esteem for the wine must have had an impact, given that the same vintage went under the Strauss & Co hammer for R38 000, while the 1968 vintage fetched a price of R28 000. In case you’re wondering, that was per bottle! 

Said Michael van Deventer, curator of the Tabernacle wine library: “We are absolutely thrilled. What a vote of confidence in these wines, especially when you consider that the starting bid was R25 000 a bottle!” 

Amongst the other heavy hitters of the event were the 1959 and 1940 vintages of Chateau Libertas that went for R20 000 each; the Nederburg Auction Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1974 bottles that were sold for R11 000 each; and the Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon, for R14 000. 

When the famous US winemaker, Robert Mondavi tasted this 1974 Nederburg wine, he pronounced it “magnificent” and a “rapture”. 

Michael said there had been several other Nederburg wines that had done extremely well, with some bottles fetching as much as R9 500 and R8 000 each. 

Funds raised from the Tabernacle sale are to be directed towards a project intended to honour the late Duimpie Bayly, who died last year.  He had been associated with Distell from 1962, initially when he was appointed by Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) and George Spies had been his boss. He quickly rose through the ranks and became a director, first of SFW, and then Distell. He served on the Distell board until his retirement in 2013. 

He was instrumental in the establishment of the Tabernacle in 1979, stocking it with the best of the best for comparative purposes, so the company could benchmark its efforts within an international context. He also played a key role in the selection of wines for the Nederburg Auction and remained closely connected with Chateau Libertas and its blending, likening the greatly loved red to “an old friend who never lets you down.” 

He also served on many industry organisations to build South Africa’s international wine profile, to raise industry standards and promote conservation. 

Distell is currently in consultation with industry bodies to finalise the structure of the Duimpie Bayly tribute endeavour.

About the Tabernacle:

The recently revamped Tabernacle in Stellenbosch is an underground wine library established in 1979, it archives some of South Africa’s greatest vinous treasures. It has come to serve as a most precious historical, winemaking, and cultural resource. 

Today thousands of bottles are stored here under ideal ageing conditions. The collection includes two half-bottles of Constantia wines dating back to 1821, various wines from the 1920s as well as all the other decades of the 20th century. More recently, other age-worthy reds from the 21st century have been finding their way into the Tabernacle.


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