Charity Auctions 30 January

Charity, we are told, begins at home, and the wine industries of the world have an enviable track record of sharing with their communities. They do this in different ways, fielding countless requests for hand-outs when needy causes come around, or setting up and managing high profile events – like charity auctions – where the well-heeled are persuaded to pay over-the-top for an extra bit of rarity.

The great grand-daddy of all these is the Hospices de Beaune, established as a hospital for the poor by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to the Dukes of Burgundy, in 1443.  The Hotel-Dieu, the original Gothic building, served the local townsfolk for over five centuries – until a new facility was built on the outskirts of the town in the 1970s. Today it is a museum offering tourists a marvellous insight into medieval life (and death). Though the annual auction only dates back to the mid-19th century, the Hospices has been selling wine produced from vineyards donated or bequeathed to it since its inception. Unsurprisingly, it owns some of the region’s finest sites, with its November auction disposing of its six week old current vintage wines – a cash-flow model which is difficult to fault. (The sale last year realised over $10m – much of which went to the new hospital.)

European sales like the Hospices auction inspired the vintners of the Napa Valley to create their own charity event in 1981. Without the vast tracts of land producing an annuity of stock for its once-a-year sale, the Napa Auction solicits donations from the wine community – once-off items – which tap into the generosity of the (mainly American) wine fraternity.

It was this model which inspired Warwick’s Michael Ratcliffe to persuade the great and good of the Cape wine industry to set up a similar annual charity sale. Sponsored by AfrAsia Bank, the inaugural (2014) auction raised R7m which was distributed to a number of largely winelands-based community initiatives. These included organisations like Kusasa, Community Keepers and the Pebbles Project focusing on education, nutrition and support services, MAD Foundation and the Maranatha Trust (education), and the CWG Protege programme and Wine Training South Africa (technical skills).

On 13/14 February Boschendal will host the second annual AfrAsia Winelands Auction. Last year’s success has undoubtedly contributed to the sumptuous array of auction items – a clear indicator that the industry’s top players have looked to the Napa model and are now vying with each other to create unique offerings.

For example, the Ellerman House lot provides for a three day stay at Ellerman House, a gastronomic extravaganza and a take-home collection of 100 wines – selected from the Ellerman House Terroir Wall – for the buyer to add to his own cellar. The Hamilton Russell lot includes a vertical selection (2005 – 2009) of the property’s Pinot Noir, an additional 5 litre bottle, a case of estate olive oil, a stay in the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve and an original work of art by Arabella Caccia. Jordan’s offering comprises three nights for three couples at the estate’s luxury suites, a degustation dinner at Jardines, a dinner at Gary & Kathy Jordan’s home and a collection of the cellar’s wines. Gyles Webb of Thelema will help the buyer to assemble his own unique 225 litre single barrel blend –  to be delivered, after bottling, as 25 cases of wine.

To be clear, none of this will be cheap. At the 2014 sale the Mulderbosch Vineyards/Fable Mountain donation – a week-long Californian Wine experience for two couples (including business class air tickets, golf and three star Michelin dining) – fetched R700k. The Glenelly Estate lot (a vertical collection of Chateau Pichon Lalande as well as a tasting with proprietor May de Lencquesaing) went for R450k. While nothing on offer this year is ordinary and not every lot will top R50k, the AfrAsia Wine Auction is a sale in the great charity wine auction tradition – not a party for bargain hunters.


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