Niel Bester

After graduating in oenology and viticulture from the University of Stellenbosch in 1984, Bester worked for four years as a winemaker for SFW (now Distell). He then spent three years at Nederburg as a red winemaker. In 1992 he was appointed cellar master at Plaisir de Merle to manage the construction of the new winery. It was also in 1992 that he worked a vintage at Château Margaux in Bordeaux, France.

Margaux in Bordeaux, under the seminal influence of Dr Paul Pontallier. Thereafter, Pontallier continued to advise Plaisir de Merle for more than a decade, visiting South Africa at least once a year to taste and blend with Bester. It is a legacy that lives on in the range of classically styled, but terroir-based wines from the New World. It is also this relationship with the late Dr Pontallier that accentuates his philosophy: "There are so many ways to manipulate the wines in the cellar. Too many wines are over-produced and made without a real relationship between the grape and the resulting wine. You have to find the balance between oak and fruit. I use oak to enhance and support the structure of the wine, not to add flavour. The most important thing is to have really good fruit in the vineyards," says Niel. "Then it's up to you, as winemaker, to take care of the grapes in the vineyard and in the winery, so that they flow harmoniously from the vineyard to the bottle."

Niel Bester has been in charge of winemaking at Plaisir de Merle since the first vintage in 1993. His career now spans almost three decades, and his in-depth knowledge of the vineyards is the cornerstone of his winemaking. Bester has been able to take advantage of Plaisir de Merle's unique terroir to capture the history of a valley, watched over by the majestic Simonsberg mountain. When Plaisir de Merle began planting vines, Bordeaux varieties were scarce in the South African industry. Plaisir de Merle became one of the leading producers of Bordeaux varieties.

This led to a rich history of blending and, more specifically, of increasing and improving the famed Cabernet Sauvignon over the vintages as a component of the blends. Bester's influence is deeply felt in the winery, which was designed for low-impact winemaking, with an emphasis on technique rather than technology.

technology. Bester's career has been decorated with awards and critical acclaim, although he says: "There are always opportunities to improve quality; there is no time to settle. Neil is married to Marié, has two children and lives in Paarl. When not at the winery, he can be found outdoors, whether by the sea, running along a mountain trail or exploring the countryside in his 4x4 or on his adventure bike.

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