Like any great dish, a great wine is made even greater by its story. And with a history as rich as that of my home country, experiencing a South African wine is so much more than a journey of the senses — it’s about the people behind the wine.
About a Boy
The story of De Grendel reads like something out of a classic movie — something David Lean might have made — one of those four-hour epics, like Lawrence of Arabia or A Passage to India. Had there been a film, the opening shot might have drunk in the pastoral beauty surrounding a Victorian-era Villiersdorp, from there cutting to a boy of eleven and his brother bidding their impoverished mother and father farewell in one of those crushingly emotional scenes.
The family is left with no choice but for their sons to venture to Cape Town to work for their uncle at his butchery. But despite the tear in his trousers and the disintegrated soles of his shoes, the young David Pieter de Villiers Graaff’s posture is proud and upright. He is, after all, the grandson of Pieter Hendrik de Villiers, the town’s founding father. Yet until that moment, nothing about this boy’s life could have prepared him for the life that lay ahead.
A World in Flux
The year was 1870, and the country — indeed the world — was changing rapidly. In the north, the largest diamond deposit ever discovered had just been found in Cullinan near the city of Pretoria. The impact of this discovery would have been felt all the way to Cape Town, Africa’s most developed city at the time, as an influx of merchants and prospectors began to capitalise on the city’s commercial prowess.
By his early 20s — now a proud director, alongside his brother, of a spell of butcheries across the Mother City — David witnessed the first successful shipment of refrigerated meat, bound for Britain, arriving at Cape Town harbour from Australia. Soon, he was travelling the world, learning everything he could about this new technology with the aim of expanding their business empire. And so he did by establishing The Imperial Cold Storage Company in 1899.
Mixing Business with Politics
Blessed with an innate wisdom garnered from a young age, he also knew that money’s influence was fickle — unable to effect great change by itself — and so at the same time, he pursued a career in politics.
Over the span of his formidable career, he used his business savvy to introduce electricity to Cape Town, built the city’s Foreshore by reclaiming land from the sea, and bankrolled the Table Mountain Aerial Cable way. He became mayor of Cape Town at the age of 32, and was a member of both the Cape and South African parliaments, befriending influential statesmen like Louis Botha and Jan Smuts. His influence was so profound, in fact, that he was made a baronet by King George V in 1911 — and even accompanied Botha to the Versailles peace conference in 1919.
Sir David Graaff’s long-held dream to produce a first-class Bordeaux-style red blend, was realised in the spring of 2009 when the maiden 2006 vintage was released. The current 2015 vintage is a thoughtful construction of only the finest grapes by Cellar Master Charles Hopkins and consists of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc.
The Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are situated in the Firgrove area, approximately 6 km from False Bay. The grapes are selected from specific sites focusing on lower yields, the age of the vines, and the soil types. The average berry weight of the selected vines is less than a gram, making them small and delivering excellent flavour concentration. The Cabernet Franc thrives in Cape coffee stone while the Merlot and Petit Verdot both perform well in weathered blue Durbanville shale.
poetry in a bottle
The name Rubaiyat is the Persian word for a quatrain: a verse comprising four lines reflecting the four varietal components of the blend. Inspiration came from the Graaff family’s treasured copy, acquired by Sir David Graaff’s grandfather, of a 19th-century English translation of a lyrical poem by an 11th-century Persian astronomer and mathematician pondering on life’s great questions. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam covers more than 750 verses and the 2015 vintage of De Grendel’s Rubaiyat depicts one of the poem’s quatrains on its front label.
And much as Wine has played the Infidel,
And robb’d me of my Robe of Honour – well,
I often wonder what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.
Subsequent vintages will each bear another quatrain.
Deep ruby red in colour, floral nuances of fynbos alluringly give way to luscious aromas of blackcurrant and black plum. This is underpinned by distinctively complex notes of cedar wood, mocha and dried herbs. Delectable flavours of blackberry and mulberry are rounded off by velvety tannins and savoury spice.
Elegant enough to compliment the richest of roasts. Pairs perfectly with rosemary lamb, medium rare Chateaubriand, Boeuf Bourguignon and Beef Wellington.