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Monday Dec 12, 2011

Top wine estate goes for song in minutes

Prestigious Stellenbosch wine estate Quoin Rock was auctioned for R60.5 million yesterday in a deal experts described as an "absolute bargain".

An aerial view of the manor house.

The 200ha estate was bought by businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum, who already owns the De Morgenzon wine farm in Stellenbosch, for about half its value, estimated at R120m.

This follows Weekend Argus reports that the wine industry is in crisis.

South Africa's best paid executive, Shoprite managing director Whitey Basson, was the highestprofile person to bid at the auction. Yet Basson wasn't prepared to offer more than R50m for the farm, even though that would amount to a little less than his average monthly income of R52m.

According to the latest Moneyweb survey of executive remuneration, Basson earns R627.6m annually.

Basson conferred with Christo Wiese, the eighth richest person in Africa and the chairman of Pepkor and Shoprite, while bidding, according to sources.

Foreign buyers, represented by Deon Leygonie, bid up to R45m, but refused to go further.

Appelbaum, director of Women's Investment Portfolio and the Wits Donald Gordon medical centre, and the daughter of Liberty founder Donald Gordon, has been voted one of the leading women entrepreneuers in the world. She's known as an organic farmer who plays classical music, including Bach, Handel and Mozart, to her vineyards from specially erected speakers.

Quoin Rock has a spectacular homestead and a state-of-the-art Italian-style wine cellar with a capacity of 300 to 350 tons.

The estate was liquidated and auctioned off to pay part of a R2.3 billion debt the previous owner, businessman Dave King, owes Sars.

Disappointed wine farmers watched the farm go for a song in the space of about 10 minutes. In 2004/2005 such a wine farm could have fetched up to R1m a hectare, but fetched only R250 000 a hectare yesterday, experts said.

Auction Alliance CEO Rael Levitt suggested R75m as an opening bid, but bidding started at just R30m.

When Appelbaum bid R55m, Levitt commented: "That's the price of an apartment in Clifton."

However, that was the highest bid and the total came to R60.5m once the commission was added, said Levitt.

The extent of the farm.

Simonsig wine estate owner Francois Malan said: "She got a real bargain. It was hopelessly undersold. Now, an incredible amount of work awaits her as she tries to market the brand and the wine to the world. I wish her the best of luck."

Mike Orpen, the owner of Blijdskap wine farm near Paarl, said it was "a very big bargain in a high-value wine area". Elgin wine farmer Derek Corder said Appelbaum was "very lucky" to get the farm for "an absolute bargain".

A wine cellar alone would cost about R40m to R50m, said Corder.

The owners of Quoin Rock's neighbouring farms, Delheim and Murati wine estates, welcomed Appelbaum. Delheim wine estate owner Victor Sperling said it was "a shame the farm went for so little, but it's great to have Appelbaum as a neighbour as she's already in the industry".

Rijk Melck, the owner of Murati wine estate, said: "It's fantastic that Wendy and Hylton bought the farm. It's the right time to buy, they're good people and it's a great opportunity for them."

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)

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