Old and New at South Africa’s Iconic Meerlust Winery

2023 Harvest Merlot Arrives at the Manor House

Meerlust and its Rubicon wine are iconic in South Africa. In 1693 Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony, signed the deed to what is now the Meerlust estate to a German immigrant, who named it Meerlust (pleasure of the sea) due to its proximity to False Bay. Old records show that grapes were grown and wine was made at Meerlust at least as far back as 1702. Fast forward to 1756, and the Myburgh family purchases Meerlust.  And in 1776, the year of the American Revolution, they enlarged their Cape Dutch manor house, which still stands with its gabled white façade.

Fast forward another 200 years, and Meerlust revolutionizes South African wine with the introduction of a French Bordeaux blend called Rubicon in 1980. Led by Nico Myburgh and legendary winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia, Meerlust was one of the first wineries to modernize using stainless steel tanks and cooling systems and French barriques to age the wine. The wine became the most sought after in the country. And it still is.

New Concrete Fermenters & Basket Press

Meerlust the estate is old, but the Meerlust wine label is relatively new. Like all South African wineries in the mid-20th century, Meerlust sold its wine in bulk to the farming cooperatives (primarily KWV) on a quota basis.  This changed in 1975 with the deregulation of the cooperative viticulture system, which is when Meerlust bottled a Cabernet Sauvignon to sell under its own label.  Meerlust was one of the first vineyards in South Africa to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which Nico did in the early 1970s.  The first Pinot Noir bottle was sold in 1981, but the domestic market didn’t know the grape, so the focus of the winery became almost exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends.

Winemaker Wim Truter Discusses the 2023 Harvest with a Guest

Today, Hannes Myburgh is the 8th generation of the family to run the 400-hectare estate and its 68 ha of vines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are planted on the warmer sites with granite derived soils. Pinot Noir is from the highest altitude, coolest part of the estate. Although Meerlust is technically part of the Stellenbosch appellation, its relatively flat location on the edge of the Cape Flats and proximity to the cool sea with continuous, strong sea breezes make it a consistently cool site compared to the majority of Stellenbosch wineries. Chardonnay (all Dijon clones) is planted on alluvial soils along the Eerste River, which flows through the estate.

Meerlust is once again in a time of transition. There’s a new cellar master, Wim Truter, with experience making wine in Australia and California. Other changes include large concrete fermenters, new French oak barriques replacing the old foudres for aging Pinot Noir, a new basket press, DIAM enclosures, and a new replanting program. Another important change is the creation of a permanent second label “Red” for the Rubicon, which will allow the estate to become increasingly selective about the fruit that goes into Rubicon itself. [Previously, “Red” was only made as a “declassified” Rubicon in weaker vintages.]

Rubicon is modeled after a traditional Bordeaux chateau making just one blend (now with a second label of that blend, as in Bordeaux).  As a result, Rubicon is both the quality and quantity leader at Meerlust, unlike most other New World wineries where the quality leader is limited in production and high in price. Indeed, the price of Rubicon today is low relative to its quality.  In South Africa, the 2018 vintage sells for just R505, and will sell for under $45 in the US beginning this summer.  In terms of quality one would compare Rubicon with Napa Valley wines costing considerably more.

The Wines

Meerlust 2022 Chardonnay Stellenbosch ($24) 92  Light yellow straw, showing peach and minerals on the nose.  Full and firm in the mouth with good acidity balancing rich citrus and stone fruit on the palate.  Whole bunch pressed and fermented and aged 10 months in 33% new, lightly toasted French 300L barrels with about 40% malo.  A huge change in oak aging from the 100% new French oak used for the first vintages of this wine in the 1990s.  Better integrated than the 2021 vintage also tasted. pH 3.44, 13.5% alc.

Meerlust 2021 Pinot Noir Stellenbosch 91  Medium ruby red. Dark cherry fruit with earthlike notes show on the nose and palate. Good fruit concentration on the palate with bright acidity and persistence on the finish. Oak is nicely interwoven with the fruit, and the tannins are firm but round. This is the first vintage to come from all Dijon clones and maturation in French oak barriques (45% new for 11 months) as opposed to older foudres. In 2023 fermentation will move from stainless steel to new concrete fermenters.  The stars are aligned for continued improvements in quality. pH 3.59, 13% alc.

Meerlust 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Stellenbosch 90  A distinctly earthy wine showing black fruits with notes of leather, smoky oak, and hints of forest floor.  From a hot, dry year producing thick skinned, small berries.  Ripe tasting with notes of cassis, dried fruit, tangy acidity and firm tannins. Sourced from two parcels separately vinified then aged 6 months in barrel; after blending given another 12 months in 70% new French oak.  pH 3.63, 14% alc

Meerlust 2019 Red Stellenbosch ($19) 91  Previously a declassified Rubicon in weaker vintages, Red is now a genuine second label of Rubicon, produced every year. However, in 2019 no Rubicon was made, so all the best fruit went instead into Red.  Dark ruby fading to the rim, showing cedar and dark berries on the nose. The mouthfeel is suave with medium depth of flavor—plum and cassis with a cigar box note. Good balance and freshness with still firm tannins and a long finish. A blend of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. 14% alc. Outstanding value and an excellent candidate for wine by the glass programs.

Meerlust 2018 Rubicon Stellenbosch 92  Dark ruby red. Bouquet of dark red fruit, hints of chocolate shavings and toasty oak.  Well balanced with a full mouth feel, layered flavors of blackberries, dried fruit, spicy cedar and round tannins. Finishes with lingering ripe fruit notes. Superb winemaking considering the hot, dry vintage.  A blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot separately fermented and aged in 300L and larger foudres.  Blended after 8 months and given another 10 months in barrel. 3.63 pH, 14.3% alc. Will benefit from more bottle age.

Meerlust 2017 Rubicon Stellenbosch 94  While the 2018 Rubicon is very good, the elegant 2017 is a very, very good. It offers a powerful bouquet of violets, dark cassis and wet earth, while the palate is packed with dark cherries and berries, black currants, and toasty, earthy notes.  The mouthfeel is silky and sublime. A beautifully crafted wine more like Bordeaux than Napa in style. A blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot fermented separately and aged in 60% new 300L French oak, 13.6% alc.  Blended after 8 months and given another 10 months in barrel.  The 750ml bottles are sold out, but magnums of this vintage will be released later this year; order yours today.

Source : https://i-winereview.com/blog/index.php/2023/03/03/old-and-new-at-south-africas-iconic-meerlust-winery/

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