De Grendel is currently owned by De Villiers Graaff, who has the distinction of being the only hereditary (British) title holder in South Africa, his family having acquired his title by a combination of ancestral opportunity and chance.
In 1911, for reasons possibly not unrelated to South Africa’s recent independence, George V sent three baronet titles out to the Cape to be awarded to whoever the country’s rulers saw fit. The new government, by all accounts, didn’t hold much truck with inherited titles but were anxious not to offend the Brits, so decided to award them to older, unmarried bastions of society with the intention that the title would die with them.
For two of the new baronets, this scheme worked perfectly. But a year after receiving his, David Graaff, a successful businessman and mayor of Cape Town, married the much younger Eileen van Heerden, and they started a family. The baronetcy would live on.
Graaff first bought the De Grendel estate outside Cape Town in 1890. On a (rare) traffic-free run it’s still only 20 minutes from the city, with spectacular views of Table Mountain, Cape Town and False Bay. It’s well worth a visit, not least for its excellent restaurant.
It’s a big estate – 420 hectares – though only around a fifth of it is planted to vines. The first were planted in 2000, mainly because De Villiers’ grandfather was concerned that vineyards would detract from what he saw as prime cattle-grazing land!
While biodiversity-friendly farming is practised across the 420ha farm, there is also a 100ha conservation area set aside for the protection of indigenous flora and fauna, including the highly endangered Renosterveld; De Grendel was granted WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Conservation Champion status in 2023.
Sustainability is not a new concept or a one-off project at De Grendel. The Graaff family motto, justis favet creator (‘the creator favours the just’), underpins the De Grendel philosophy of a shared history, shared responsibility and shared future for all those who live and work on the farm.
The main varieties are now Sauvignon Blanc, which does particularly well, Merlot, Shiraz/Syrah, Petit Verdot and Pinotage.
De Grendel isn’t only about its estate wines, however. They buy in grapes from near Elim, along the coast to the east, and also have vineyards on the Ceres plateau, 200km north-east of Cape Town, which are justifiably generating a lot of excitement. The Shiraz wines from these two areas are fascinatingly different, yet united in their excellence, and there’s surely more to come from both spots.
‘We began with 1,800 cases, now we’re at 80,000 cases,’ says cellarmaster Charles Hopkins. ‘It’s a fairytale that’s taken ten years.’
De Grendel – Four wines to try:
Op die Berg Syrah, Ceres Plateau, 2021
This wine from the Ceres Plateau has turned heads since it was first produced, and it’s easy to see why. Like their Elim Shiraz, there’s no noticeable oak here, it’s all about the fruit character: tightly packed cherry and mulberry flavours interwoven with lavender and a dusting of dry spice. Powdery tannins with a finely integrated acid line, it is a yogic wine: loose-limbed and flexible, but strong and poised at the same time.
Drink 2024-2030 | Alcohol 13%
Sir David Graaff, Coastal Region, 2015
With an aristocratic name and an aristocratic (and genuine) crest on the bottle, it’s just as well that this wine delivers. From one of the best vintages of the last 10 years, even with some good bottle age (it’s a ‘blast of tannin’ when younger), it’s only now starting to show its potential. Darkly powerful black plum and cedar unfurl into spices, tobacco and griottes on the palate. Opulent and rich, it’s a kind of Cape Grange. One to put down for 20 years, if possible.
Drink 2030-2050 | Alcohol 14.5%
Elim Shiraz, Elim, 2020
From Elim, the windy southern tip of Africa, this Shiraz (only ever in magnum) defies its light ruby colour to pack in a lot of complexity. Black cherries and blackberries mingle with thyme and oregano, with a frisson of black pepper. The tannins are very fine, and there’s an attractive natural lift to it as well, which suggests real longevity.
Drink 2023-2032 | Alcohol 13%
Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Town, 2023
De Grendel’s biggest-production wine, this is a good example of affordable, approachable Cape Sauvignon. Tropical fruit flavours of guava and pineapple are countered by citrus and blackcurrant bush, while a smattering of Semillon adds further limey punch. A good match for spicy prawns or a Thai salad.
Drink 2023-2025 | Alcohol 13.5%