SUNDAY TIMES - SideBar: Big price for crown jewel
Sunday Times STLive By NEIL PENDOCK, 2011-06-19 04:48:03.0

SideBar: Big price for crown jewel

AS OLD AS THE HILLS: Klein Constantia first produced wine in 1689 and is renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling cultivars Picture: © KLEIN CONSTANTIA

Two decades ago Gerald Ratner was the world's largest jeweller, operating 2500 shops.

 Yet two jokes at a public dinner killed his business: he told his audience that some of his earrings were "cheaper than a prawn sandwich" and one of his products "was total crap".

The UK tabloids carried his remarks and hard-pressed consumers did not share his sense of humour; £500-million was quickly wiped off the market value of his company.

Which could explain why that other London jeweller, Laurence Graff, played hide-and-seek earlier this year with De Telegraaf gossip columnist Willem Kool at Graff's palatial Delaire estate high above the Banghoek Valley.

Ratner went for psychiatric help for his bad case of foot in mouth, but soon gave up the pills for cycling. He now rides 40km a day and set up a chain of health clubs in the process, which he sold for £4-million in 2001. Which confirms that bicycles are great vehicles for business deals, as does the sale last month of Klein Constantia estate to two foreign cyclists who took part in the Cape Argus.

Wine snobs and royalists will be pleased to learn that one of them, Charles Harman, was until recently head of UK investment banking at JP Morgan Cazenove, and Cazenove are stockbrokers to the Queen.

The other, Zdenek Bakala, is a Czech-born coal and iron billionaire. Since our homegrown coal billionaire turned wine farmer, Graham Beck, passed away last year, there is a pleasing continuity in this purchase. After all, coal is just compressed vegetation on its way to becoming diamonds for the likes of Mr Graff to sell - renewable resources becoming non-renewable ones.

The sale shook up the spittoon, with FNB MD Michael Jordaan (a sleeping partner at Banghoek estate Bartinney) tweeting what was on everyone's mind: "price?"

Klein Constantia MD Lowell Jooste replied: "We decided to keep the sale price a private matter but can confirm that KC had no borrowings".

Sleuthing has unearthed a "best guess" price of R220-million for 82ha of vineyards on an historic 146ha estate. That probably includes a fair amount of unsold stock and there are probably a couple of residential stands near the road that can be excised to reduce the price by a couple of bars. But it looks like our cycling bankers paid something approaching R2.5-million/ha of vineyard.

If Klein Constantia vineyards are worth that much then how much for Groot Constantia, an estate so popular with the 200 000 annual Chinese visitors that the tasting room is nicknamed Beijing Central Station.

As the prices of Château Lafite on auction in Hong Kong regularly prove, the market for Western icons lies in the east. Perhaps Pam Golding should pack for Beijing.

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