Meerlust Estate, the beautiful home to the Myburgh family for more than 270 years, sits 15 kilometres south of the wine town of Stellenbosch. It is one of South Africa’s best estates and home to Rubicon, one of its premier wines.
Named by its first owner in 1693, Meerlust means ‘pleasure of the sea’ thanks to its proximity to the cool waters of False Bay, and the Myburghs took ownership in 1756. They have made wine here ever since and that heritage shows. Practice certainly makes perfect!
Now a national monument, the manor house is surrounded by the vines from which all the wines are made. The winery is here too, with cellars dating back to 1776, beautifully restored and modernised for the needs of a 21st century wine business.
The predominantly clay soil is topped with weathered granite, the remains of a prehistoric volcano, and is excellent for viticulture, while the nearby ocean brings cooling winds and mists during the growing season to temper the South African sun. Merlot is planted where the clay is richest, while cabernets sauvignon and franc are planted on gravelly granite soils that are better drained and warmer, suiting these varieties to a tee. A little petit verdot is also grown, on north-facing slopes. Chardonnay flourishes on well-drained soils close to the Eerste River and pinot noir grows in the coolest part of the estate to preserve its finesse and freshness.
Hannes Myburgh is the eighth generation of his family to live at and work the estate. A trained winemaker himself, last year he appointed former KWV head winemaker Wim Truter as his cellarmaster and successor to the hugely respected Chris Williams, who spent 16 years at Meerlust with great success.
The estate’s flagship wine is Rubicon, created in the time of Hannes’ father Nico, who returned from a trip to Bordeaux energised by the similarities he noted between his estate and those of the top estates in that famous region – a cooling ocean close by and soils of decomposed granite gravels and clay. He set about creating a blend of Bordeaux varieties that he felt could rival the best of Bordeaux. In 1980 he and his winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia had cracked it and Meerlust launched a wine that was unlike anything else from South Africa.
A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (now with a dash of petit verdot), Rubicon is a true fine wine and one of South Africa’s best. Each vineyard block is hand-harvested and fermented separately, run off into 300-litre oak barrels and monitored until it is time to blend. At that point a careful assessment of the merits of each parcel is assessed and the blend decided upon. It spends another year in barrel before bottling, where it will see out another two years before it is released as a wine worthy of yet more cellaring if desired.
It is a stellar advertisement for Meerlust and an illustration of the commitment to quality that underpins this famous old estate.