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Crafting wines at Plaisir de Merle near Franschhoek has been the long-held domain of Niel Bester since 1993.

After graduating from the University of Stellenbosch with a Bachelor of Science in oenology and viticulture, Niel spent four years as a winemaker for SFW, now part of Distell. He was appointed as red winemaker at Nederburg. A three-year stint at the Paarl winery ended with his taking on the role of cellar master at Plaisir de Merle, where wines under his tenure have soared to much acclaim.

There have been numerous career-expanding highlights on his journey that saw him acquire vinous knowledge on stints to places such as Australia, California, New Zealand and Washington State. A particular high-point early in his winemaking career was working a harvest at Château Mârgaux in Bordeaux under the seminal influence of Dr Paul Pontallier.

Dr Pontallier continued to consult with Plaisir de Merle for over a decade, visiting South Africa at least once a year to taste and blend with Niel.

Plying his trade at Plaisir de Merle has been the realisation of a dream for him. “I cherish the richness offered from the extraordinary terroir, and from the cellar produce wines that are elegant and complex, honouring the legacy of winemaking at the estate,” he says.

Headshot of Niel Bester at the Plaisir de Merle estate in Franschhoek
Headshot of Niel Bester, winemaker of Plaisir de Merle

“I try to utilise my knowledge of the vineyards to create a sense of place in the wines. By harnessing the terroir of Simondium I can tell the story of the valley in every bottle of wine.”

It’s harder than it might sound. Niel compares it to another favourite occupation: running. “It’s about training to tackle the obstacles and the focus required for planning and execution,” he says. “You set the goal and then go out and meet it.”

He loves being outdoors, in the mountains or by the seaside, which is where he can be found when not in the cellar.


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