The Nel’s of Boplaas can trace their lineage, as many South African families can, back to the very first French Huguenots who were forced to leave France due to religious persecution and made their way to the southern tip of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope in 1688.
These Huguenot families played a critical part in the agricultural history of the Cape, but moreover they brought to African shores a wine culture which has prevailed in the Cape to this day. In the mid-19th century the Nel family settled in the picturesque hamlet of Calitzdorp at the heart of the semi-arid Klein Karoo.
Nestled between the Rooiberg and majestic peaks of the Swartberg, with fertile red glacial alluvial soils fed by the Gamka and Olifants rivers, the Nel’s established their vineyards and orchids on Boplaas - meaning “top farm”, due to its location on slight plateau over-looking the Gamka valley.
Famed for the quality of potstill brandy, the Nel’s of Boplaas made their first export to London in 1880. The old oak barrels making the arduous 260 km journey by ox wagon to Worcester, then steam train to Cape Town harbour before boarding a postal ship to London.
An illustrious heritage of crafting quality wines from meticulously tended vines continues across the range of sparkling, table and fortified wines crafted today by Carel and his family on the farm – and the eponymous postill brandy is still crafted.
Since establishing the current cellar facilities in 1980, Boplaas have amassed a multitude of accolades, amongst them including: top performing cellar at Veritas 2005; top private cellar in 2009, 2011 & 2013 – while amassing 5 double gold and 6 gold medals at Veritas 2013; garnering a total of thirteen 5 Star ratings from Platters’ South African wine guide since 1994; crafting the South African Champion Sauvignon Blanc in 2009 & 2010 at the SA National Young Wine Show and winning the SA Port Trophy five times at the SA National Young Wine Show, and crafting South Africa’s first Estate Brandy with the release of the Boplaas 5 year old Potstill Brandy in 1994.
Accolades aside, it has always been our aim as family to honour oupa Danie’s declaration that, “We are wine people!” by crafting exceptional quality wines from the unique terroir of the Cape.
The old adage that “a wine is made in the vineyard” is one that we live by, as no amount of intervention in the cellar will rectify poor quality fruit or produce a fine quality wine.
The Klein Karoo and Calitzdorp in particular, poses quite a viticultural challenge with its unpredictable continental climate, its myriad of varying soil types, slopes, and aspect. However, the pronounced diurnal difference results in wines with exceptional flavour composition, elegance and brilliant colour; while the relative isolation allows us to farm free from various vineyard pests – a few of our vineyards are planted on their own rootstock.
The application of both the latest modern viticultural practices and the knowledge passed on through the generations allow us to produce the best quality fruit.
70 hectares of vineyards planted to over 17 different varietals on our five farms in and around Calitzdorp – all of which is hand harvested to ensure only the finest fruit reaches the cellar. Each vineyard parcel is farmed individually based on the wine it is intended to produce – with low to minimal yields the norm.
Since 1996, we annually source a small portion of terroir specific fruit – approximately 30 tons depending on the vintage - from exceptional vineyards spread throughout the Cape. We form long-term relationships with these few growers and work closely to determine the pruning regiment, canopy management and yields which ensure the finest quality fruit. All sourced fruit is hand-harvested before dawn and transported to Boplaas for the crafting of cellar worthy premium wines.
A seamless combination of traditional and modern wine-making techniques is applied to craft the varietal expressive, classically styled, superbly drinkable and true to terroir wines of Boplaas. Wine making is a constantly dynamic undertaking with the aim of improving quality and sending only the best to bottle. All fruit is hand-harvested and rigorous bunch selection in the vineyard is undertaken to ensure only healthy quality bunches make it to the cellar. In order to retain maximum fruit expression and freshness, all white, rosé and sparkling wines are fermented at low-temperature in stainless steel tanks and allowed a period of lees contact to enhance mid-palette and complexity prior to bottling.
Red wine production is very much a traditional process, with the fruit crushed into traditional cement fermenters or kuipe (lagares) with manual punch-down (pigeage) undertaken to extract maximum colour and flavour from the fermenting must, without the extraction of harsh seed tannins, resulting in structured wines with an element of suppleness. Our biggest kuip can hold 20 tons of fruit and takes six cellar workers an hour to thoroughly punch-down the cap, while our smallest holds a mere 2 tons of fruit. Malolactic fermentation is completed in barrel or tank – depending on the wine. A combination of various barrels and alternative oak maturation is undertaken in the crafting of the Boplaas range of red wines, while the Family Reserve are matured in a combination of small and large format new barrels.
Boplaas is synonymous with and world famous for the quality of its Cape fortified wines – these fortifieds are produced from Portuguese varietals and according to the traditional Portuguese methods perfected all those centuries ago in the Douro Valley. Our aim is to craft fine Cape fortified as stylistically correct as possible, but with that unique Cape twist – hence the utilization of Portuguese varietals, observing similar maturation regimes, meticulous blending and crafting wines for extended cellaring.
On arriving in Calizdorp, our forebears set out and planted Muscat vines for the production of raisins, table grapes, the crafting of wines and brandy. We honour their endeavouring spirit, by crafting fortified wines from Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d’Alexandria and Red Muscat in much the same way they did.
The art of crafting a fine Potstill starts with producing exceptional rabat or distilling wine - a wine low in alcohol, with good acidity, minimal sulphur and fresh fruit flavours. Colombar is utilised in the production of our rabat, which is then double distilled in a copper potstill and aged for a minimum of eight years in Limousin barrique – akin to a cognac. Boplaas was the first producer to release an Estate Brandy in 1994, with its Boplaas 5 Year Old Potstill Brandy – a blend of Colombar and Palomino.
Boplaas is situated in a small picturesque village in the Southern Cape Province, surrounded by the Swartberg, Rooiberg and Kleinberg Mountains - approximately 450 km from Cape Town on the R62.
Cold winters with snow on the nearby Swartberg Mountains. Warm summer days with a cool breeze every afternoon, with a mean February temperature (MFT) of 23.7 ºC and a low annual rainfall of 233 mm, the district of Calitzdorp has a similar climate to that of the Douro Demarcated Region. The vineyards are irrigated.
SOIL & VINEYARD SITES
The vineyards of Boplaas are located at superior sites along the Gamka River, Nel’s River and the slopes of the Gamka Valley to maximise the considerable diversity that exists in micro-climates and soil types. The different sites provide nuances of aroma and flavour, bringing complexity to the wines.
Poor soil, but well drained. A mixture of sedimentary and alluvial soil – rich in lime with a high pH.
Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Touriga Franseca, Souzao, Muscadel /Muscat de Frontignan, Colombar, Hanepoot/Muscat d’Alexandrie, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Pinot Noir, Verdelho, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay
An area of 70 hectares is planted in Calitzdorp, with contracts in Stellenbosch, Durbanville and Darling.