02 February 2018

Visit to Meerendal Estate and the Pinotage Heritage Block

To Durbanville, a pretty rural hilly region north of and close to Cape Town, known for its stunning hill grown cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc and classy Pinotage.

Meerendal Estate has the third oldest Pinotage vineyard in the Cape – and thus the world. These six hectares of gnarled bush vines growing on red clay were planted in 1955.

I went to meet winemaker and viticulturist Liza Goodwin and Benny Howard CWM, to update myself on what's been happening since I visited ten years ago, to taste current offerings and to visit the old Pinotage block.

There have been a lot of changes, and I found the tasting room behind the new Carlucci's coffee shop and deli. The tasting room walls were covered in paintings from an artist who will be designing a new Meerendal label.

Liza Goodwin
Liza Goodwin has been Meerendal's winemaker since 1998 so she has a detailed in-depth knowledge of the Estate's terroir and cultivars, but she is not stuck in the past and is working with new wines and experimental bottlings.

We started with 2017 Sauvignon Blanc - “to wash out our mouths”, joked Bennie. Liza says that Durbanville savvie benefits from ageing, and that after five years it becomes something special and she finds it frustrating that the local market wants to drink only the youngest vintage. Her Sauvignon Blanc spends five months on its lees and “after a year develops complex green grassy tones.” 

This was an attractive wine, dry yet full bodied enough to give an impression of sweetness. Closed with a screw cap.

Meerendal Estate Pinotage 2015
WO Cape Town

This comes from a 9.3ha vineyard planted in 1999. It's trellised and dry-farmed, meaning it is not irrigated. It's more productive than the old block producing larger berries and 12-15 tons per hectare. The wine spends a maximum of 12 months in 50/50 new and second fill French oak barrels. “I'm not a great fan of wood,” said Lisa. “I don't want to taste a forest. When you've got great fruit, why cover it with wood? 

And there is great fruit, raspberries and strawberries, in an elegant wine showing its pinot heritage.

Bennie points out that 2015 is the first vintage to be labelled with the new Wine of Origin Cape Town. It's thought this appellation name will have greater international appeal than the previously used smaller areas including Durbanville. (Other appellations now in WO Cape Town are Constantia, Philadelphia and Hout Bay which are all within 35 kilometres of the centre of Cape Town. Some 30 wineries will use WO Cape Town.)

Meerendal Estate 'Heritage Block' Pinotage 2015
WO Cape Town

This came from the old dry-farmed bush vine block planted in 1955. The previous vintage release was 2010. Liza said that there wasn't enough local demand for the prestige single block bottling every year so from 2011 to 2014 its fruit had gone into the standard bottling.

This had been aged for 24 months in all new small French oak barrels, and bottled in June 2017. “The berries were very small and the fruit is strong enough to carry the wood,” said Liza.

The wine had just been opened and was very tight . “It should be decanted an hour before drinking,” said Lisa. She expected the optimum drinking time to start in 2020 though it would be good drinking for many years afterwards. I could taste the power of restrained fruit waiting for time to reveal them and it rewarded with a long lingering finish. This is definitely a wine that would pay keeping, whereas the 'standard' Pinotage from the large trellised block will, without doubt, age and develop, it was much more ready to drink now.

Meerendal Pinotage Rosé 2017
WO Coastal

Very pale pink wine, that seems quite sweet after the previous wines. “Only two hours skin contact”, said Liza. “Then I treat it like a white wine. It's cold fermented and then I add some grape concentrate to push up sugar level to 10 grams per litre.  We always try to keep the alcohol at between 12.5 and 13%, but this vintage we ended up with 14%.” 

The Rosé is made for the German market, where such is its popularity 35,000 bottles are sent annually.

We did tests to find what optimum sweetness was wanted. At 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 grams per litre of residual sugar they shook their heads. At 10gL they said 'yes, please!'”

The wine is not distributed locally, though 5,000 bottles are sold in Meerendal's two restaurants. The fruit comes from outside the estate.

Chilled, the attractively coloured pale wine is a real crowd pleaser with its sweetness and fresh fruity-gum flavours.

Meerendal Estate 'Intensio' Pinotage 2015
WO Durbanville

A heavy statement deep-punted bottle with wax capsule holds this Amarone style wine. One third of bunches are harvested at 25 brix to hang in nets in the cellar until they dry out to 30 brix. The remaining two-thirds of bunches have their stems twisted at 24 brix so the berries dry on the vine and are harvested when they reach 30 brix.

The grapes on the vine dry much faster than those in the nets,” said Liza. Then they are separately fermented before being blended together. The raisining of the grapes leaves 6gl residual sugar.

This is a very labour intensive wine,” said Bennie. “Not only in the vineyard twisting stems, and winery drying grapes in nets, but every bottle is dipped by hand into wax to make the capsule.”

This was a dense and luscious wine that over time opened out even more and grew more silky and richer with lots of dense black plum fruit flavours. I loved this.

Intensio all goes to a German company who market it, hence the USA Surgeon General's message and US importer's address on this bottle's back label

From the cellar Bennie magicked up
Meerendal Estate Pinotage 1995
WO Durbanville

Yes, 23 years old and yet sprightly. There is a slight browning on the rim and a whiff of age that soon clears. Then an upfront sweetness on the palate. It was deliciously soft and ripe with a beautiful spiciness.

“This is one of the wines made when we were in partnership with the Bergkelder,” said Bennie. “We get emails from around the world from people who have opened an old Meerendal Pinotage and want to tell us how great it is.” And moments later Bennie's mobile rang with a call from Beyers Truter who was in Switzerland tasting a 1969 Meerendal Pinotage which was 'very much alive with good fruit and tannins, an excellent wine.'

New at Meerendal is a distillery from which Liza brought a sample drawn from cask of a golden brandy. “2017 is the first year we've made brandy from Pinotage,” she said. “It's a trial. I've added water to this to bring it down to about 43% abv.” It smelled powerfully alcoholic and was a work in progress.

I wanted to visit the old Pinotage block and Estate Manager Matt Zoutendyk kindly drove Liza and me there in his farm bakkie.
350 Pinotage bush vines planted for the Cape's 350th anniversary of wine making.

We passed a small vineyard of 350 bush vines planted in 2009 to celebrate South Africa's 350th anniversary of wine making. The vines were all cloned from the 1955 block and each one was planted by a personality and has their name on it. “Mine is Number 5,” Liza told me. “We hope to make wine from it and present a bottle to each of the 350 people.” 

The old block is planted on red clay on a high slope that gets strong breezes from the Atlantic ocean, visible over the crest. The vine trunks are thick, gnarled and grey, their leaves vivid green against the red soil and deep clear blue sky. 
Pinotage vine planted in 1955

To my eyes there are impressively large bunches of  purple grapes, but Liza is not so happy. “We have some millerandage because of strong winds at flowering time,” she remarks. Millerandage, where flowers are not fertilised, results in small seedless berries.

She dives through some leaves and lifts a bunch in the palm of her hand. “See how there's uneven ripening.” She points to some green and pale red berries among the tightly bunched purple berries. 

“And these ones...” She picks a berry from a vine at the end of a row that has lost its leaves and chews on it. “It's raisined.” These berries are drying, their skin wrinkled. The vineyard will need to be picked carefully and the berries sorted and selected. 
The Heritage Block, 6 ha planted in 1955, was Meerendals third Pinotage planting.
The first two vineyards, planted in 1953 and 1954  became diseased were removed some time ago.

But there are plenty of healthy bunches and I reckon, though the harvest may be smaller than usual, this year's crop will make an excellent quality wine,
Short video in Heritage Block with Cellarmaster and Viticulturist Liza Goodwin and Estate Manager Matt Zoutendyk

It is a pleasure to stand here surrounded by old vines, the warmth of the bright sun in a clear sky refreshed by cool breezes. Matt drives us a short way up the hill past more recent trellised vineyards 'till we can see the sea, and then we head back down to the winery complex to lunch in Meerendal's Crown Restaurant
The Crown is one of two restaurants at Meerendal

Bennie has brought the opened 1995 Pinotage from the tasting room which pairs beautifully with my 'Gourmet Burger' with scrumptious hand-cut fried potato wedges.

Lovely generously meaty burger taste homemade and crisp large wedges make a perfect Pinotage match.
Have I found wine lands best burger?

Meerendal combine history and tradition with forward thinking and transition. I mustn't leave it so long before I return. I can't wait to see what they do next.

I am most impressed by their Wine Academy which gives anyone, for a modest fee, the opportunity to spend a week in Meerendal's vineyard and winery at vintage time covering all aspect of wine making under the care of cellar master Liza Goodwin combined with classroom tuition and tastings by Cape Wine Master Bennie Howard to gain the coveted industry qualification, the Cape Wine Academy certificate. 

Meerendal first Pinotage vineyard was planted in 1953

Many thanks to Liza Goodwin, Bennie Howard and to European Sales Manager Siobhan Hughes for arranging my visit.


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