The 2023 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction that takes place on October 6, will be the 39th since the cream of the South African wine industry decided to club together and make special, one-off wines that showcase the depth and breadth of Cape wines to an international audience. To date the auctioned wines have become collectors treasures and have also showed up on the secondary auction scene. To give potential bidders the inside track on this year’s event, South African wine expert Roger Jones flew back from his Rugby World Cup antics to London to join CWG chair Gordon Newton Johnson and others for an exclusive tasting of 40 of this year’s top wines.
“For the past decade there is for me nothing that surpasses this annual release in order to understand the quality of South African wines,” writes Jones about the 2023 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction.
In his introduction to the 2023 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction catalogue, chair Gordon Newton Johnson quotes an old African proverb that says ‘if the rhythm of the drum beat changes, we must adapt our step’. Johnson is specifically talking about climate change but more generally that ‘change is constant.’
“As winemakers and vine growers in our world today, we face a deluge of challenges and change. None as daunting to our stability than climate change. It is now our choice to change our perspective and choose progression,” Johnson says.
Encouraging change and adapting to it is one of the founding principles of the Cape Winemakers Guild, that was set up 41 years ago to not only showcase the very best in South African wine but also as a forum for sharing ideas and knowledge amongst its 40 members, and to encourage change from the bottom up through a range of mentoring programmes.
Membership is by invitation only to winemakers who have been responsible for producing outstanding wines for a minimum of five years and are active in the production of wine. One of the unique aspects of the Cape Winemakers Guild is its emphasis on collaboration among members. Each member typically produces a special wine or blend exclusively for the annual CWG Auction. This collaborative spirit allows for the sharing of knowledge, techniques, and the exploration of new winemaking ideas.
The marquee moment, as it were, is the annual auction the Guild holds, in this case the 2023 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction, which showcases bespoke cuvées of the highest quality and gives an opportunity for wine buyers for all corners to be able to access these special wines.
The main auction, together with select dinners and mini-auctions hosted from Hong Kong to Norway to London, raises money not only for charity but also for the support and development of the wine industry in South Africa through the Development Trust, Oenology Protégé Programme & Viticulture Protégé Programme.
2023 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction – getting involved
Each year the Guild hosts a special preview tasting of some of the auction’s highlights. This year’s event was hosted by Gordon Newton Johnson, Gary Jordan (past chair) and Sam Lismore (future chair) and held at The High Timber Restaurant, London which is run by Neleen Strauss and is a South African wine specialist.
Below is a list of some of my favourite wines, but you can get a full list and details here, and you can take part in the auction on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th October at Lord Charles Hotel, Somerset West, or bid online. To bid for these wines you need to register at www.capewinemakersguild.com. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of these wines elevate South Africa to a serious level, and the prices that the wines reach are far more reflective of their worth than the current undervalued prices paid for the mainstream of Cape wines.
Which wines stood out at the 2023 Cape Winemakers Guild Auction tasting?
Mullineux, Swartland “The Gris” Old Vines Semillon 2022
Semillon Gris is considered a South African phenomenon and is sought after globally. Originally (in the mid-1800s) 40% of all vineyards in South Africa were Semillon Gris, but they are few and far between now. The fruit is sourced from the Roundstone vineyard and are South Africa’s first official, legally-recognised Semillon Gris having repropagated cuttings from the original vineyard.
The wine is just mind blowing, it really is something rare and so special, the purity and intensity of fresh natural flavours are immense. This is the wine that you want in a blind tasting not only to wow but to challenge. There is texture, there is intensity with pure citrus, then herbaceous notes, some creamy texture then that pure magic that is hard to describe because… it is magical!
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Cuvée 108 Chardonnay 2014
Extended time on the lees (108 months), with 50% of the base Chardonnay aged in 205-l Pièce Champenoise French oak barrels. Focused on the front palate with hints of brioche, the texture builds, balanced with ripe citrus and fruit notes, some clementine, evolves beautifully on the palate with beady notes, youthful freshness and is a wine that will age gracefully. An amazing vibrant wine, majestic.
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay Barrel Fermented 2014
Sourced from both Robertson and Darling, 100% barrel aged in foudres and Pièce Champenoise barrels. All about complexity, textures, nutty, beady on the front then that deep vintage sparkling grace, creamy but carries well with fresh notes, enjoy this with food.
Jordan Wine Estate CWG Chardonnay 2022
Winemaker: Gary Jordan. Pure perfection, spiced, bright stone fruit, hints of floral notes, layered, mineral notes, lime freshness, delicate caramel, vanilla spice, hints of tropical fruits, fresh and pronounced at end, this wine will age beautifully.
Newton Johnson Family Vineyards, Sanford Chardonnay 2021
Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Nutty, spiced, white flowers, pineapple, tropical/Thai lime/yuzu, love the clarity in this, gunflint, reminds me of top Margaret River from Australia.
Raats Family, The Fountain Terroir Specific Chenin Blanc 2022
Winemaker: Brouwer Raats. Sourced from an old vineyard in Polkadraai Hills, Stellensbosch. Taut, focused, ginger jelly, forward and lingering, with a wow purity, love the quince, hints of mandarin and crisp, succulent pink apple and, again, gentle ginger spice.
Ataraxia, Under the Gravel Chardonnay 2022
Winemaker: Kevin Grant. Single vineyard wine from Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, this is beautiful and clean, with heather, spice and wet stone, precise clean-cut white stone fruit. A fabulous, focused easy drinking but excellent wine.
Neil Ellis Wines, Amper Bo Tempranillo 2017
Winemaker: Warren Ellis. Cocoa, spice, tobacco, bacon, full of luscious dark berries, violets and savoury herbs – I love the long, lingering freshness on the finish and great texture. This is an exciting, focused Tempranillo that delivers a fabulous mouthfeel.
Boplass Family Vineyards, CWG Daniel’s Legacy 2021
55% Touriga National, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Shiraz, 8% Tinta Barocca. Winemaker: Carel Nel. Rich and textured, blackberry and cranberry, plummy and fynbos, evolves in the glass, would benefit by decanting and ageing, but this is a delicious, layered, full-bodied wine.
Keermont Vineyards, Where Mountains Meet – Red Blend 2021
60% Syrah, 30% Cab Franc, 10% Cab Sauvignon. Winemaker; Alex Starey. Floral aromatic nose, savoury on first taste, then an array of cassis, blueberries, mocha, richly textured with a savoury spice.
Strydom Family Wines, The Game Changer Cabernet Franc – Merlot 2018
78% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot. Winemaker: Rianie Strydom. Perfumed nose, bilberries, blueberries, delicate and refined but oozing in class, hints of chocolate and spice with a lovely pretty mouthfeel on the finish.
Jordan Wine Estate, Sophia 2021
54% Cabernet, 27% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc. Winemaker: Gary Jordan. Vanilla, dark chocolate, spiced perfumed nose, then an incredible purity to this outstanding wine – blue and black fruit, silkiness, layers and layers of flavours; a wine to rest for a decade or so… superstar wine.
Delaire Graff Estate, Banghoek Cabernet Franc-Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
70% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker: Morne Very. Cedar and spice, elegant and refined, I love the purity on this wine – bright clean berries, red fruits at the fore, pure poetry.
Miles Mossop Wines, Maximilian 2020
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot. Winemaker: Miles Mossop. Dark berries, granite, spices, layers and layers of foraged hedgerow fruit, blackberries, vanilla – I love the intensity and pure focus of this wine which will be ready to drink in a decade.
Kanonkop Wine Estate, CWG Paul Sauer 2020
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot. Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. Quite outstanding, this has the wow factor, the purity is fabulous, cassis and liquorice, fresh and focused on the finish. Drinking from five years to 20 years.
Dewaldt Heyns Family Wines, CWG Shiraz Reserve 2021
Winemaker: Dewaldt Heyns. Violets on the nose, blueberries, blackberries, rose buds, cherries and dark cocoa notes, silky lingering flavours, delicate refined oak. Dark spices, firm structure – a wine to age gracefully.
Boplass Family Vineyards, Cape Tawny Colheita 2007
Winemaker: Carel Nel. This 100% Tinta Barocca showcases how good South African Colheita is – so forward and drinkable, nutty, fresh, focused, such purity, my notes kept saying delicious, this is a focused, pure fortified wine that is not too sticky.
There were, of course, so many more wines that I could write about from the tasting, but for the last decade there is for me nothing that surpasses this annual release in order to understand the quality of South African wines and why these wines should be on everyone’s lips.