I’ve discovered what a wine farm really is…more than just wine, De Grendel, at 7 km from the Atlantic Ocean and 180 m above sea level, boasts a massive landscape with not only wine being produced, but blueberries, cattle, sheep and in part, a private game reserve. Roaming about on the property, one can find Red Hartabees, Eland and Springbok. It was truly a delight to see (albeit from afar), three baby Hartabees loping about, although too far away to share a picture. If the amazing quality wines aren’t enough, expansive views, the restaurant offering a number of gastronomic delights, and a place to sit and drink a bottle of wine should bring you to the property.
Owned by the Graaf Family, I had the privilege of meeting Sir DeVilliers Graaf last June in Toronto, while on a press trip with PIWOSA (Premium Independant Wineries of South Africa). What I experienced of South African wines was nothing short of astounding and in conversation with him at that time, I told him I’d love to come to his country, with his reply an open invitation to come and visit. True to his word, after an email letting him know that I was here, I was invited out to the estate and had more than just wine, but an experience.
De Grendel means “latch” and was started by De Villiers great grandfather, Sir David Pieter Graaf – the 1st Baronet of Cape Town. He started his career as a butcher’s assistant and went on to make his fortune through the use of refrigeration, making his name known not just throughout South Africa, but South America and Europe also. To continue with the art of meat, and refrigeration, he journeyed to Argentina to purchase cattle, only to come back with some prized Arab horses, thinking to stable them at the foot of Table Mountain. With an annual rainfall of 2000 mm in that area, it became a sickbed for the horses, so he purchased in 1819, what is now the current site of De Grendel. Not only was he a respected farmer, he had a sense of social responsibility and eventually became mayor of Cape Town at age 32. His influence as mayor brought not only electricity to the city of Cape Town, but modernizing it, and cleaning up some of those ‘less desirable’ areas.
Shortly after unification, British honorary titles were being given out to South Africans. When Sir David Pieter was given his, he was a bachelor. Keep in mind, these titles were hereditary, and in this case, the baronetcy was to be passed down for the next 10 generations. But with no heir apparent, let alone no wife, the British thought it safe that the title would die with David Pieter. Much to everyone’s surprise, he announced his marriage to a woman aged 22, 30 years younger! This was something else the family had to explain. Let me clarify that statement: Sir David Pieter’s mother’s maiden name was De Villiers, his father’s surname Graaf. Since she eloped with his father (to elope was just not done in those days) there was a bit of confrontation upon their return: David’s mother was given the blessing of marriage (keep in mind they were already married) with the caveat that her surname De Villiers be kept in the family. Together they had nine children with David being number five in the line. Now, over 100 years later, De Villiers is still very much a part of the family name!
Baronet number one, Sir David and Lady Graaf had three sons from their union, the oldest Sir De Villiers, or “Div” inheriting the title of Baronet. He was also an influential politician and inspiring leader, and the baronetcy continued.
De Villiers father, Sir David Graaf, third Baronet, like his predecessors, was also involved in politics, but it was he who planted the first vines on the property in 1999, and built the cellar. The first vintage was 2004, made off-site and first estate vintage was 2005. Winemaker Charles Hopkins is passionate about quality wines and De Grendel Wines. After meeting Charles, I’m pretty sure his goal in life is to see De Grendel wines on shelves and restaurant lists all over the world!
De Villiers Graaf, fourth baronet, took over all operations after the death of his father in 2015. De Villiers is a true visionary, expanding operations by opening the restaurant on the property in 2012. With the closing of the dairy operations (not financially viable) he wanted to find another way to use the resources of the farm, including all the workers who suddenly were out of a job with its closing. After some research, it was discovered that blueberries grew well in the sandy soils, and were a sought after export. De Grendel plants Julietta, Magnifica, Bella and Bonita. Huh…who knew such genteel female names produce this blue fruit high in antioxidants! There are also solar panels on the property, providing about 20% of the power to the farm. Note there is no winery or vineyard in the De Grendel name, but truly it is a wine farm in all sense of the word. De Villiers may not have a working dairy farm, but cattle and sheep are most definitely a big part of this farm!
Today, De Grendel produces 55,000 cases, with 70% coming from grapes on the estate and 30% purchased. They have some beautiful Methode Cap Classique (MCC) made from estate grapes, but their still Pinot Noir grapes comes from the Ceres vineyard, in the Wittenberg Valley, which is further inland, at an elevation of 960m. Pinot loves this cool climate, and along with this thin skinned red grape, you’ll also find more of their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes.
They are most well known for their Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot wines, but perhaps an unsung hero lies in their Shiraz. With grapes being purchased from the vineyards surrounding the village of Elim, the Elim Shiraz wine boasts those peppery, meaty, black fruit aromas and flavours that you either love or hate in your Shiraz/Syrah. The Baronet, one of their newest wine offerings was made to honour Sir David, the first Baronet of Cape Town. In elegant packaging with the story printed on the inside of the box, this 80% Shiraz, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot has all the makings of a wine prepared to age. With many South African wines prone to high alcohol, this is well balanced with tons of flavour and personality. Expect to find black fruits of plum and cassis, along with pepper notes, cedar and cloves. I received a bottle as a gift and this bottle will be put away for a while. Perhaps the next time my friends from South Africa come to Canada, I’ll have reason to open and share this bottle of wine.