Bored of yachts, fast cars and jewels? Why SA's ultra-rich are dropping big money on wine

In the end, it was a glass of Samantha Lismore’s acclaimed Chardonnay, Another of the many enduring reminders of her heart-warming Greyton success story. But in fairness, it could have been a glass from any one of the dozens of bottles casually scattered about tables at the back of the marquee: whatever had been poured was going to translate into a long, rejuvenating swig of celebration after my favourite day of the wine year. Dazzling lots, startling generosity, endless bottles of South Africa’s finest vintages: welcome to another edition of the Nedbank Private Wealth Cape Wine Auction.

I’ve had that first glass post-auction for a few years now, as the event has worked its way around the Winelands, dropping in at Anthonij Rupert, Klein Constantia, Rustenberg, Boschendal and Tokara, amongst others. Beautiful locations all, and hosts to an event that even Mike Ratcliffe, the wine marketing maverick who conjured up the concept, probably wouldn’t have envisioned becoming the beacon of philanthropic endeavour that it now is.

Coming into Saturday, R71-million had been raised over five years, with some extraordinary moments along the way – including a single bottle of wine going under the hammer for R1.3-million in 2016, still a South African record. But what sits beyond the records, the accumulated lots, the fabulous wine, is a simple assurance: every single cent raised from the auction goes to the Cape Wine Auction Trust, and from there directly to a range of charities working in education across the broader Winelands area. From pre-school development to tertiary qualification, it’s a sweeping wave of much-needed support that’s already had a tangible impact on thousands of young lives.

And so to last Saturday, and a slightly overcast day at Buitenverwachting in a marquee awash with linen jackets, diamante heels and charitable intent, year six of the auction kicked off, under the guiding eyes of the event’s trustees: Ratcliffe, Wendy Appelbaum, Ken Kinsey-Quick, Iain Banner (the initial drive behind Laureus Sport For Good and the Laureus Awards), Paul Cluver (stopped frequently for selfies by guests convinced he was Niles from ‘Frasier’), and the trust’s new chairperson, Raymond Ndlovu, who joins Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, Trevor Ncube and Mazoe orange juice as great Zimbabwean success stories in South Africa.

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This year’s lots? Where to start… A trip to the Tour de France with Nederburg, with a Cervelo racing bike thrown in? Sold for R750 000. A couple of weeks hanging out in Split, including a week on a catamaran off the coast of Croatia? Another R450 000. VIP weekend at the Monaco Grand Prix, a luxury retreat on a private island in Mozambique, a week at the Naples Winter Wine Festival in Naples? All kept the numbers turning smartly. A combined Pinotage project from Eben Sadie (the surfer who makes some decent wine in his spare time), and Hamilton Russell’s Emul Ross, brought in a combined million rand, after some creative auctioneering. And then there was Madagascar…

For a father of two young children, Madagascar suggests King Julian, Alex the lion, and some of the more watchable animated movies; but it’s also an unspoilt island paradise that includes Marasova Be, a slice of island luxury owned by businessman Rob Hersov. With a sweeping fringe that sits somewhere between Robert Redford and Donald Trump, Hersov is as charismatic as he is generous and supported by some visiting Americans with a cheerful appreciation for the exchange rate, I sold a week at Marasova Be for R1-million – three times over. R3-million in total, and all of it for the greater good.

By the end of the afternoon, the grand total had soared past R15-million, making a glass of wine well deserved – as it was for the trustees, for auction director Darielle Robertson, who pulls an exceptional event together, and the assorted bidders. And so the auction once again proved one of my favourite places to drink wine: a lovely wine estate, a feelgood atmosphere, and the brilliant James Stewart quietly improving on Sting’s originals in the background. We live in a country beset with challenges, and newspaper headlines rarely offer good cheer; on Saturday afternoon, the Cape Wine Auction offered a welcome counter. And one of my most pleasurable glasses of wine of the year.

What I’m drinking this week:

Fair warning – this is something you’ll be most unlikely to get hold of. But I kindly sampled it on your collective behalf… The Cape Wine Auction is always preceded by the American Express Barrel Tasting, with a tasting of rarities complemented by some unique and unusual lots on silent auction. Vusi Mahlasela headlined the evening, but he wasn’t the only national treasure on show – Nederburg had hauled out a collection of 1974 cabernet sauvignon, and I managed a couple of tastings through the evening. The age hits your nose immediately, and there’s a smoky, well-worn feel to the wine. But it’s still in remarkable condition for a bottle that’s 45-years-old – a living testament to the quality of South African winemaking, and just what a good bottle is capable of when kept correctly. The biggest challenge? The patience required to not open a good bottle for 45 years.

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