Home Lifestyle Sometimes you have to (literally!) blow things up for the perfect wine

Sometimes you have to (literally!) blow things up for the perfect wine

“And boys being boys, the only way we were going to move this boulder was to blow it up.” We chat to Jordan Wines' legendary winemaker, Sjaak Nelson, as part of our exciting "21 faces of summer" campaign

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Listen, we know our “21 faces of summer” series has been exciting so far, but we seriously weren’t ready for dynamite! Who would have thought the name of Jordan Wines’ Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon was so on the nose?

Today, we have the pleasure of introducing our Food for Mzansi fans to Sjaak Nelson from Jordan Wines. Having worked 21 years at this estate, we knew Sjaak would have at least a few stories to share with us, and he did not disappoint!

Sjaak, tell us, how did you get started in wine?

I grew up in the vineyards on a Tulbagh estate. Although surrounded by vines I went to Boland College to study financial management for three years. Once graduated and in need of a job, I went to assist for a week at Tulbagh Co-op. A week turned into three years and I pretty much made myself at home!

I learned so much, from the grading of grapes and the importance of quality vs. quantity. I then moved on to Saxenburg, a Stellenbosch wine estate, after successfully managing three harvests. It didn’t take long before I moved over to Saxenburg’s neighbours, Jordan Wine Estate. I have been here for 21 years this December.

Has being a winemaker been like you expected?

Working with so many different, new and interesting people. Each year, at Jordan, we take on interns locally and internationally. Different personalities and different cultures add interesting perspectives and dynamics to the cellar year on year. Not only that, meeting people in the industry from all over the world is always great.

What are your most memorable wine moments?

Without a doubt, winning the Bordeaux Trophy at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) for the Cobblers Hill 2010 and then winning South African Producer of the year at the IWSC in 2015. It’s like winning an Oscar, just better!

What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

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I’m hoping to one day wine the John Platter Wine Guide Producer of the Year.

Kathy and Gary jointly spearheaded the growth and development of the family-run Jordan Wine Estate. Photo: Supplied
Kathy and Gary jointly spearheaded the growth and development of the family-run Jordan Wine Estate. Photo: Supplied

In the world of wine, who do you most admire and why?

Gary and Kathy Jordan, without a doubt. Their passion, knowledge and work ethic is exemplary. They are an iconic couple and have grown the business to where it is today. They are deserving of all the success that has come, and will continue to come, their way.

What is your favourite wine to pair with your favourite meal or snack?

Nine Yards Chardonnay with goats cheese. My Friday evening special!

What is the most challenging/difficult thing for you about winemaking?

Getting consistency from the vineyards as we are dealing climate changes.

What makes a good vintage?

It starts with healthy grapes and near perfect weather conditions.

What stands out for you when you taste a particularly great wine?

The balance between fruit, oak, silky tannins, complexity and good company. When you get all of those in the mix, you’re in for a really great wine.

Do you have any “guilty pleasures” when it comes to wine?

A well-made barrel-fermented Chardonnay with a perfectly cooked steak!

Any funny stories or memories?

One vintage in our underground cellar, where we ferment our white wines in barrels, was filled with C02. So we asked the team to wear scuba masks and tanks to work in the cellar to avoid passing out. They decided that that wasn’t enough so they rocked up in full scuba gear; the wetsuits, flippers everything and worked the day in their gear!

Another funny story, which goes hand in hand with The Long Fuse Cabernet Sauvignon… A few years ago we identified a patch of land that would be ideal for planting and growing Cabernet Sauvignon. As we started to prepare the soil we struck a huge granite boulder. And boys being boys, the only way we were going to move this boulder to blow it up.

So, we hired in a demolition company who drilled holes into the boulder for the dynamite sticks, and for good measure, Gary added manure to the holes. It resulted in over 300 charges of dynamite and the longest fuse the demo company had done.

As they lit the fuse, the wind changed direction and we landed up getting shards of granite on the cellar roof and unfortunately losing three vines. Great story, and perfect name for our great Cabernet Sauvignon.

More about Jordan Wines

Nine Yards Chardonnay 2018

The Nine Yards Chardonnay is made is in a reserve style, from barrel selection from Jordan Wines’ best vineyard site. Stylistically different to their Jordan Chardonnay, with this wine they went “The whole nine yards”!

Expect the classic Nine Yards flavours with lime citrus and fragrant oak spice, with notes of baked apple, clove-spiked orange and toasted hazelnut abound on the nose and palate. This wine is hard to resist, spoil yourself and buy a bottle here.

Cobblers Hill blend 2016

This 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot blend is considered the Ultimate Expression of Jordan Terroir. The palate is richly layered and intriguing, with a variety of opulent flavours which include Sichuan pepper and blackcurrants. The 24-month barrel ageing adds viscosity and a spicy finish.

This limited-release wine pairs perfectly with beef fillet, sirloin steak or veal cutlets. Buy a bottle for yourself here.

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Dona Van Eeden
Dona Van Eeden
Dona van Eeden is a budding writer and journalist, starting her career as an intern at Food for Mzansi. Furnished with a deep love and understanding of environmental systems and sustainable development, she aims to make the world a better place however she can. In her free time you can find her with her nose in a book or wandering on a mountain, looking at the world through her camera's viewfinder.
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