Grapevine Archive for Meerlust

Wed 11 Apr 2012

Meerlust & The Amazing Mr Hannes Myburgh

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Hannes Myburgh
Late last month, Hannes Myburgh, the owner of South African winery Meerlust Estate, treated a small group of 80 members to an intimate wine tasting in the lovely and rather grand surroundings of the Vintner?s Hall.

Despite having studied oenology, Hannes was keen to point out that he was not a wine-maker (that accolade goes to Chris Williams, who has been the Cellar master at Meerlust since 2004 when he took over from Georgio della Cia; prior to that, Chris had been Assistant Winemaker since 1995). Hannes sees himself more as the custodian of a seventeenth-century national monument or, as he puts it, the farm. Hannes is the eighth generation of the Myburgh family to run the estate – a stunning example of Cape Dutch architecture – and as he put it so succinctly, sometimes he has to pinch himself as he just can?t believe he lives in such a beautiful place.

The Myburghs have been making wine on the estate since 1756 ? the year Mozart was born.

Members enjoying the wines
This workshop concentrated mainly on Meerlust?s Rubicon label. However, we started events with the lovely, toasty Meerlust Estate Chardonnay, 2009. This incredibly complex white is beautifully balanced, and while still very young, it showed its potential. For those who could exercise restraint, Hannes recommended keeping some of the wine back till the end to see how it opened and developed in the glass ? a perfect white-wine candidate for decanting.

Next we tried the Meerlust Estate Red, 2009, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This wine is made up of younger estate-grown fruit not yet of sufficient quality for inclusion in the flagship blend, Rubicon. This is a big, rich juicy wine ideal for curling up with next to a block of good-quality cheddar ? or is that just me? Next came the Meerlust Estate Cabernet, 2009, and then the Meerlust Estate Kentridge Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004, Limited Edition which came in magnum. Both were beautifully made, with the 2004 showing a little more age and complexity as a result of its age and perhaps the larger bottle.

What surprised us all, though in hindsight perhaps it shouldn?t have done, was how Bordeaux-like these wines were. Obviously they had more ripe cassis fruit than one might expect from France, but there were the underlying cigar box and cedar notes so typical of good Bordeaux as well.

From this point on we were fully immersed in the world of Meerlust?s Rubicon wines, and what a pleasant place to be it was. The phrase ?crossing the Rubicon? originated from when Caesar?s army crossed the Rubicon River in 49BC, considered at the time to be an act of insurrection. Apparently Hannes? father and his friend came up with the name when discussing the idea of producing a new Bordeaux blend ? something which had never been done in South Africa until that point, and which was mightily frowned upon by the other winemakers in the area.

The flight of Rubicons, including the maiden 1984 vintage
And so it was in 1984 that Meerlust created their first Rubicon wine, a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, Meerlust?s flagship wine. In this little flight of loveliness we tried the 2006, 2005, 2001, 1998, 1991 and 1984. There were obvious differences between the wines due to their respective ages. The younger wines were all plum fruit, cedar and spice, with hints of violets on the finish. As we tasted the older vintages, which were still remarkably fresh, the wines became more minerally, the plum turned to red fruits, the violets more apparent and the spice, more spiced, rather than spicy. The 1998 and the 1991 were total treats, drinking perfectly now, but the shock (in a good way) of the night was just how well the 1984 was still drinking. It was a beautiful, elegant red with such complexity and amazing length: the tannins had completely softened, but the acidity was still there.

So, what did I learn about Meerlust on that Monday evening? Well, firstly, not to think of South Africa as a modern wine-making country. Secondly that Meerlust?s wines, and the Rubicon?s in particular will last as long as you have the will power to keep them.

And thirdly, along with many of the other ladies, and perhaps some of the men there that evening, I am now nursing a little crush on the amazing Mr Hannes Myburgh!

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

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