South African Adventure – De Grendel Wine Farm

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!

With Sir De Villiers and Lady Gaedry Graaf. Some of the most hospitable people I could ever meet!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!Just a few of the animals who will greet you on the farmSome of the solar panels that help with the power on the farmBlueberries

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.Trying my hand at picking Chardonnay through a varietyThe efficient farm workers

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.A bottle of Baronet Continue reading

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South African Adventure – Day 1 & 2

Sometimes life deals you a hand you can’t refuse…yup, again, I am blessed, to not only be participating in my first harvest, but to do it in South Africa is beyond anything I ever imagined. I have my own little loft with a magnificent view, and on a daily basis, I will have the company and expertise of two handsome, intelligent winemakers at Journey’s End Vineyards! I’ve already been put through some paces…vineyard tour, tasting the grapes for ripeness, barrel sampling and stock counting, along with going through said stock to get rid of expired product. Then later on in the afternoon, I was able to assist with a blending: the tanks were going to be blended with some Cabernet with the Merlot and vice versa. Finding the blend that tasted the best was the task, and along with the two winemakers and the consultant, I also had the chance to taste. We all agreed.

Nice. I think I passed my first test.

I also discovered that I was chosen from literally thousands of applications for this PIWOSA Women in Wine program, so I’m certainly feeling even more special!ViognierCabernet Franc

Harvest is almost ready to begin. It looks like the Chardonnay could start Monday, so that gives me this week to explore a little and perhaps check out the sights this weekend. I will however, be heading to a partner winery of PIWOSA, De Grendel Wine Estate tomorrow, and will have a chance to work there for a couple of days. Pinot Noir is ready to be harvested, and I am looking forward to seeing that part of South Africa as well as meeting Sir De Villiers Graaf (again), along with the rest of his family.

My first full day in the Cape. It was hot. Very hot, but the evening was calm and serene and this was where I spent the early evening, meeting new people and sharing this unbelievable view!

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South Africa: My Next Journey Awaits

Ringing in the new year always gives me pause and makes me reflect on the past year’s accomplishments as well as looking forward to what the new year may bring. I work in retail and the dichotomy between December and January is staggering. Fully staffed on many days leading up to Christmas with the hustle and bustle of the season, to only the boss and myself for the doldrums of January. Still in the business of selling wine, but the sales come to a screeching halt come January 1. Long days at the store might be spent doing inventory, making schedules, making up (a lot) smaller orders, then spreading out time in putting everything on the shelf. In between all that, there’s a few computer games, music, movies and drinking hot water (because wow, it’s really cold here right now).

With events that are coming up, I know I should probably spend my time a bit more wisely, but truth be told, I don’t want to. Yet one more time, I need to write an Italian wine exam, and my brain screams that I should be studying my flash cards, learning more minute details, and also researching for my next trip, but again, I just don’t want to. Let things come what may.  I’ll pick up the flashcards closer to the exam, and learn as I go where I’m headed.

Speaking of my next trip…something that came as a complete shock to me was an opportunity to go to South Africa. A friend of mine was there last year on an internship program, and she encouraged me to apply also. PIWOSA (Premiuim Independant Wineries of South Africa) is a group of wineries collaborating resources, ideas and expertise to promote South African wine of quality. I went on a press trip to Toronto in June, 2017 to meet these producers, and found out myself how to apply for this internship program. Only for women in the wine business, it’s a journey to learn all aspects of harvest in both the vineyard and the winery.  I received the news in October that I had been chosen by Journey’s End Vineyards to assist in all matters of grape sampling, machine harvesting, hand harvesting, crushing, pressing, cleaning of tanks and barrel work, making additions, inoculations, lab work, sugar readings, and any other general cellar and vineyard work. What exactly does this all mean? Well, to be honest, I have no idea! Truly, I’m heading to Cape Town in two weeks with really no idea how much work I’ll be doing, when I’ll be doing it, or if I will have any downtime! There’s also the matter of being on a continent and in a country that isn’t always the safest! Ignorance is bliss as they say…I really don’t know what to expect.

But what I DO expect is to be surrounded by some of the utmost beauty of landscape, to taste grapes that have come from the earth, with the help of nature, soil and weather; to marvel in another piece of God’s creation, in a part of the world I have not yet been. I’ll also expect to taste some great wines that we don’t see here in this part of the world. No band-aid or bad Brett, just quality, varietally correct wine. And THAT is something I expect! I look forward to sharing my journey with you, in pictures, posts and comments. As they say in Afrikaans, Gesondheid!

The view I expect to see when I wake up every morning in South Africa! (photo courtesy of Journey’s End at

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What Are you Doing New Years Eve?

‘Tis the season for bubbles…with International Champagne Day coming up on December 31, not only will Champagne be opened, but other such bubbles too. So what’s your favourite bubbly for not just NYE, but any special occasions? Or do you find yourself reaching for something else?

The first thing I reach for is rarely a Champagne. Maybe a little Brunello, or Nerello, but very rarely a bubbly.

This NYE, maybe you’ll forego the traditional Champagne in favour of something else. Cremant perhaps? Made in exactly the same way as Champagne, but in other parts of France and often different grape varieties. Or what about you Prosecco fans? There’s a great amount of that out there too with different levels of sweetness, lending itself to steely or creamy in your mouth, some beautiful floral and peachy notes, not to mention the cocktails and blends you could make with it!

LombardThis year though, I WILL be reaching for a Champagne, surprising even myself! Not Veuve, or Bollinger or Roederer, but rather an independent, family run company called Lombard, which is located in the heart of Epernay. They have 100 ha of land, with both chardonnay and pinot noir grown on both premier cru and grand cru sites. This Extra Brut, Premier Cru Blanc de Noir, made with 100% Pinot Noir comes from some of the best terroir and vineyards of the Montagne de Reims. Lots of chalk in this soil lending to the clean minerality finish of this wine, but the red berry notes come through as well as vanilla, brioche and sweet pastry coming from 48 months on the lees.

My New Years Eve will be setting up a charcuterie platter complete with Chaource cheese, olives and various meats. And maybe after the Champagne, I WILL open that bottle of Brunello or Nerello! Happy 2018 to everyone! May all your dreams come true in this coming year! Santé!

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Life is Short…Drink More Wine.

Hey, I know it’s been a long time. My aspirations to write a weekly blog pretty much went out the window after my last posting in…October? Life, heartache, loss and writer’s block seem to keep me off the page. My best “writing” occurs at night when my eyes are closed and I’m ready to drift off to sleep. So the other night I put a notebook by my bed and wrote down ideas as they came to me, before I fell asleep! I WILL cure this writer’s block yet!

Time’s change. A seemingly lost friendship is always difficult to deal with, and mine is no different. Where once conversation was easy, it’s now stilted and awkward. But life moves on and people make different decisions and that’s okay. Little reminders along the way of things shared together in the past make the memories that much more bittersweet. Wines tasted together during the times spent together, now bring different memories when consumed again. I don’t drink wine to forget, I drink wine to remember. And the remembering is an important part of the journey and moving forward to the next thing.

Last night was our monthly tasting get together. A great group of people I’m involved with meet once a month to taste wine and discuss. The theme was sparkling wine (no parameters as long as it had bubbles!) and there was a great array of bottles brought, including the exclusive 2006 Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs. As part of the discussion, we always ask how much said bottles were. This particular one was quite expensive. If one were to go buy it off a retail shelf (which you pretty much can’t do now as it’s all gone) it would cost you almost 300 bucks a bottle. But for my buddy that brought it, no matter the price, there was no doubt in his mind that he’d share it with his peeps because that’s what you do with good wine…you share it with people you love, you want to be with and that will appreciate it. All three categories may not prevail in every case, but I would say that last night all three did!  It’s one of those experiences that I will never forget, and if I’m ever fortunate to taste another bottle of Comtes, whatever the vintage, I will remember this night. So, yeah, I don’t drink wine to forget, I drink it to remember. Life is short…drink more wine.

I’ve been told on many occasions that I am greatly blessed and highly favored. I don’t take that phrase lightly, but when it’s told to me by several people that do not know each other in any way, I pay attention. So, when I found a necklace that said that very thing, I knew it was a sign, and I wear that inexpensive little thing with a great deal of pride and a blush every time someone reads it out loud as it’s hanging around my neck. Yeah, I am.

Since it’s December I always have a chance to look back on the year and see what I’ve accomplished. Truthfully, life’s been pretty good, and what I may be going through is minutiae compared to other friends my age who are losing their parents, spouses or other deeply loved ones. Now that’s tough, and I won’t really know what they are going through unless I go through it myself. And the hope is always that it never happens tomorrow. But in the meantime, life is short, so I’ll drink more wine. No, not excessively, ever. But tasting, appreciating, learning, sipping, remembering, reminiscing, reflecting, sharing and I hope, with lots of smiles and laughter. Salute, Cheers, Santé, Prost, Salud, Chimo, Saude…whatever you prefer, I raise my glass to you!


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