When the Protestant Huguenots fled religious persecution in France towards the end of the 17th century, many made their way to South Africa, then a Dutch colony. Many took with them a typically French cargo, namely grape vines to plant in their new home.
Their legacy is still clearly evident today in names like Franschoek (French Valley) and in families like the Nels who own the family run Boplass estate.
Ancestors of the Nels arrived in the small settlement of Calitzdorp, surrounded by the Swartberg, Rooiberg and Kleinberg Mountains in the semi-arid Klein Karoo region, in the middle of the 19th century and set about planting vineyards and orchids in the iron red alluvial soils, the remnants of ancient glacial activity. They established their farm on a plateau overlooking the Gamka valley and named their property ‘Boplaas’, or ‘top farm’.
There the family remain to this day, though they have expanded their landholdings, and have a proud history of making fine brandies and fortified wines that has more recently included red, white and sparkling table wines too.
Over their five farms, the Nels now own 70 hectares but despite the size of the vineyards each parcel is farmed on its own merits to reflect the varying terroirs, and all the grapes from their 15 different cultivars are hand-harvested. They have also cultivated strong relationships with growers in other areas who are as committed as they are to their vineyards to provide them with exceptional fruit.
Viticulture is a sensible mix of the traditional and the new, with a fine modern winery embracing both gleaming stainless-steel tanks and old-fashioned cement fermenters. They also still make the fortified wines and pot-still brandies that made their name, and which were first exported to Britain in 1880.