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The Best Wines of 2019’s Cape Winemakers Guild Auction

On October 5, 2019, the 35th Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Auction will take place at Spier Conference Centre in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Long regarded as the country’s leading wine auction, the annual event offers both the general public and wine trade the opportunity to acquire rare, limited-edition and small-batch selections produced exclusively for the occasion by members of the Cape Winemakers Guild (CWG), an association of 45 of South Africa’s best winemakers.

Established in 1982, the Cape Winemakers Guild was formed to promote education, exploration and collaboration among South Africa’s top winemakers. Membership to the Guild is by invitation, and only extended to established winemakers that are recognized for their high standards and consistent quality of wine. Only one employee of a winery may be an active Guild member at a time.

In 1999, the Guild established the Nedbank Cape Winemakers Guild Development Trust, the auction beneficiary that supports social development through education in the South African wine industry. The Guild’s Protégé Programme, a development program that offers three-year internships to mentor the next generation of winemaking and viticultural talent, was also introduced in 2006, reinforcing the Guild’s objective to promote trade education and foster craftsmanship and consciousness within the country’s wine industry.

The wines created specifically for this event are small-production gems that cannot be sold commercially elsewhere, meaning they are some of the most rare and unique wines in the world. They all bear a newly-redesigned Cape Winemakers Guild label, which prominently features the winemaker’s name and signature, to reinforce the organization’s intent to promote members’ winemaking excellence as opposed to just an employing winery or brand.

The wines of South Africa’s Cape Winemakers Guild Auction 2019

There are a few items of note for this year’s auction. Like last year, there are many fine wines from two superb vintages: 2015 and 2017. The 2015 reds are just starting to come into their own and express some personality, though they’re still young. Primary notes suggest many years of life and great maturation ahead of them.

The 2017s, whites and reds, are largely superb wines of power, structure and stunning balance. It’s a shame to imagine anyone fully enjoying these wines now, as one sip is all it takes to taste the full potential of beauty and evolution in front of them. The 2016s largely feel more approachable right now, and work better for medium-term enjoyment as you’re waiting for the ’15s and ’17s to suitably mature.

Beyond vintage, a new theme has also emerged among the selections crafted for this year’s auction. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between old and new at play, with some lots demonstrating a great sense of CWG tradition, while others test the limits by offering new selections or playing with boundary-breaking styles.

Case in point: Gary Jordan produced his 16th vintages of both his CWG Chardonnay and Sophia Bordeaux-style red blend this year, while Frans Smit’s Spier 2017 Farm House Organic Chenin Blanc is the winemaker’s first organic and naturally produced wine, as well as the first organic wine to be offered at the auction.

Never one to settle, the innovative and inimitable Andrea Mullineux offers a taste of both old and new in her two auction lots. Mullineux’s 2018 The Gris Old Vines Sémillon, a now-rare variety that at one point comprised around 40% of the Cape Winelands’ grape plantings, is made from a Heritage Vineyard registered with the Old Vine Project. Meanwhile, her Leeu Passant 2014 Radicales Libres, an extended barrel-aged Chardonnay, spent five years in oak and is considered part of a burgeoning “Extended Barrel Aged Wine” category of wine in South Africa.

This year’s auction also marks the last for Pinotage champion Beyers Truter. A member of the Guild since 1985, the auction’s inaugural year, the 2017 CWG Traildust Pinotage will be his final offering for the annual event.

There are 46 items on auction this year, representing 1,930 six-pack cases of wine available for purchase. This year’s offerings include 27 red wines, 12 white wines, three Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) sparkling wines and one fortified wine, as well as one brandy.

For more information about the Guild’s 35th auction on October 5, 2019, or to sign up for proxy bidding, visit the Cape Winemakers Guild or email CWG General Manager Kate Jonker at

Groot Constantia 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild Gouverneurs Auction Reserve (Constantia)
Groot Constantia 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild Gouverneurs Auction Reserve (Constantia) / Photo courtesy Cape Winemakers Guild

Top Red Wines

Groot Constantia 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild Gouverneurs Auction Reserve (Constantia); 95 points. Winemaker: Boela Gerber. This blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon and 46% Cabernet Franc is not shy or slight in intensity or personality. A rich, opulent nose of ripe blackberry, boysenberry and black plum form the bouquet. There’s a classic cassis tone to it all, with a mentholated accent and additional notes of char, cigar box and leather that are similarly classic and enticing. The palate is bold and structured, with serious mouthcoating tannins that lend a lasting dry impression to the spicy, evolving finish. The concentration of black fruit along with moderate acidity form a complete, cohesive package that shows a ton of long-term potential and promise. Hold until 2028 and through 2038. Cellar Selection.

Miles Mossop 2014 Cape Winemakers Guild Maximilian (Stellenbosch); 95 points. Winemaker: Miles Mossop. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon starts off closed and shy, but slowly, with time, reveals itself to be more like a butterfly that is beginning to emerge from its cocoon. With another decade to two of life ahead of it, it currently offers tight, spicy blackberry, plum and mulberry on the nose, with tons of earthy herbs and cedary spice acting as framework. It’s medium-plus in weight, yet boldly structured and fruited, with more intensity and fruit concentration on the palate than the nose suggests. Gripping tannins lend a firm mouthfeel, with lingering notes of toasted oak, pepper and blackberry bramble on the close. Hold until 2025 and enjoy through 2033. Cellar Selection.

Kanonkop 2017 Cape Winemakers Guild CWG Pinotage (Simonsberg-Stellenbosch); 94 points. Winemaker: Abrie Beeslaar. This starts off shy and reserved, with tight wood tones that seem to currently cover the black plum and cherry fruits that sit beneath. It’s more herbal and spicy in nature right now than fruit-forward, with leather and cured sweet-game tones. It’s medium-plus in weight, with a plush feel to the midpalate that is lifted by bright acidity and a fine yet firm structure of tannic support through the finish. This is an infant now, but will surely continue to harmonize and coalesce well through 2035, though best to resist opening prior to 2025. Cellar Selection.

Mullineux 2018 Cape Winemakers Guild The Gris Old Vine Semillon (Swartland)
Mullineux 2018 Cape Winemakers Guild The Gris Old Vine Semillon (Swartland) / Photo courtesy Cape Winemakers Guild

Top White Wines

Mullineux 2018 Cape Winemakers Guild The Gris Old Vine Semillon (Swartland); 95 points. Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. This wine smells lovely but young, with a ton of potential behind it. Yellow melon rind, lightly toasted apple, clove-studded orange peel and orange-ginger tea dance on the nose, with just a hint of jasmine. The palate is medium in weight but surprisingly concentrated in feel, though any opulence is quickly countered by a bright seam of refreshing acidity and a pronounced thread of sweet spice and citrus-pith bitterness that lends a superb texture and overall impression to it all. It’s hard to resist now, but with all the boxes checked, this has the stuffing to mature incredibly well. Try again after 2024 and will likely hold well for the next decade beyond. Cellar Selection.

Leeu Passant 2014 Cape Winemakers Guild Radicales Libres Chardonnay (Klein Karoo); 93 points. Winemaker: Andrea Mullineux. An ode to the mature, concentrated white wines of Jura or Rioja, this is, without a doubt, a wine to contemplate. It’s a complex, layered, mature and slightly oxidized experience, with pronounced nuttiness and a slight mushroom umami-like tone partnered with beautiful sea spray, citrus pith, white melon rind, apple core, straw and toasted brioche tones. The palate is full and weighty, with ripe melon, apple and orange tones that transition into a supremely sweet-spice and savory impression that carries through to the long, evolving finish.

Newton Johnson 2018 Cape Winemakers Guild Sandford Chardonnay (Hemel-en-Aarde Valley); 93 points. Winemaker: Gordon Newton Johnson. Aromas of toasted apple, orange rind, lemon oil and apple pie lead the nose of this attractive white. The palate is rich and ripe, but balanced by beautiful, creeping acidity and a pleasant, lightly pithy texture that lends structure to the palate and length through the close. Flavors of toasted apple, melon rind and orange peel abound, with a final lingering impression of cedar-grilled apple and light baking spice. Lovely and well balanced; drink after 2025. Cellar Selection.

See the full list of reviews for this year’s auction wines.