Visitors to Cape Town are always on the lookout for nice places to visit. There is certainly no shortage of them – from Simon’s Town and the penguins, to 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.
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 Dutch word pampoen, meaning pumpkin, and “kraal”, an enclosure for livestock). 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. So, 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, as it remains today.
Today, it is a magistracy and municipality and is a sought-after residential area with excellent schools and civic facilities. One of the early and strong contributing factors to its economy was its wagon building industry, with its King Brothers Wagon Works among the country’s biggest wagon building operations. Those were the days Durbanville had a few hundred residents.
Today, things are very different. It is a thriving town, part of bigger Cape Town, and a place that has many spectacular sight-seeing opportunities, clear skies, an excellent climate and rolling hills, hence the Durbanville Hills.
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 or 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 much of today’s Durbanville, Parow and Bellville were born out of this land. Some 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: the estate is its own world.
Today, De Grendel is renowned for its tradition of making wine, a story which, mirabile dictu, is impressive in itself. After a hiatus of 200 years, the proprietor at the time, Sir David Graaff, a descendant of the South African politician Sir David de Villiers Graaff, re-established the wine making operation, planting the first wave of vines in 1999. However, vine growing and wine making were never the originally intended principles of the establishment. The first farming operation was horse breeding, followed by the establishment of a cattle stud, although there were also some vines on the farm from the start.
The farm was purchased by the Graaff family in 1890, when it was still far out of Cape Town. The purpose was for it to serve as a breeding and resting ground for the Arab horses that Sir David had acquired on a tour of Argentina.
In 1912, having this farmland on which the horses could be bred, and seeking a suitable respite from the stressful life of politics, Sir David soon turned his hand to breeding Holsteins, importing 14 cows that all traced their pedigree to the family of cows from Friesland in 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.
When Sir David passed away in 1931, his baronetcy and land ownership were passed on to his eldest son, Sir De Villiers Graaf, 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 grandfather, 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 anthills of brown-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). Was it perhaps the excellent terroir and the reddish soil that Sir David had spotted that prompted him to move into wine production?
For whatever reason, it was clearly visionary.
More recently (2012), the farm opened a restaurant, which enables patrons to have the best of all worlds: fine food, wine and a spectacular venue with breathtaking, sweeping views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Several venues within the restaurant itself make it a fun place to go, regardless of season and weather. The pièce de résistance, however, must surely be the terrace in summer – although (personally speaking) the indoor dining is hard to beat (if you do not enjoy the al fresco stuff).
For inside luncheons or dining, there are two areas, one a small, intimate dining room, and then your bigger, more spacious one; or, altogether separate from these two is a place for private wine-tastings, where you can have the place all to yourself and friends.
It’s by the food, finally, that the place will be judged. Or, the wine? But, to be the best, it’s got to have both. The emphasis is on contemporary South African cuisine: judging by the number of awards pinned on the walls, it has not been short of awards. Chef Ian Bergh and team operate behind a glass-walled kitchen with wrap-around views of the environs.
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 setup of this establishment. Then, there is a personal touch from the history of the Graaff family, generously shared with patrons: as they dine, they are surrounded by a rich past, from the manner after which the Graaff matriarchs saw to the laying of tables, to personal paintings and photographs, and just the most amazing attention to detail.
Booking is essential for wine-tasting as well as eating there.
Sir De Villiers’s wine agents from Mauritius, the Oxenham family, have been providing a wide range of products to Mauritians and visitors to the island for four generations, with a network servicing 4 900 points of sale in addition to their own distribution centre.
Apart from the excellent and rich terroir at De Grendel for producing fine wine, the Durbanville region itself is well suited because of the cool breeze off the sea’s face, essential for good sauvignon blancs as well as red wines. But here, the whites are the core focus, for example, 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 in its story as the wine is in its scientific origins (go to 1of1privatecollection.co.za for a fuller account).
The selection of wines at the estate is phenomenal: apart from the brave whites, there is a salmon-hued rosé, an apple-driven MCC brut, a cherry-rich pinot noir, a top-notch merlot, an excellent 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 of the same name (Omar Kayyam was an Iranian prophet-astronomer).
For instance, the following quatrains (verses V and VI) from this work are examples of the sensual quality that wine can bring the imbiber who loves it, and the farm selects a quatrain that it deems appropriate for the specific vintage:
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.
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.
When you have visited here, you want to return – although, being such a special place, it deserves being reserved for visits on the most special occasions.
Driving out and looking back, one cannot 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 the above – and the visionaries at De Grendel noble and brave enough to enable opportunities for others to enjoy.
 Note: Rubaiyat was written by Omar Kayyam in 1120 BC, and the authoritative translation is by Edward FitzGerald (1859).