Johan Nesenberend 2004 Diners Club Young Winemaker

Monday, 22 November, 2004
Tony Mossop
The winning wine: For my friends Shiraz 2002. We hope Johan Nesenberend’s friends get to hear of this wonderful Shiraz which he’s made for them! If so, however, there won’t be much left – production was limited to less than 200 cases.

Among the formidable list of some pretty heavyweight winemakers (and cellars) represented in the line-up of 79 wines entered for the Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year Award, the winner is comparatively unknown - and that's the way it's supposed to be!

Johan is a local boy: born on a farm in Wellington in 1974, he matriculated at the Huguenot Hoërskool in 1992 and qualified from Elsenburg in viticulture, pomology and wine technology four years later. Since 1997 he has been in charge of the red wine production at the 100 000-case Darling Cellars operation, reporting to cellarmaster Abé Beukes, and he's obviously mastered his craft.
  "When I joined what was then the Mamreweg co-op we sold most of our wines in bulk," he remembers. "Now we bottle 80% of it under the Darling Cellars and related labels."

He's grateful to his board for allowing him to make a few barrels of his own "signature" wine - naturally a Shiraz, given the track record of the variety in both the region and the cellar.

"It's a good wine - but it's not me: it's the fruit we get around here," he modestly maintains. Selected from prime Groenekloof grapes, from the 500 tons of Shiraz available to the cellar, he used just two tons to craft his 1 500 litres of 'For My Friends' in 2002.

"The name doesn't sound very sophisticated," he admits. "But the wine itself is quite sophisticated. I hope that someone buying it will feel part of what we have created here."

Johan and his wife Almaree live near the cellar with their two dogs, from where he launches fishing expeditions to the nearby West coast "to chase snoek and geelstert". He's happy hunting four-legged game as well - and enjoying his spoils with a good Shiraz.

Of the 79 entries received for the Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year Award, no fewer than 28 were Shirazes - a sure sign of the popularity and high regard in which this grape is held in South African cellars. The fact that the top seven wines in the final tasting proved to be Shirazes confirms this.

Johan Nesenberend's 2002 For My Friends Shiraz was harvested at six to eight tons per hectare from a premium Groenekloof vineyard known for the quality of its bush-vine fruit. Only free-run juice was used, and the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in a 60/40 blend of new- and first-fill French oak. After a single racking, it was filtered and bottled in November 2003 - 14.5% alcohol, a residual sugar of 2.8 grams per litre and a total acidity of 6.7 grams per litre.

The wine presents itself in the glass with a dark plum centre and brick rim, and offers vibrant red berry aromas, with hints of cigar box and cracked peppercorns on the nose. Its elegance on the palate belies its full body and considerable weight in the mouth; tannins are alluringly sweet and supple, leading to a gentle hint of vanilla oak on the finish. Drinking beautifully now, and should continue to improve in bottle for at least five years.

Johan Nesenberend
Johan Nesenberend

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