Interview: Hannes Nel of Lourensford
By Christian Eedes, 12 June 2015
From the June issue of Business Day WANTED: On the edge of Somerset West, at the foot of the Helderberg mountains, lies businessman Christo Wiese’s vast estate called Lourensford. It’s 4 000ha in size with some 110ha under vineyard and the man tasked with turning the grapes into wine is 37-year-old Hannes Nel.
Nel started as a microbiologist in charge of quality control in 2002 and his interest in wine quikly grew with him being appointed as winemaker with special focus on white wines in 2008 and then becoming cellar master in 2013.
He is married to Lieze, a freelance classical musician and the live on Lourensford in a restored labourer’s house. “The quietness and beauty around us is such a blessing. It’s also super-convenient living on the farm – if I leave our home at 7h27, I can still make the 7h30 meeting every morning unless there is a slow tractor in front of me”, he says.
Lourensford is owned by business tycoon Christo Wiese. What’s he like to work for and how much is he involved in the running of the property?
Dr Wiese is not involved in the day-to-day running of so we do not see him often but he’s a great gentleman and always friendly and curious to know how it is going when he sees me.
What makes the Lourensford vineyards special?
Our biggest advantage is that due to the size of the property, we have just about every possible slope and microclimate available to us – this means we can match each variety to a site which suits it best.
What variety or wine style do you think Lourensford does best and why?
Chardonnay and Merlot. Lourensford is kind of like Burgundy married to Languedoc-Roussillon where Chardonnay is the bride and Merlot the groom. That is maybe the best way to describe our unique terroir, our two hero cultivars and style of wine.
You’re very committed to conservation. Tell about some of the recent projects on the farm.
At the moment we are clearing alien vegetation in the catchment area of the Lourens River and restoring it to its natural state as Van Der Stel found in back in the 1700s.
You originally studied microbiology. Does this give you a particular advantage when it comes to winemaking?
I would think so, yes. Not necessarily due my theoretical understanding of the subject, but more just the way of thinking and applying a broad scientific approach to winemaking because to me it is as much a science as it is an art. You need to be a master in both.
What has been your most memorable wine experience?
So many unique moments to savour… One that stands out was tasting Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru – Les Gras Pinot Noir from the barrel with the winemaker of Domaine Hudelot-Baillet in Burgundy and him afterwards giving me a bottle that sells for 280 euro.
You’re into mountain biking. What’s the appeal?
Being out in nature combined with the adrenaline of the ride. It is where I get my most innovative creative ideas. It is almost as if everything on my mind shakes into position without trying. I am a more balanced person after every mountain biking session.
What make of bike do you have?
Scott Elite Racing 29er.
Favourite track to ride?
The private tracks of Lourensford.
What is your ideal food pairing with the Lourensford Shiraz?
Grilled kudu or springbok loin set on a sultana cous cous bed and complimented by a rich, sweet cranberry jus. Alternatively, lamb tjops on the braai with a sweet or slightly spicy basting sous.