The iconic SA wine with soul

Len Maseko Drinks on the House

Wine's ambassadorial role in promoting its country of origin is a benefit often unfathomed, yet a select group of iconic South African wines such as Meerlust Rubicon have been playing this part without much fanfare over the years.

Tracing its history back to 1980, Rubicon is regarded as a benchmark for local red blend wines in the country.

Explaining the wine's appeal, winemaker Chris Williams was once quoted as saying Meerlust simply has got soul.

Owned by eight generations of the Myburgh family for the past three centuries, Meerlust estate is situated in Stellenbosch with its name meaning "pleasure, joy of the sea".

The winery is owned by Hannes Myburgh, whose father Nico is credited with the birth of Rubicon after a visit to Bordeaux in France in the 1960s inspired him to craft a wine in the style produced in that French wine region.

Hence, Rubicon today consists of grape varietals - cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot - that originate from Bordeaux and is therefore regarded as a Bordeaux-styled blend.

"My father's visit [to France] motivated him to aspire to creating a world-class red blend that would be able to compete with the great reds of the world, and to make a wine that would make South Africa proud," Myburgh says.

The first Rubicon was crafted in 1980 and released in 1984. It instantly scooped regional and national awards.

Nearly a decade later, the Rubicon 2001 vintage was listed as number 27 in the top 100 wines for 2006 by American magazine Wine Enthusiast.


The annual Peech Hotel Wine Festival will be held under a carnival setting at the boutique hotel's Melrose, Johannesburg, premises on March 17.

Featured wineries include Anura Vineyards, Ataraxia Wines, Avondale Wine, Badenhorst Family Wines, Constantia Glen, Edgebaston, Gabrielskloof, Glenelly Groot Constantia and a dozen or so others.

Tickets cost R295 per person and include wine tasting as well as R125 in food vouchers. They are sold through the hotel's or

Entry will be by pre-paid ticket only.

Tickets cost R185 tonight and R200 tomorrow.

Where did the name Rubicon come from? Myburgh says when his father and Giorgio dalla Cia, the then cellar master at Meerlust, started blending cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc in 1978, "the SA wine industry was somewhat sceptical about this new direction being taken by these two trailblazers".

He says the two were reminded of "the somewhat similar situation Julius Caesar found himself in 49BC, when he needed to cross the river Rubicon, north of Rome, against enormous odds".

Caesar's men would not allow him to cross without them and, as a result, they crossed the river together, challenging the power of Rome, and uttering the now famous words, "Alea iacta est", meaning the die is cast, there's no turning back.

Since those halcyon days of Rubicon, the wine has garnered innumerable awards and superlative scores from international wine magazines.

The 2009 vintage was even declared "The Best New World Red" by Decanter wine magazine.

Back to the days when it was released, Rubicon cost a mere R10, today tagging just over R400, and twice or treble the price in a fine-dining eatery.

The current vintage was crafted in 2014, and Myburgh predicts it will retain its glory for up to 25 years - provided it is stored in good cellar conditions.

As for the 1980 vintage, Meerlust reports that this wine today remains "vivacious and very much alive", even after 38 years.