Meerlust’s Master and His Memory

When I think of Meerlust I think of sea-run trout, baboons and Grenache. Should this famous wine estate evoke the same images among other folk, I’d be glad to hear it.

The late Nico Myburgh, the Don of Meerlust.
The late Nico Myburgh, the Don of Meerlust.

Nico Myburgh was running the show when I first became acquainted with the farm in the late 1970’s. A keen fly-fisherman and leading light in the Cape Piscatorial Society, Nico told me of the rainbow trout in Stellenbosch’s Eerste River which used to swim downstream from Jonkershoek into the salt waters of False Bay – much like the American steelhead – before “SFW stuffed up the water”.

Baboons fascinated Nico, especially the ones that used to raid his seaside home at Potberg on the southern Cape Coast. He once told me he arrived for a week-end’s fishing to discover the primates had been at it, breaking into the house and causing general mayhem of the kind baboons are known for.

Among the half-eaten oranges, the ripped cushions and shredded books, Nico came across an interesting sight. The baboons had gotten hold of a deck of cards. And sure enough, there on the floor they had dealt themselves a few poker hands. One hand showed a pair of Queens, another had three eights. “One lucky bugger even had a royal flush,” he said between puffs of the cigarette permanently stuck in his handsomely moustachioed mouth. “We call them baboons, but they aren’t fools, you know.”

And then there was the Grenache which back then was grown and made on Meerlust. For informal braais or hearty winter suppers in the kitchen, Nico would pour purple-black Grenache from unlabelled bottles and I remember the softness and accessibility of the wine, exotic on a palate not yet fully able to appreciate the breadth and complexity of heavier tannic reds, like Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Nico was the real deal, and a man not to be trifled with. I remember Chris Joubert of the former Spier Jouberts telling me: “Nico wanted his ashes strewn in the Eerste River. But we told him if we did that they’d float upstream. Run-of-the-mill that Myburgh was not.”

Nico is long gone, but my love for the wines is partly driven by my memory of him. Especially the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Recently a bottle of the gold-labelled Meerlust Merlot 1996 found its way into a glass and I was reminded how much I love them.

The wine has a ballsy Merlot power with a whack of savoury offsetting the depth of black fruit, dried porcini and liquorice. On the palate it is wide, dense and evocative without being rich or seductive. Your ears start singing after the second mouth-feel, and it’s a song full of opera and knives; blood and ripped dresses. Somehow we have written Merlot out of the South African wine narrative, but this Meerlust is not going to go down without a fight. It is a ridiculously fantastic wine which will piss over half of what the Right Bank has to offer, and then some.

Score: 992/1000

With Meerlust on the mind I opened a Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 a few days later. I had forgotten how good the farm’s Cabernet Sauvignon can be. No Simonsberg or Helderberg slopes. No soils of extreme tightness. None of the elements of the superior Cabernet Sauvignon story one is used to hearing from those regions.

But the Meerlust has grit, character and supreme elegance. Pencil shaving and pine needle adds an edginess to the succulence of the prunes, the floral hit of the spice, the wetness of the hot tar. The presence is haunting with not quite the frenetic verve of the Merlot, but more like a solid sculpture that lets you know it is built for beauty and to last for ever. Which it will.

Scoring 990/1000

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