South African wine making dates back 356 years, Meerlust has a history reaching all the way back to 1693 and the Myburghs themselves have been farming the estate since 1756. All this history was honoured in November in a celebration of four decades of the label as a South African icon.
It always feels very special to visit Meerlust. The beautifully restored Cape Dutch homestead with its exquisite gable and the other old farm outbuildings now converted to the cellar, tasting room and offices all create a sense of a quiet, more gracious past. Hannes Myburgh, eighth generation owner, is as welcoming and generous as any 17th century host, but with all the savvy of a successful modern vigneron. He has built up the Meerlust brand though a consistent focus on quality with the result that the flagship Rubicon has achieved hordes of international awards including the Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande trophy for best red blend at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London.
Meerlust has only ever had three winemakers , and today it is in the skilled hands of affable Chris Williams, who last week took a group of us through a tasting of some of their older vintages, starting with the first ever wine, a 1975 Cabernet, and ending with the Meerlust Estate Rubicon 2010 which has just been awarded 5 stars in the 2016 Platter Guide. What a privilege to sit in the cellar and taste South African wine history! The 1975 wine amazed me, with its lovely colour, fresh acidity, clear fruits and silky texture. As a complete contrast, the 2010 Rubicon was very intense, with deep colour and a rich nose of spice and plums.
After the tasting we joined Hannes for a delicious lunch around his legendary kitchen table. The homestead is full of fabulous paintings and art posters and well-loved old furniture, and the giant square kitchen table could certainly tell tales of lengthy and heated discussions about wine and the world.
Meerlust isn’t only about the old world however. Earlier in the day we took a tour of an imaginative and successful empowerment initiative, Companjiesdrift, that is jointly owned by the Meerlust Family Trust and the Meerlust Workers Trust. The latter comprises 72 people who have worked for many years on Meerlust and on the nearby Vriesenhof and Ken Forrester farms. Companjiesdrift owns a new building and in it, has been offering wine storage, bottling and labeling since December 2010. The MD is a dynamic Ilse Ruthford, once the export clerk at Meerlust and now running this enterprise. The plant is working at full capacity, and the company is diversifying into vegetable farming and raising a Nguni herd, and is also soon to launch their own Companjiesdrift wines. All of these create jobs and opportunities for the local farm folk so let’s hope that a little of the Meerlust magic rubs off on the new wine and that it is just as successful.