In the early days of the current era of South Africa’s heritage of wine, before 1994, a wine estate cellarmaster would be offered a remuneration package that included a family home, family transport and many other perks. Most winemakers moving into a new job accepted the deal.
Nico van der Merwe is not your standard guy. He has his own way. He saw this free stuff as golden handcuffs. You can’t scale the peaks with a tether around your leg. Nico is a child of the dry West Coast, where there is nothing free. When his training and experience led him to valued Stellenbosch he refused the deals “Please work out what the perks are worth and add it to my salary”.
Nico spent 26 years building the credibility and value of a major Stellenbosch brand for his employer. Towards the end of this period, he and his wife bought the smallest of smallholdings near to his employment, where he could build a cellar and establish his own Mas Nicolas winery.
For several years, he bought small parcels of grapes and made the wine late at night and on weekends. Awards and customers followed. In 2016, he jumped and spread his wings. Out there in the cold, Nico’s Nicolas wines had to provide the uplift that would sustain the venture.
As a lone ranger, Nico has won two Platter Guide 5 star awards for wines that he made on the weekends. Now that this is his sole focus, we will be watching his progress with interest.