Spirits have been distilled at Boplaas since 1880, when the first order of potstill brandy casks were sent to Cape Town by ox wagon for delivery to London. In those days taxes could be paid with brandy. After the repeal of distilling licenses in the early 1920’s, Boplaas’ copper potstill lay dormant for almost 70 years until it was fired up again in 1989, when legislation changed. Five years later, in 1994, Boplaas released the very first estate brandy. It was baptised Boplaas 5 Year Potstill Brandy and served at the presidential inauguration banquet of Nelson Mandela.
Other than the patience and passion of the distiller, the following factors play a key role in the production of excellent aged spirits:
1. Quality raw materials and fermentation
The first and most important step involves the selection of quality raw ingredients. At Boplaas, this comprises of Colombar grapes for brandy and South African yellow maize for whisky. In the process of distillation, fermented wine or beer is concentrated by the removal of water. Not only is the alcohol concentrated, but flavoured too. Good elements as well as any traces of bad can be intensified in this process, it is essential that only the finest ingredients be used, under the most hygienic conditions.
Concentrating flavours by distillation is the easiest part of a distiller’s task. At Boplaas, we like to go low and slow when the application of heat is required. A consistent heat source allows the distiller better control. Also, it’s only by a gradual increase in temperature that accurate cuts can be made to select the best parts of the spirit. It takes much longer, and patience is key. The spirit’s journey to perfection has, however, only begun and the long wait is yet to come.
3. Barrel ageing
A combination of French and 200-litre American oak barrels are used for ageing Boplaas whisky and brandy. The spirit interacts with the wood over time to form complex new flavours that differ from barrel to barrel. All the barrels we use are older and were previously used in the ageing of some of the South Africa’s top ruby, vintage and tawny ports. This is crucial in our process as the wood from the barrel is seasoned with the beautiful flavours of these port wines and then imparts this character to the whisky and brandy. Our whisky is aged for a minimum of five years, and six years for the Tawny Port Cask Finish.
4. Angels’ Share
The so-called “angels’ share” is the portion of ageing spirit that evaporates through the porous wood of the barrel. It may seem like a waste. After all, why don’t distilleries just seal their barrels? Evaporation is, however, a necessary part of the process in the development of a fine spirit. Distillers like to think of this “loss” as the requirement shared with the angels in exchange for a smoother and more concentrated drink. In the Klein Karoo, where we’re located, the angels are especially thirsty. Due to the extreme climate, some 6-8% of the spirit evaporates per year compared to the average of around 2% in the Scottish Highlands.
Barrels have individual character, which explains the wide variation of flavour they impart to the spirit. Once the spirit is optimally matured, the barrels are selected, and their contents blended to merge them into a single expression. It’s no surprise then, that the job of blending takes great skill and often generations to perfect. It is indeed an art in itself.
HOW PORTUGUESE VARIETIES
ARRIVED AT BOPLAAS
The presence of Portuguese grape varieties in Calitzdorp can be explained through events of chance and a fortunate accident or two. Most importantly, once it had found its way here, it thrived thanks to the climate and soils that are ideally suited to them.
The story begins in the 1970’s, when Boplaas patriarch Oupa Daniel Nel returned from a visit to the Swartland with his Chevy El Camino packed with bottles of Pinotage and Shiraz. His friends and neighbours needed no encouragement to make short work of the Shiraz. So, it was decided this was a variety to plant.
Vines were sourced and planted. Only later was it discovered – partly by Carel, Oupa Danie’s son who is now Boplaas owner and cellar master, that something was amiss.
Carel was studying Oenology at the University of Stellenbosch when it was revealed his father’s vines were Tinta Barocca and not the intended Shiraz. A trip to Portugal followed and soon the Nel’s had befriended many of the Douro’s top port producers, from whom they gained valuable insights that shaped Boplaas’ own legacy of fine wines.
Carel was instrumental in raising the quality of port wine in South Africa.
Today, sixth generation winemaker, Margaux Nel, completed her MSc degree in Viticulture from the University of Stellenbosch on terroir of Touriga Nacional and has followed in her father’s footsteps making some of the most awarded Portuguese variety table wines.
Boplaas now thrives with the involvement of the 6th generation Nels that brings new energy and inspiration. Rozanne heads-up Marketing, Margaux as Winemaker and Daniel as Distiller and Marketer.
The long history of Boplaas is signposted by numerous milestones. Among them, are:
Winning the SA Champion Port Trophy ten times as well as two titles as SA Champion Sauvignon Blanc; and, the SA Champion Red Blend Trophy at the SA Young Wine Show.
Being named Best Cellar at the 2019 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards; and, at the Veritas Awards in 2005 as well as Best Private Cellar at Veritas in 2009, 2011, and 2013.
In total Boplaas has received 28 double gold medals at Veritas and 22 Platter 5-star ratings.
Carel Nel is a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and received the highest rating for his 2022 CWG Auction wine from US-based Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate with a score of 95+ points.
Discover the rich heritage and tradition of Boplaas Family Vineyards, a 6th generation family business with a history timeline that spans over a century. Immerse yourself in the story of a family dedicated to producing award-winning wines and preserving the art of winemaking for future generations. View the highlights over the past years.
In its rural locale, surrounded by spectacular mountains and wilderness areas, Boplaas had always been conservation-minded.
Among its passion projects is the preservation of the Portulacaria Afra plant, commonly known as spekboom. The spekboom is indigenous to the Klein Karoo and is a carbon miracle worker. For the amount of water it uses, spekboom is the most efficient carbon sequester in the world. The humble shrub can gobble up to 10 tons of carbon per hectare, per year.
Boplaas has over 5 000 ha of veld under conservation in the Klein Karoo where the variety occurs naturally.