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Camberley Wines

Camberley Wines

Stellenbosch, the heart of South Africa's wine-industry, boasts the majority of the country's champion wines and winemakers.

It begins when Johnny Nel was at university in Cape Town, and he fell in love. It turned out to be an expensive affair and, also quite a tiring one. Poor Johnny found himself spending almost his entire allowance on his absorbing love, leaving scant funds for mundane things like petrol, which meant that he had to walk wherever he needed to go.

Not that he begrudged it. He was bewitched and becoming more and more intrigued with Wine. This was not some raffish student orgy - on the contrary - it was an intellectual leap, a revelation of the depths and tastes and complications of wine. The mystery behind it. He was hooked for life. And while at university he also met Gael - and fell in love again. And he is still hooked on both of them.

It did not take long, incidentally, for Gael, a supremely talented gourmet cook, to share John's wine absorption. The got married and settled down to urban business life and parenthood, with two sons, Mark and Tim.

Then, one mad day they bought a plum orchard high in the Helshoogte Pass, just outside Stellenbosch. Just a couple of hectares in one of the loveliest corners of the world.

Mountain slopes and sky fill it, along with thickets of forest, battered peaks of rock, falls of vineyards and orchards. Lingering winter rains, caps of snow, honeyed layers of sunshine, the shout of spring and ever-changing colours and light, make you have to reach out and touch just to make sure that it is real.

First the Nels pulled out the plum trees and worked the soil. Then they planted the vines - Cabernet and some Merlot.

Then they built a house and made a garden. While all this was in progress, they were still living in Cape Town, Johnny making trips after office hours every day to supervise each day's progress, Gael raising children and cooking.

Eventually, the family moved into Camberley and in 1996, pressed their first vintage - a four star Cabernet. Camberley is a most elegant home with three focal points, elegantly linked. From Gael's kitchen, you exit into Johnny's cellar, and then climb the stairs to the tasting room.

In the dinky-toy cellar, bottles line the walls surrounding three small fermentation tanks and some 30 plus small barrels.

This is all they need for their couple of hectares of grapes. At vintage, Johnny takes leave from his quantity-surveying business and nurses his wine with total absorption.

Gael puts her catering skills aside and joins him in the cellar where her highly honed palate and nose go to work.

And then, between wine and business, they savour the precious times of relaxation in the tasting room hung with cricketing photographs and other sporting memorabilia, suitably dominated by a belligerent and plump model of a chef in full uniform.

Johnny reckons they drink more than they sell.

Falling in love with wine can happen, but for two responsible and totally inexperienced individuals to throw so much into a wine venture, takes a lot of guts.

Fierce with love, passion and enthusiasm, adamantly optimistic and successful, Camberley is a story of a love growing stronger all the time.

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