‘Boplaas has blessed me with a wonderful journey’

Q&A with winemaking veteran Carel Nel on 45 vintages

The long and outstanding legacy of excellence of Boplaas was the focus of a very special tasting hosted in Cape Town recently. Among several highlights, it showcased the importance of consistent custodianship through the 45 vintages under industry veteran, Carel Nel.

Carel will again share his journey with a similar tasting on June 16 at the Calitzdorp Expressed Festival. Tickets are available on Quicket via https://tinyurl.com/5xkevwsk.

An elder member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and maker of, amongst others, the country’s most awarded range of port wines, Carel undertook his first harvest in 1979. This was shortly after completing his BSc Viticulture and Oenology degree in Stellenbosch under two great professors – Professors CJ Orffer and CJ van Wyk. 

Q&A: What were standout vintages for you?

CN: There were great vintages. I especially remember 1986, 1989, 1991, 1997, 2004 and more recently the outstanding 2006, 2009, 2013, 2015, 2020 and 2023. But there were many difficult years too. The year 1981 was marred by floods; 1996, by a lot of rain too; another very big flood – possibly the biggest in 150 years – in 2000; and the longest drought in 100 years, from 2016 to 2018.

What have you enjoyed about making a life in wine?

The people I’ve met! And there have been many – winemakers, producers, owners and people in wine. First to mind from overseas are Jean-Christoff Bourgeois of Domaine Henry Bourgeois; Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée Conti; Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin; Eva Reh of Domaine Bertagna; Robert Mondavi of Robert Mondavi Wines; Charles and Peter Symington of Symington Family Estate; and, Bruce and David Guimaraens of Taylor’s Port.

When I was invited to become a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild in 1988, I became acquainted with all members past and present, and formed lifelong friendships along the way.  The same applied when I passed my Cape Wine Masters exam in 1991. 

Great people I’ve been privileged to know include Piet Beyers, Danie de Wet as well as Pieter and Johan de Wet, Nico Myburg, Anton Bredell, the Bruwers of Bon Courage; the Retiefs of Van Loveren, the Kriges of Kanonkop, the Malans of Simonsig, Antonij Rupert of L’Ormrins, the Engelbrechts of Rust and Vrede, Neil Ellis of Neil Ellis Wines.

Boplaas’s family connections go back to the very beginning of SA wine. Tell us about that.

A passion for wine runs in the family from way back with Guilliaume Nel (1688) who owned Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch and my grandmother, Jeanette Cloete, of early Constantia winemaking family.

As for me, I was fortunate to first work with my father, Danie Nel, who loved wine and winemaking. Now, I’m equally blessed to have this history with my wife Jeanne and our children – Rozanne in marketing; Margaux, winemaker and Daniël, our distiller.

The current generation of Nels at Boplaas is the seventh.

Tell us about the wines that have come from Boplaas.

Over many years we found that Portuguese cultivars do very well in the Calitzdorp terroir, but also Muscat and Colombar, which we use for making our Boplaas brandy.

To us, the awards we’ve won is recognition of this very special place. Boplaas has won the SA Champion Port trophy 8 times; 25 Veritas Double Gold medals; 20 Platter’s guide five-stars; been voted Best Cellar in South Africa at Veritas (2005) and Best South African Cellar at the Michaelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards (2019). 

Other accolades include Master of Wine Tim Atkin choosing a Boplaas port as his best in SA three years running (2021 – 2023) and The Wine Advocate giving our ports top scores on several occasions.

Boplaas is very involved in conservation. Why?

We all know that our future relies on a healthy planet. Our species has already been here so long – a fact I’m constantly reminded of when I occasionally encounter a stone axe. These ancient tools date back hundreds of thousands of years; we need to make sure our environment continues to sustain life for hundreds of thousands more.

I believe that we’re all responsible on this journey; to leave the land in better shape than when we arrived.

Part of our mission at Boplaas included the acquisition of 5 000ha of land, which we keep for conservation. The porkbush (spekboom) that is abundant in the region and on this land too, binds three times more CO2 than what we produce through our regular farming activities.

It has been especially gratifying to see how nature has responded. A camera-trap on our land recently captured a photograph of a beautiful leopard! 

Sum up one lesson that stands out from your experience?

One thing I learned in the past 45 years is that if you don’t have a passion for wine, do not choose a career as a winemaker.

So far it has been a fantastic, blessed journey for me personally and I can’t wait to see what the next part will bring!

Carel Nel will be doing a tasting on the 16th of June in Calitzdorp at the Calitzdorp Expressed Festival. He will share his passion for wine experiences of the past 45 years while tasting some of the extraordinary vintages of wines and ports that he has made. It’s a tasting experience not to be missed. Tickets are available on Quicket!

For more information about Boplaas and its portfolio of excellent wines and spirits, email admin@boplaas.co.za or call 044 213 3326. Boplaas is also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Boplaas1880/).

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