Paul Murray writes about De Grendel, the jewel of Durbanville Hills & Tygerberg…

View over De Grendel towards Table Mountain, at dawn

Visitors to Cape Town are always on the lookout for nice places to visit.  There is certainly no shortage of them … from Simons Town and the Penguins, up Table Mountain, down to Cape Point and … then Kirstenbosch.  All more than enough to keep the curious tourist busy for a week!

Then there are places off the beaten track, and sometimes they are not so far from the City.

De Grendel in earlier times

An example of such a place is Durbanville, with its spectacular hills and the great outdoors.  The name given to the town derives from Sir Benjamin d’Urban then Governor of the Cape.  It was formerly known as Pampoenkraal (from the compound word in Dutch meaning pumpkin – pampoen & kraal, an enclosure for keeping livestock in).  It was in 1836, ten years after the Dutch Reformed Church was built there, that the Pampoenkraal inhabitants petitioned d’Urban to name the town after himself.  This is how it came to be known as D’Urban.  However, as one can imagine, some confusion arose with the city of Durban, and in 1886 the name was changed to Durbanville, which is how it is known today.

De Grendel Manor House today

Today it is a magistracy and municipality and is a sought-after residential area with excellent schools and civic facilities.  One of its early and strong contributing factors to its economy was its wagon-building, sporting among the country’s biggest wagon building industries, the King Brothers Wagon Works.  Those were the days Durbanville had a few hundred residents.

Today, things are much different.  It is a thriving town, part of bigger Cape Town, and a place that has much spectacular sight-seeing opportunities, not least clear skies, an excellent climate and rolling hills as in the Durbanville Hills.

Spectacular views from the winery looking down onto the lake, where fish swim & game & stock roam

One of the mountains in this area of low-lying mountains and verdant hills is Tygerberg, which is a District in the Northern Suburbs of the City of Cape Town.  Along this range of hills, were once the most spectacular farms such as Pampoenkraal, Stellenburgh, Evertsdal, Blommensteijn, Door de Kraal, Vissershok and Clara Anna Fontein.   These were the farms of that area that were allocated in the Seventeenth/Eighteenth Century, by the Governor, to supply meat and produce to the Dutch East India Company.  Gradually however, these farms gave way to urbanisation, and today much of Durbanville, Parow and Bellville are born out of this land.  Certain of these estates have survived till today and farming activities and enterprises have continued unabated, for hundreds of years.

It’s as if in some of these places, time has stood still.

An example is De Grendel, which when one enters the Estate … it is its own world.

The farm’s emblem dating back to  1720 when the VOC allocated the land to the first proprietor.

Today De Grendel is renowned for its tradition of making wine, a story which in itself is mirabile dictum.

After a hiatus of 200 years, the proprietor at the time, descendant of the South African politician Sir David De Villiers Graaff, Sir David Graaff re-established it, planting the first wave of vines in 1999.   However, vine-growing and wine making was never the intended first principles of the establishment.  The farming operations were originally horse breeding followed by the establishment of a cattle stud … although there were also some vines on the farm from the start.

The late Sir David de Villers Graaff founder of De Grende Wines

Today De Grendel Wines is an integrated part of the farming operations.

The farm was purchased by the Graaff family in 1890 when it was far out from Cape Town.  The purpose was to serve as a breeding and resting ground for the Arab horses that Sir David had acquired on a tour of Argentina.

Now, having this farmland, on which the horses could be bred, and, in 1912, as a suitable respite from the stressful life of politics, Sir David soon turned his hand to breeding Holsteins importing 14 cows that all trace their pedigree to the family of cows from Friesland, Holland and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany.  This breed of cow is particularly renowned for its high rate of production, and easier digestion of long grass.

Sir David Graaff, First Baronet, on De Grendel with his beloved cattle

It was mainly a cattle stud until more recently, wine growing became a major part of its farming operations.

Sir De Villiers & Lady Graaff, fourth generation to farm De Grendel

By the time Sir David passed away, in 1931, his baronetcy and land ownership, was passed on to his eldest son Sir De Villiers Graaff, who in turn passed it on to his son Sir David, who resurrected wine-growing on the farm, something that can be traced back to the earlier days.  Sir David, as with his Father and Grand-Father had entered the field of politics.  But in 1996 with his Father’s passing, he heeded the call to give full attention to the family estate at Tygerberg (also spelt Tijgerberg).  The farm today is in the hands of Sir De Villiers, fourth generation to farm here.

How-come the name Tijgerberg?  The spots against the mountainside to the North, were probably ant-hills of brow-yellow hue, protruding from the ground, thus giving the impression of the spots of a leopard (in Afrikaans a Leopard was summarily called a Tijger).  (In Afrikaans a Leopard was summarily called a Tijger).  Was it perhaps this excellent terroir (reddish soil) that Sir David had spotted, from the story of the tigers (leopards) at De Grendel that prompted him to move into wine production?

For whatever, reason it was clearly  visionary.

The De Grendel Restaurant

More recently (2012) the farm opened a restaurant which enables patrons to have the best of all the worlds: fine food, wine and a spectacular venue with breath-taking, sweeping views of Cape Town and Table Mountain.  Several venues within the restaurant itself, will make it a fun place to go to, season and weather notwithstanding.  The piece de resistance however must surely be the terrace in summer … although (personally), the indoor dining is hard to beat (if you do not enjoy the al fresco stuff).

For inside luncheon or dining, there are two areas, one a small intimate dining room and then your bigger more spacious one, or yet altogether separate from these two, a place for private wine-tastings where you can have the place all to yourself and friends.

The smaller more intimate dining area

The views from the slopes of the mountain are spectacular, especially of Table Mountain in the distance.

It’s in the food, finally, that the place will be judged.  Or the wine? But to be the best, it’s got to be both.  The emphasis is on contemporary South African – judging by the number of awards pinned on the walls, it has not been short of awards.  The Chef Ian Bergh and team operate behind a glass-walled kitchen with wrap-around views of the environs.

Ian Bergh, Chef at De Grendel’s award winning restaurant

Says the Chef: ‘Here at De Grendel it is all about beautiful, simple, tasty food. My style of cooking is making the kind of food we all love to eat, uncomplicated and all about the ingredients.’   Having worked with Franck Dangereux at one of Cape Town’s best restaurants, La Colombe (Bergh was the sous-chef there), there has to be some truth that he is a serious chef.

Much historical research went into the set-up of this establishment.  Then there is a personal touch from the history of the Graaff family, generously shared with patrons, as they dine, surrounded by a rich past; from the manner in which the Graaff matriarchs saw to the laying of tables, personal paintings and photographs, and just the most amazing attention to detail.

Booking is essential, for wine-tasting as well as eating there.

Aerial view of the De Grendel Winery & Restaurant

Apart from the excellent and rich terroir at De Grendel for producing fine wine, the Durbanville region itself is suited because of the cool breeze off the sea’s face, essential for good Sauvignon Blanc as well as red wine.  But here the whites are the core focus, such as the De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, so named because the vineyards for this varietal adjoin the coach house (koetshuis in Afrikaans is the Coach House).  The way this wine has come to the fore is as inspiring for its story as it is for its scientific origins – click here for a fuller account.

Sir De Villiers & Lady Graaff & their family, at the Koetshuis [the children are much taller now.]

The selection of wines at the Estate is phenomenal – apart from the brave whites, there is a salmon-hued Rosé; and apple-driven MCC Brut, a cherry-rich Pinot Noir, a top-notch Merlot and Shiraz, and something quite special, a Bordeaux blend called Rubaiyat.  The choice of the name comes from Sir David’s love for the eleventh century love poems of Omar Kayyam’s work (Omar Kayyam was an Iranian Prophet-Astronomer.

A wine named for the founder of De Grendel, the Sir David Graaff 2013

For instance, the following quatrains from it are examples of the sensualist quality that wine can bring the imbiber who loves it (verses V and VI) – and the farms selects a quatrain that it deems appropriate for the specific vintage:

V
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd’s Sev’n-ring’d Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.

VI
And David’s lips are lockt; but in divine
High-piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!”–the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers t’ incarnadine.

From – http://classics.mit.edu/Khayyam/rubaiyat.html

The Rubaiyat was written by Omar Kayyam in 1120 B.C.E. and the authoritative translation is by Edward FitzGerald in 1859.  Click here for more information

The wines are beautifully and elegantly packaged

There are many works of art and photographs stationed throughout the building, that reflect the themes surrounding De Grendel; an estate in beautiful colourful countryside, clear skies, open air and in Nature.

A strong counterpoise to the Nature scenes, are elegant historical stories and motifs, such as pictures, photographs and paintings of Cape Town and environs.

There’s some old-world feeling, with the new

A separate tasting area that seats enough for a good private party.

The mark of a good winery, maturing the wine in situ

Plenty of Awards to display

The Upstairs lounge has its own bar area, and spacious areas to relax and enjoy tasting excellent wine.

It is an honour to experience the products of such beautiful Nature – décor of beautiful fijnbos (a type of flora found at the Cape).

From the upper story, with beautiful views outside, onto the natural surroundings.

De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc

A big selection of wines, click here for more details.

Sir David Graaff, Founder, one of the wines is named after him – for his Vision of the farming operations. Packaged in splendour, and with history notes inside … to give it the deserved feeling of Gravitas.

De Grendel Amandelboord Pinotage 2016, a truly South African wine grape variety – 2016 an excellent vintage

Each dish a Masterpiece – Ravioli with a special Butternut sauce, photograph by Gaedry Graaff

Inside the Kitchen, the engine room, a stock-pot, the secret of the taste of some of the dishes at la haute cuisine at De Grendel. (Photograph with the Chef’s Permission).

The De Grendel Restaurant Stock Pot

When you have visited here you want to return … although it’s a special place and ideally it’s a special occasion and it won’t happen very often that you can come here.

Farm sign at De Grendel

Driving out and looking back one could not help think of another poet writing about wine:

“Wine brings to light the hidden secrets of the soul, gives being to our hopes, bids the coward flight, drives dull care away, and teaches new means for the accomplishment of our wishes.”

The First Century BC Latin Elegiac Poet, Horace was probably in some ways right when he said above … and the visionaries at De Grendel, noble and brave enough, to enable opportunities for others to enjoy.

Read more about De Grendel – click here https://degrendel.co.za

Paul Murray by Alan Gasson

This article is written by Dr Paul Murray, a teacher at the Diocesan College for Boys, known as Bishops, in Rondebosch Cape Town. Paul is an authority on C Louis Leipoldt, well know author and food writer of the middle of the 20th century.

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