If the theory holds that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is required to become world-class in any field, then Dave Nel probably became world-class at wine some time before his 9th birthday.
As for what makes someone “world-class at wine”, the scientific answer is: the effortless ability to get others excited about it through your own passion, honesty and knowledge. In Dave’s case, it’s a knowledge predicated almost entirely on “practice” rather than theory, which is what makes him so refreshing on the subject. Also, years as a Sommelier at La Colombe didn't do any harm.
Dave knows wine. He knows what wine he likes, and he has a remarkable ability to sell the wine he likes. Which is not to say that he is always right. In fairness he’s very quick to concede that on matters of taste there is no right or wrong (except as it pertains to Sauvignon Blanc – which is “like kissing your sister” he jokes. Or doesn’t joke).
Dave’s ability to sell comes from his own fierce belief in everything he’s selling. By representing only wine labels whose wine he enjoys drinking, it makes his job very easy. His presiding attitude:
“take it or leave it, but because you’d be stupid to leave it, I’m just going to give you an extra three cases and you can thank me later”.
But how does someone like Dave matter to a South African wine drinker?
Well actually, rather a lot. Here’s the simplistic explanation:
He represents some top wine labels such as Hartenberg, Radford Dale, Alheit, Momento, Crystallum and Naudé among others. They are often independent, their wines are largely exceptional, and they’re not big producers in terms of scale. And because the dollar speaks about 13 times as loudly as the rand, there’s normally enough overseas demand to ship most if not all of their wine. But Dave doesn't want that. And he won’t have that. He essentially helps to rescue a lot of our great wines from foreign shores, promotes a local market of interested restaurants, retailers and individuals, and through his enthusiasm, ensures that you get to understand and enjoy some remarkable wine.
And this is good for the industry too, because in the long term it raises the median quality of local wine, the demand globally of good SA wine, the perception and price of all South Africa’s wine internationally, and it probably even helps orphan puppies find happy homes.
That was initially just a joke, but it’s not even that far fetched. Most of these labels operate in a very ethical and accommodating way, supporting their communities as well as various charities and good causes.
Dave’s real gift though, as we touched on, is that he’ll get you excited about wonderful wine. And while you might be able to underplay its importance, the reality is that he, the likes of David Clarke and a host of others operate with a passion that fosters an environment in which everyone wins.
Unless you only drink Sauvignon Blanc. Then you will never win.