Through the grapevine

Just as SA’s finest wines are about to go under the hammer at Strauss & Co’s first Cape Town Fine Wine Auction on 14 September, we caught up with wine authority Higgo Jacobs on the vinous path ahead for his ground-breaking joint venture with the leading auction house and Wine Cellar fine wine merchants (WineCellar.co.za).

Q: Tell us a bit about your penchant for wine and the twenty-year journey that led you to become partner and curator of the Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions.

 A: I have always been drawn to the beauty and mystery that sets fine wines apart from the vast majority of wine that sits more comfortably in the fast-moving consumer goods category. Wines at the very top end are shaped by seasons, places and people. This is what I have learnt from my time in the industry. Whether working a harvest, selling in retail, or on the restaurant floor, I was naturally drawn to the intrigue of the world’s best wines. I am clearly not alone in my conviction that South Africa’s finest wines belong in the dialogue of international fine wine, but unfortunately, commercially speaking, it is not. After coordinating the selection process of the well-established Nederburg Auction (sic) since 2011, I became increasingly convinced that the establishment of a secondary market and promotion of the age-ability of our wines has a large role to play in unlocking our potential at the top end. Numerous conversations with Roland Peens of Wine Cellar fine wine merchants were had since 2016 with dreams of a new auction, and when I was serendipitously introduced to Frank Kilbourn and Strauss came on board there was no looking back.

Q: Remarkable times for South African wine and for our secondary wine market. Share some insights?

A: Many international commentators have expressed that South Africa is the most exciting wine producing country in the world at the moment. The reason for this is the camaraderie among young winemakers exploring and unlocking the potential of our very diverse vineyard landscape on top of an established history dating back 350 years. One has to be realistic and mention that this is not the easiest of times to launch a new platform in the luxury goods sector in South Africa, but when isolating the momentum purely in South African fine wine, the time is right to move now. Launching something like this has tremendous challenges, many unforeseen, but the natural fit of the partnership with Wine Cellar and Strauss & Co means we have the tools and expertise to adapt to challenges.

Q: Ahead of the highly anticipated 14 September Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auction set to be held at the Westin, please elaborate on ‘Fine Wine Week’?

A: In the lead-up to the auction we’ve put together a series of fine wine experiences running from 10 to 13 September which serve to highlight our most remarkable auction lots. Among these experiences is the Marquis Event, a hedonistic ‘First Growth Bordeaux’ dinner at FYN restaurant, focusing on the 1998 First Growth lot. Then, Master of Wine Tim Atkin will host a public tasting of his 95+ point wines, poured by South Africa’s leading winemakers themselves. Wine Cellar Director Roland and I will also present a Fine Wine Workshop and finally, none other than our leading South African winemaker Eben Sadie will host a once-in-a-lifetime vertical tasting of his iconic red, Columella. You can book all of these experiences on the Wine Cellar website Winecellar.co.za.

Q: Tell us about one of your highlights on the Fine Wine Week calendar?

A: It’s incredibly exciting to be hosting award-winning wine writer and Master of Wine Tim Atkin at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town on Friday the 13th of September from 3:30 to 7pm. Tim has over 30 years of fine wine experience and will be sharing his ‘Wines of the Year’ scoring 95+ points on the eve of the release of his 7th annual South African Report. You’ll taste South Africa’s finest young wines, poured by the winemakers themselves, at R500 per person. Tim will also present his podium winners (winemaker of the year, young winemaker of the year, red and whites of the year, as well as best new discoveries and more) on the evening. These wines are tomorrow’s icons and they tie in wonderfully with the Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auction, which features rare vintages of South Africa’s best wines.

Q: And of course all of these experiences lead up to the very first Cape Town Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auction. What can we expect?

A: Yes indeed! After a successful first auction held in Johannesburg on 8 June, Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions will host 2019 flagship fine wine auction in Cape Town on the 14th of September from 10am. Not only will the sale include South Africa’s finest and rarest wines, there is also an incredible line-up of icons from Bordeaux and throughout Europe is on offer.

Q: Auctions can seem daunting and inaccessible. Is there a barrier to entry?

A: Even though we are passionate about fine wine, we would like to avoid the often stifling, affected culture that can surround wine. The Strauss & Co auction is purely a business platform and is open to the public. Anyone interested in buying can simply register and on the day, come and go as they please.

Our full auction catalogue will be released on the Strauss & Co website on 23 August. Absentee and telephone bidding is also available. For more information you can visit www.straussart.co.za/strausswine or contact Sarah Papenfus on wine@straussart.co.za

Q: Which wines would you recommend buying at this auction?  

A: All of them. The whole auction features wine highlights. We have made a selection for the catalogue after receiving multiple wines for consideration. And it has to be kept in mind that we only call for fine wines from the Cape’s blue-chip producers. So, it’s a selection within a selection. But if I’m pressed into a further selection within the catalogue it will come down more to personal preference. The old Veenwouden Classics, Sequillo Red & White, Mount Sutherland Syrah 2009 & 2010 and the old KWV ports will be good value buys and just delicious to drink, while wines like Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 1997, MR De Compostella 2007, Cordoba Crescendo 2002, Stellenzicht Syrah 1994, Kaapzicht 1947 Chenin 2013 and of course the Chateau Libertas 1957 and GS ‘66 are simply unicorns that fine wine enthusiasts should try at least once.