De Grendel Sings
De Grendel Sings
by James Bisset
Charles Hopkins races into the tasting room, and starts talking without breaking his stride:
“I’m so sorry I’m late. Big misunderstanding. De Grendel was founded in 1720 when…”
De Grendel’s cellarmaster is a tower of a man and not one you would be quick to interrupt. So there was no interruption. I had been hoping for more than the farm’s beginnings, after all they’re comprehensively documented on their website.
But I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t long before I was reminded about what makes De Grendel special.
Most winemakers are rightfully fastidious when it comes to the source of their grapes. Many are determined to use only fruit that is grown on their property. For some, the idea of making wine from grapes that are farmed elsewhere is forbidden. But when Charles took up the offer to head up winemaking at De Grendel, it was under the condition that he be able to incorporate grapes from other regions.
Not that there’s anything wrong with De Grendel’s site. With a majestic view of Cape Town’s Table Mountain, it’s a mere 8km from the cold Atlantic Ocean, and the vines are heavily influenced by the breeze that blows off of it. It’s also up in the Durbanville Hills, so the microclimate is much cooler than neighbouring wine regions. Cool though it may be, it is best suited to their top selling Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. But to make a truly world class Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, Charles knew that he needed an even cooler site.
The inland town of Ceres sits at altitude 130km from Cape Town. Cold and wet in winter while dry and warm in summer, it is crucial to South Africa’s deciduous fruit production. It is considered by many to be next frontier for South Africa’s winemakers. De Grendel’s owners – the Graaff’s – have been farming the surrounding Witzenberg mountain range for generations.
So Charles’ eyes light up at the mention of the Witzenberg, which is no surprise considering that two if his most revered wines are from this hugely exciting region.
The Op die Berg (On the Mountain) Chardonnay 2020 shows off the harsh climate well. There’s a vibrancy and a tension that was born in the winter snow. It is tempered by the moderate use of oak, filling in those glorious apple and citrus flavours with some decadence. This wine will smooth out further in time, but is already good to go.
Op die Berg Pinot Noir 2017 is perhaps De Grendel’s most awarded wine, and a fantastic example of what Pinot Noir is capable of in South Africa. The cool climate has allowed the grapes to reach full ripeness while retaining a thrilling acidity. Bright red fruits and fynbos abound in a wine that is a match for whatever you’re eating tonight.
De Grendel’s Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc 2019 is a very particular and grown up take on the variety. From grapes grown on the West Coast where they thrive, this wine was fermented in both new and old oak, and blended with a dash of Semillon for even greater complexity. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, this one’s for you. If you don’t like Sauvignon Blanc, it’s for you too.
Meanwhile the Amandelboord Pinotage 2019 is a worthy addition to the range. A variety that received mixed reviews a generation ago, it has shown itself to be an elegant joy when handled correctly (read, gently) in the cellar. Without over-oaking or extraction, it presents the best characteristics of its parents, Pinot Noir and Hermitage. This wine, while on the fuller side is bright, elegant and ready to be enjoyed immediately.
And so it is that De Grendel, from its enviable location produces wines that represent the Western Cape in its entirety. From west coast to east coast and the mountains that run through the middle, these are grapes grown where they grow best to become wines that hit all the right notes.
Which is appropriate. Shortly after leaving us to tend to his cellar, we heard what sounded like beautiful opera music coming from the speakers outside.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing that’s just Charles singing in the passage”.
Of course it is.