It is ‘new-release’ season. As we move out of winter the wines of 2015 and longer-aged 2014s start showing their true colours and are released to the market. High inflation, the weak Rand and surging demand, both local and globally, is dramatically pushing up the prices of fine South African wine. An opportune time even considering our depressed economic outlook, the increases are being matched by higher quality wines. Early praise for the 2015 vintage is fast being confirmed. I have yet to taste better young South African wines, especially the whites. Supply is constrained by a handful of small producers and leading wine estates that have ability to push the quality limit.
The Sadie Family, arguably South Africa’s finest producer, has been rather conservative with an average increase of 10% in their prices for 2016. Icon Columella is priced at R750 for the 2014 vintages, seemingly expensive, it is relatively cheap compared to its luxury counterparts. The Mullineux Family and Alheit Vineyards have been more aggressive with their new releases, moving up 20% and 28% respectively. Mullineux Single Terroir Syrahs are now R900 per bottle while Alheit’s flagship whites of Magnetic North Mountain Makstok and Radio Lazarus are over R600 per bottle. One of South Africa’s most expensive wines, Delaire’s flagship Laurence Graaf jumped this year by 33% to R2450 per bottle. Reportedly fully allocated both overseas and locally, there will unlikely be much resistance to these new price levels.
South Africa produces 12 wines that currently sell on release at over R1000 per bottle. A precious few compared to any of the other fine wine countries, and none in any serious volume either. Wine aficionados who buy international wines will know that good Bordeaux costs at least R1000 per bottle. Burgundy, Piedmont, Champagne or Napa Valley Cabernet also starts at this level and then moves swiftly to many multiples-of. Even though South Africa is currently producing some of the world’s most exciting wines, the weak Rand makes us look remarkably cheap.
Wine Cellar recently hosted a ‘luxury taste-off’ in Cape Town and Johannesburg pitting SA’s most expensive wines together in a blind tasting. The aim was for the consumer to decide on South Africa’s top luxury red, pride, prejudice, label and variety aside. While many of the wines are specifically aimed at this luxury segment, adorned with over-the-top-packaging, heavy bottles and modern styling, the winner in both cities represented something more. The Kanonkop Black Label (R 1450) harks from South Africa’s oldest Pinotage vineyard, planted in 1950. It produces just 3000 odd bottles and the 2014 vintage astonished the tasters with its pure fruit and old vine depth. Most of the line-up was represented by reserve selections however, meaning they are less constrained by vineyard supply.
The R1000 mark was breached at the 2013 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction and the blue-chips moved swiftly to R2000 per bottle in 2015. Small volumes from highly demanded producers such as Boekenhoutskloof and Hartenberg will continue to push prices this year, going under the hammer on 1 October. The Nederburg Auction, the New World’s oldest, has also seen dramatic increases in prices over the last three years. Kanonkop regularly receives the highest prices for younger vintages with the Paul Sauer, moving to over R2000 per bottle. Featuring more mature Cape wines that were selected by International experts, it takes place on 16 and 17 September.
Before you feel that R1000 is more accurate for a case than a bottle, producing fine wine is an expensive endeavour. Besides operating on diseconomies of scale, any profits are reinvested into achieving further quality gains. High interest rates and inflation makes owning top vineyards extremely costly, while finding, reviving and securing old vineyards can be even more so. A producer at one of the release tastings told me that grapes on one of his precious vineyards cost effectively R100 000 per tonne after taking into account the intensive farming required. Eben Sadie pays R 26 per cork for his signature wines. At this price, the cork company guarantees a replacement of the wine swiftly via courier anywhere around the world if there is a cork defect.
As the Sterling lost ground following the Brexit vote, European wines jumped in price on the world’s premier fine wine market. World wine authority Jancis Robinson subsequently highlighted South Africa as offering the best value wines in the UK. Even when paying in ZAR, we are in fact spoilt with value. If you are lucky enough to lay your hands on the 2015 Old Vine Series from The Sadie Family, R 260 buys you greatness. The T’Voetpad is made from a field blend of five old varieties on the north-west side of the Piquetberg Mountains. Planted in 1887, it is South Africas’ oldest known vineyard and matches the quality of world benchmarks at literally ten times the price.