Tim James: The wines of Johan “Stompie” Meyer

January 23, 2017
by Tim James
in Opinion & Analysis
with 1 Comment
Johan “Stompie” Meyer

Johan “Stompie” Meyer.

I’ve been happily drinking some of Johan Meyer’s wines this past week. If that name isn’t fully familiar to winelovers, try his ubiquitously used nickname, Stompie. He should be amongst the best known of the second-generation of new-wave Swartland wine-people (taking Sadie, Badenhorst et al as the first).

Anyway, Johan “Stompie” Meyer is surely one of the most energetic young winemakers in the Cape (I’ll come shortly to the numerous wines which testify to that energy, off vineyards from Outeniqua to the Swartland with many stops inbetween) – at a time when vitality, enthusiasm and hard work are in marvellously plentiful supply. Krige Visser, co-owner with Pieter de Waal of Mount Abora, where Stompie makes the wines, lyrically calls him “The bravest of the bravest young men of his generation who sparked a new approach to red wine making in the Swartland”.

Of the many wines he is responsible for, it’s probably those in that Mount Abora range for which Stompie is best known – especially the Saffraan Cinsaut, whose maiden 2013 vintage helped bring about the revolution in the reputation of the variety that’s the darling of sommeliers and hipsters alike (and me, on the whole), especially at a low alcohol level. Under 12% that wine was, and the current 2015 – as deliciously, irresistibly drinkable as ever, as I was reminded just the other night – is a mere 11.2%. The other two Mount Abora current releases are 2014s, and equally excellent in their rather different ways: the finely rich Koggelbos chenin, and The Abyssinian, where cinsaut is outgunned by grenache, syrah and mourvèdre but the freshness and low alcohol (but here rising to a mighty 12.2%) are maintained; it’s the best vintage yet for both these wines.

Stompie also struck out under his own name – rather more formally as JH Meyer Signature Wines, sticking to the “natural”, early-picked, low-interventionist winemaking to which he’s committed, and to sustainable and hopefully organic vineyard work, but with a marked varietal shift. There’s no pinot or chardonnay in the Swartland worth talking about, but that’s what he works with here, including three terroir-expressive pinots from far-flung coolish regions. I confess I’m a little less convinced by the results, but they’re all good and interesting wines and evidence a brave determination to remain broadly based; and I believe they’re doing well on the export market.

What is in some ways Stompie’s most radical project yet dug him deeper into Swartland soil. Last year, he and his UK agent, Ben Henshaw of Indigo Wines, launched Mother Rock Wines (all 2015s), with a lower-priced range called Force Majeure. Like many early-picked, essentially naked wines, these can be a bit lean and acidic and are not all that easy for newcomers to the style – but very welcome and even compelling for aficionados. I re-tried some of them recently, six months or so since tasting them for Platter.

The Mourvèdre, being a little richer, riper and fleshier than the others, is a touch easier-going; beautifully dry and grippy – really needs some time in bottle though. I’ve seen that the herbal, well-structured but insubstantial Grenache was extravagantly admired by British wine-science writer Jamie Goode (“ethereal” he said), but I think he’s being over-enthusiastic for the style – I prefer the other Mother Rock reds.

I haven’t retasted the Liquid Skin “orange” wine from chenin, which was the wine I originally admired most of the whole admirable bunch, but the White, a chenin-based blend, is maturing very satisfactorily and deliciously.

Harvest 2017 is by now well under way for Stompie, of course. When Pieter de Waal paid a visit to him in his new cellar in Hermon last Thursday they were foot-stomping pinotage.  “And not for bubbly”, adds Pieter. “19 January – that’s mighty early!” And mighty energetic.

  • Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.

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One Comment

  1. KwispedoorJanuary 23, 2017 at 10:51 amReply

    The maiden vintage of Saffraan was actually 2012. It was a bit of a game changer for me and I still have a few precious bottles in my cellar. One of those wines that really makes you wonder for how long it will mature with benefit. It’s so utterly smashable in its youth, that it requires super steely resolve to keep some tucked away. Great value, too!

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