574 years of South African wine icons under the hammer with Strauss & Co

Multiple records were smashed on the 14 September Strauss & Co Virtual Live Auction that featured 5 iconic single bottle lots of South African wines as part of the combined art and wine Impression / Expression catalogue. The marquee lot and expectedly the star of the sale, a bottle of Grand Constance 1821 fetched a staggering R967,300 including commission, doubling an earlier auction record in April this year. This extremely rare bottle of sweet wine, likely destined for Napoleon before his death in 1821, is in fine condition and was of owned by the Malan family.

Notably all 5 wines sold are in fine and drinkable condition, having all been tasted recently with high acclaim by local and international critics. The age of the 5 wines collectively add up to 574 years, which captured the imagination of bidders with their incredible history, provenance and rare collectability.

The coveted 1957 vintage of South Africa’s oldest red wine – Chateau Libertas and the iconic GS Cabernet Sauvignon 1966 both achieved R91,040. The former, a 100 pointer from Greg Sherwood MW, and the latter 20/20 from Jancis Robison are record prices for red South African wines. Both bottles have recently been re-corked, ensuring perfect condition and longevity.

The night belonged to the sweets though, firmly establishing South Africa’s status as a producer of world-class sweet wines, both historically and today. The first commercial vintage of the Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 1987 achieved R34,140, while a 275ml bottle of the Jaubert Family Muscat d’Alexandrie, drawn from a 115L barrel in care of the Joubert family for more than 200 years and seven generations, fetched R91,040.

South Africa was firmly in the company of the fine wines of the world tonight at the Strauss & Co Virtual live sale,” says wine auction partner Higgo Jacobs. “We are incredibly happy with the results, both for the sellers but also for South African wine in general. These positive results will go a long way to elevate the status of iconic, historic South African wine.”

The Strauss & Co fine wine auctions are a collaboration between Strauss & Co, SA’s leading fine wine merchant WineCellar.co.za and wine auction partner Higgo Jacobs.



Talking wine with Higgo Jacobs from Strauss & Co Fine Wine auctions

Higgo Jacobs – SU alumnus and sommelier-at-large

Higgo Jacobs’ career path to his current role as businessman and sommelier-at-large is as interesting as the image of him, dressed in a tie, skateboarding down Portobello Road in Notting Hill towards his former job at the dignified establishment of Jeroboams Wine Merchants.

Higgo, who matriculated from Calitzdorp High School in 1997, worked in several tasting rooms and cellars before, during and after his BA Law studies at Stellenbosch University (SU) to pay his way.

An excellent job offer to become a sales manager for Hoopenburg Wines, a boutique wine farm near Stellenbosch, shortly after graduating kept him on this path a while longer.

“I never thought about working in the wine industry as a long-term option. I saw it as gap year – a way to pay off my study loan, to travel and to gain some experience.”

But the wine industry gave him a passport to the world. His first flight ever was to London to represent Hoopenburg Wines at an event there. He moved to the UK in 2006 after being offered a job by Anthony Byrne Fine Wines, a wine importer in London, and eventually he became an employee of the fine wine retailer Jeroboams in Notting Hill.

Higgo describes this time as an absolute highlight. He was exposed to wines from around the world and his interest in what goes on inside a wine bottle started to grow. He regularly attended wine tastings and started doing wine courses to expand his knowledge.

However, his first attempt to qualify as a sommelier was not successful.

“I passed the theory and tasting categories with flying colours, but miserably failed the service part. It was much more difficult than I expected!” He trained for his second attempt by shadowing sommeliers at restaurants in the evenings and finally received his qualification as a certified sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

When he returned home, there were fewer than ten internationally qualified sommeliers in South Africa. While working at Steenberg Hotel in Constantia and studying for his LLB through UNISA, Higgo was instrumental in establishing the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA) and he currently serves as its chairman. The association’s aim is to help uplift and promote the service of wine in South Africa and it provides training and mentorships to guarantee the continuous development of professional standards. It is a member of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale(ASI) and starting next year (2018), it will also offer an ASI diploma.

“Through this whole process, I kept on thinking that I would ‘grow up’ and get a ‘serious’ job. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be challenged and stimulated. But when SASA was established – an association for a profession that hadn’t really been acknowledged in South Africa until then – all these fears were laid to rest. I got to use the skills I learned at university, but with a completely different angle of impact.

“We now have approximately 400 members and 30 internationally qualified sommeliers in South Africa. We are involved with events such as the Inter Hotel Challenge as well as the Best Young Sommelier and the Best Sommelier in South Africa competitions. The winner of the Best Sommelier in South Africa competition also competes internationally.”

If you ask him about success stories, he tells you about Tinashe Nyamudoka, who won the Wine Steward category in the Inter Hotel Challenge four years ago and now serves as sommelier at the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, crowned "Restaurant of the Year" in South Africa for the past six years. He is also a SASA board member.

The development of these young sommeliers and the industry as a whole is the primary reason why Higgo is not bored with his career choice.

When he is not honouring his responsibilities as SASA chairperson, he runs his own business as sommelier-at-large, acting as a consultant, advising clients on their wine lists, training staff, organising events and selecting wines for the annual Nederburg wine auction, among other things. He also acts as a judge at international competitions. In fact, his diary is quite full with current responsibilities and future plans.

“The industry is young and the profession offers so many opportunities. I constantly have to reinvent myself and I enjoy the challenge.”

Higgo Jacobs | All Rights Reserved 2014