De Grendel celebrates its 300th anniversary this year and the story of its fourth-generation owners, the Graaff family – is deeply woven into South Africa’s history.
Renowned for its award-winning wines and its restaurant rated among the best for fine dining in South Africa and Africa, De Grendel has been a working farm since the land on the Tygerberg hills outside Cape Town was granted in 1720.
Today De Grendel is synonymous with leading sustainable farming and conservation practices, home to vineyards, a prized Holstein cattle stud, dairy, sheep, horses, fruit, grain, and a conservancy of indigenous renosterveld and game.
To mark its tricentennial the farm is placing a distinctive 300th-anniversary seal on all their 2020 vintage wines.
De Grendel’s current owner, the 4th Baronet Sir De Villiers Graaff, says the milestone anniversary was a time for both celebration and reflection.
“De Grendel as a farm is 300 years old and as a family, we have been responsible for the stewardship of this unique piece of South Africa’s agricultural history for more than a century. Each generation has made its own mark and brought something new to the farm, as we strive to conserve the legacy and the environment while also looking to the future.
“Our vision and our responsibility is to continue building De Grendel as a sustainable and successful enterprise at the centre of a community of all who live and work here, with some of the staff having roots on De Grendel stretching back five generations,” he adds.
The name De Grendel, originally De Grendel van de Tijgerberg, means “latch” or “lock” in old Dutch, signifying its position as the gateway for farmers and traders from Cape Town over the Tygerberg hills to the inland settlements of Durbanville and Stellenbosch.
Once a remote outpost of Cape Town, De Grendel today is a rural retreat in the midst of urban sprawl, stretching out over some 300 hectares of the fynbos-covered Tygerberg Hill at 350m above sea level, commanding sweeping views across Table Bay to Table Mountain, and is the entry point to the Durbanville wine route.
One of Cape Town’s oldest farms, the land was granted in 1720 to prosperous businessman Claas Meyboom and was bought in 1891 by David De Villiers Graaff, laying the foundations of a family legacy of stewardship of De Grendel and a defining role in the business, political and agricultural landscape of South Africa.
Many of De Grendel’s wines are linked to the Graaff family and its history, starting with the “grande dame” Winifred, a white blend launched at the cellar’s opening and named after Sir David’s wife, Sally, Lady Graaff, whose first name is Winifred.
Launched for the winery’s 10th anniversary, Amandelboord Pinotage honours the 2nd baronet, Sir De Villiers Graaff and his love of pinotage from the Durbanville ward, and his grandson and namesake, 4th baronet Sir De Villiers Graaff’s memories of horseriding through the farm’s almond orchard with his famous grandfather.
The special vineyard selection Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, a Top 10 Sauvignon in 2019, is so named because its vineyard is planted next to the original stables and coach house built by the first Baronet Graaff.
Grapes for De Grendel wines are sourced mainly from the estate but cellar master Charles Hopkins also seeks out unique areas for the particular characteristics they bring to certain cultivars, and in 2012 De Grendel released the first of its Op Die Berg wines, a Pinot Noir grown on the Graaff family farm in the Witzenberg mountains of Ceres, a high altitude cool continental climate that facilitates gradual ripening for concentrated, elegant, terroir-driven wines.
The Ceres plateau vineyards also produce Op Die Berg Chardonnay, with the 2020 vintage just released, and Hopkins is looking forward to releasing a single-vineyard Shiraz from the site in the next few years.
Hopkins has also long been intrigued by the unique cool maritime climate of the Elim area near Africa’s southern tip at Cape Agulhas and its potential to consistently produce Shiraz in the sought-after spicy black pepper rotundone style. His passion project came to fruition in 2016 with the release of the first vintage of De Grendel Elim Shiraz.
Now in its third vintage, the Elim Shiraz has attracted accolades from the beginning and in 2019 made history by earning Hopkins and De Grendel’s first five-star rating in the Platter’s South African Wine Guide 2020.
“It has been a privilege to have worked with Sir David from the start to establish vineyards and winemaking at De Grendel. In two decades since the first vines were planted, we have achieved incredible success as a relatively young winery, and that is due to the excellent terroir here on De Grendel and the other properties were are fortunate to source grapes from.
“Our success is also, primarily, due to the absolute commitment of Sir David and Sir De Villiers to producing wines of the highest quality by investing in quality from the start and constantly striving for growth and improvement,” Hopkins says.
Today De Grendel is about more than wine. Under the stewardship of Sir De Villiers Graaff, the 4th baronet, the De Grendel Restaurant was born in 2012. The restaurant offers a fine dining experience showcasing the farm and family heritage and framing the magnificent Table Mountain view in a cool, contemporary setting.
Head chef Ian Bergh has attracted international acclaim and awards for luxury fine dining with his menu drawing on farm produce and ingredients from local artisan suppliers to present an inventive, modern take on classic Cape cuisine.
De Grendel Restaurant was placed in the Top 10 for fine dining in Africa in the 2019 TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.
Sir De Villiers also enticed cellar master Hopkins into cider making, a natural progression from the family’s long involvement in apple farming, and Three Spades Cider was introduced in 2018 as a premium craft cider bearing the farm’s historic emblem of three spades.
He has also introduced commercial blueberry farming to the estate and wild game to the conservation area, while working to achieve greater sustainability for De Grendel through environmental measures including a reverse osmosis plant to alleviate Cape Town’s water shortage and long-term drought prospects.
A solar photovoltaic plant commissioned in 2015 powers 30% of De Grendel’s operations, leading to cost savings and a reduced carbon footprint, and further enhancing the farm’s carbon-negative status. De Grendel has long been a net carbon sink, with assessments showing that its natural vegetation removes more greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere than are released by the farm operations.
The Graaff family’s commitment to the public good and the natural environment is reflected in a long history of philanthropy, with the first Sir David having set an early example of giving back, especially to support education and funding the De Villiers Graaff High School named after him in Villiersdorp.
The current Sir De Villiers shares his ancestor’s passion for education and empowerment, and De Grendel’s farmworkers are involved in a shared-ownership basis while the farm invests in the education of workers and their children with funding for school and tertiary education, transport and school after-care.
Sir De Villiers chairs the Waitrose Foundation which funds the upliftment of farmworkers, and the family established the Montrose Foundation to address substance addiction and abuse in youth from disadvantaged communities.
“All of us at De Grendel have a shared history, shared responsibility and a shared future – that is what drives us to improve and grow, to deliver an outstanding experience for visitors and customers, and a sustainable future for our children and their children,” says Sir De Villiers.