De Grendel walked away with an incredible three awards at the CWSA 2018. Both the De Grendel Amandelboord Pinotage 2016 and the De Grendel Shiraz 2016 won Gold, and the De Grendel Rubaiyat 2015 won Double Gold, and was additionally named the South African Wine of the Year, a coveted trophy award.
Lady Graaff remembers her reaction to hearing the news about the naming of the wine: “It was a great surprise. Initially I didn’t take it seriously; then I realised it was a very nice gesture. It was an easy acceptance in the end because both my mother and my grandmother are named Winifred, so I just think of it as being named after them.”
Sir De Villiers Graaff (4th baronet), says the wine holds a special place in his heart. “It reminds me of my grandmother who had the same name, and whom I was particularly fond of,” he says, commenting that the blend of three varietals makes it a very versatile wine.
Sir David Graaff (3rd Baronet), Sally Lady Graaff & Sir De Villiers Graaff (4th Baronet) at the opening of the De Grendel Wines cellar in 2006.
“The Viognier, Semillon and Chardonnay are all wooded, but the wood plays a supportive rather than dominant role. It’s an unusual blend, making this a unique wine. The Viognier gives it a peachiness with great viscosity in the mouth, the Chardonnay adds some grapefruit and the Semillon provides lemongrass and waxiness. Each sip you take reveals new flavours, and this is a sign of a special wine,” says Charles Hopkins, Cellar Master.
You won’t find a farmer in the Western Cape who won’t say it’s been a challenging season for the wine industry. But, Charles Hopkins, Cellar Master at De Grendel says, this may result in some of the most interesting wines to come out of the estate for years.
‘When we look back in three or four years’ time, people will remember the intensity of weather conditions, but say it was a great year for red wines,’ says Hopkins. ‘The heat doesn’t affect the reds as much as white grapes. The lower rainfall led to smaller berries, but small, thick-skinned berries are what you actually want. The smaller the berry, the better the colour. The De Grendel Shiraz 2016 is looking great, as are the Merlot and Pinotage.’
The January heatwave and low rainfall have inevitably had a profound affect with Hopkins estimating the whole industry will be down between 10 and 20%. Fortunately, De Grendel has water on the farm, but the heat was still challenging.
‘You hope for a cool, moderate hanging or ripening time in January, but this year we experienced temperatures between 33 and 40 degrees on the farm every day,’ says Hopkins. The hot and dry conditions lead to a drop in the acids, he says. ‘All wineries, including De Grendel, will have had to buffer their pH this season to ensure the wine stays fresh and crisp and there’s enough balance and longevity.’
Crop sizes are also down, dropping from 80 to 60 tons per block, with Sauvignon Blanc hardest hit and down by about 35%, with both smaller clusters and berries due to the heat. ‘We started picking on January 11 and I was feeling pretty depressed!’ confesses Hopkins. We started with the sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There is usually a lag and you wait a while to pick the Sauvignon Blanc, but this year we were straight into it. We were boots and all into Sauvignon Blanc,’ he says.
The concern, he explains, is that the heat ‘cooks away the flavours in the fruit’. ‘Our Sauvignon Blanc were very fruity and great to taste. My challenge was to lock up these flavours in the wine, and I think I have achieved this.’
De Grendel usually purchases the additional Sauvignon Blanc for the estate’s award-winning De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, but this year Hopkins says had to source more grapes than usual. Because of shortages in the Darling area, grapes were bought from Lutouw on the West Coast, instead. ‘I had to choose grapes that fit with the Darling style. Lutouw is three kilometres away from the ocean. It’s a very special location, but a real logistical challenge to get the grapes. It wasn’t our first choice, but I’m very pleased with the results of the De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2016.’ As a result of the change, this year’s vintage will be classified origin ‘Western Cape’ rather than ‘Coastal’.
In summary, Hopkins says the De Grendel Merlot 2016 and De Grendel Shiraz 2016 will highly collectable. ‘The acid in our De Grendel MCC Brut 2016 is a bit lower, but in a few years it will possibly become rounder, sweeter and more crisp,’ he says. ‘I think we will look back on this season as challenging, but ultimately exciting for our wines.’
While the city of Cape Town was developing rapidly, in 1898, the sumptuous manor house at the De Grendel farm was being built 'in the country'. The Victorian mansion is in the style of architect Herbert Baker’s unique approach to the Cape-Dutch gable style. Baker, who designed the Union Buildings and other well-known and grand South African buildings, designed the De Grendel’s manor house in a way that reflects the grandeur and rich history of the Graaffs that we are all able to appreciate today.
The first baronet, Sir David Graaff, had just bought the farm where he settled his prized Arab horses and Friesland cattle. In the early days Graaff’s coaches for his horses were kept on the hillside of De Grendel’s manor house in the Koetshuis. It was originally a resting place for travelers before crossing the Tygerberg on their way to the interior, and today, the prize Sauvignon Blanc wine produced on the farm gets its name from the Koetshuis.
Soon after his resignation as cabinet member in 1913 Graaff extended the residence. A third gable was added asymmetrically to the imposing double-storey homestead with its eight bedrooms and panoramic seaward view across the plain to Table Mountain. At the time of Graaff’s extensions of the manor house he had a small church built for the use of the people in the neighbourhood. A prominent Cape firm of architects, Parker & Forsyth, drew up the plans. And called the little stone church the Tygerberg Church. In the cemetery adjoining the little church, all the deceased Graaff baronets and members of their families are peacefully resting.
The wine cellar, officially opened in 2006 after Sir David started producing wine at De Grendel, was designed by a family member, Linda Graaff, the Cape Town architect and daughter of Dr Jannie Graaff, uncle of Sir David. The office of the farm’s owner, presently Sir De Villiers Graaff the fourth baronet, was also moved to this building. Initially the extended structure on the hill was planned closer to the manor house and lower down the slopes of the Tygerberg. But on the higher level where the cellar was eventually built, it encompassed both the magnificent view of Table Mountain and at the back the higher part of the Tygerberg with its renosterveld reserve.
Using the principles of Feng Shui, the ancient system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment, the cellar has been designed and decorated to blend the old with the new, combining the heritage of the Graaff family history with a new era in winemaking and wine tasting. Also, architect Linda Graaff purposely set out to link the public space and private operations of the winemaking process in the cellar. From the front entrance with its pillars which replicate those in the manor’s garden, a ramp goes down to the cellar and winetasting area alongside dramatic windows which act as spy holes into the manufacturing process and into the vast cellar itself where the barrels are stored.
It is a remarkable feat to have the architecture so interwoven with the principles and creations of De Grendel today. Everything that comes out of De Grendel is embellished with it’s exceptional foundations; for what would the wine, the cattle or the land be without them.