Explore De Grendel with Cellar Master Charles Hopkins

Situated on the other side of the hill from the rest of the Durbanville wine route, De Grendel is unique amongst Cape vineyards in that it ...

Situated on the other side of the hill from the rest of the Durbanville wine route, De Grendel is unique amongst Cape vineyards in that it is the only estate with the holy wine triumvirate of sea views, cool ocean breezes and misty nights.

The views of Table Mountain and Cape Town from the long glass encased verandah of the De Grendel Tasting Lounge and Stoep
Confession: I was attracted to the wine and wine tourism industry by….yes, the delicious wines and the awe-inspiring food, the magnificent landscapes and breath-taking views. But then I met the lifeblood of the industry, its people and I was hooked.

From the workers in the vineyards and cellars, the viticulturists, the winemakers, the cellar masters and the tasting room sommeliers. Also the people working at the wine farm delis, restaurants, health spas and accommodation facilities. Those working behind the scenes: storemen, drivers, administrators, marketers, managers, etc. Oh yes, and don’t forget the farmers and the owners. There is just this something special about these people that has really won me over. I am enthused and inspired after almost every visit to one of our excellent wine farms and estates.  South Africa is very special and unique in this regard and I believe we offer wine tourists a world-class experience!
  


Charles Hopkins, the Cellar Master at De Grendel
One such a special person and highly regarded winemaker, is Charles Hopkins, the Cellar Master at De Grendel. I was recently very fortunate to meet him when I was invited with four other Bloggers to experience the magic of De Grendel for a day . De Grendel belongs to the Graaff family and is one of the better known farms in Cape Town. Charles has been at De Grendel since 2005. Before that he was the Cellar Master for Graham Beck Wines in Franschhoek.
 
The main entrance to De Grendel
I immediately picked up on Charles’ passion for his craft and the wine they make at De Grendel. His knowledge about wine is just astonishing, although he told me that he is still learning every day! He took us on a tour of the farm in a posh Land Rover Discovery and I was amazed to see a whole herd of Eland on the slopes of the Tygerberg Hill. Charles was entertaining us with all sorts of interesting facts about the dairy and cattle farming, the mutton-merino sheep that was brought to De Grendel in 1946 and the wine farming that was only established in 1999 when Sir David Graaff planted the first vines.
 
De Grendel stretching out over almost 330 hectares on the fynbos-covered slopes of Tygerberg Hill
De Grendel, meaning latch or lock in Dutch, is one of Cape Town’s oldest farms, stretching out over almost 330 hectares on the fynbos-covered slopes of Tygerberg Hill. The farm is situated within a pristine natural vegetation area known as 'Renosterveld' and the conservation thereof is a passion of the family.

We stopped right on top of the Tygerberg Hill at a lookout point which is 355 metres above sea level, where Charles spoiled us with his De Grendel MCC Brut 2015. This beautifully balanced MCC was perfect to celebrate this special occasion. It was a clear morning and we had an exquisite 360 degree view of the Cape Peninsula, with Table Bay and Robben Island right in front of us and The Durbanville Wine Valley just behind us with the Boland Mountains on the horizon.
  
Charles spoiled us with his De Grendel MCC Brut 2015
The area and specifically De Grendel is ideal to produce excellent Sauvignon Blanc. The varietal is very close to Charles’ heart and he pointed out that the Atlantic Ocean is only 7 kilometres away from the farm. The cooling breezes from there alleviate the summer heat allowing De Grendel’s grapes to hang for longer before they reach their perfect ripeness. Longer hang time means better colour and flavour in the wines.
  
Conditions at De Grendel are ideal to produce excellent Sauvignon Blanc
This climate, combined with a soil combination of blue shale, glen rosa and oak leaf, which Charles showed us examples of later at the tasting room, is perfect for cultivating Sauvignon Blanc. There are two different styles available at De Grendel: The crisp, grassy De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, which was so named because the grapes used to make this wine are grown in the vineyard that sprawls out right next to the old coach house (‘koetshuis’ in Afrikaans) where the wagons of days gone by were once kept. The other one is the very drinkable De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc, which is more tropical and fruit-driven than the Koetshuis.
 
De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc and De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc

On the way back to the cellar, Charles showed us De Grendel’s blueberry operations as well as their desalination and solar power plants. De Grendel is proudly carbon negative. An assessment of greenhouse gasses emitted and absorbed through operations on the De Grendel wine and dairy estate established that the Durbanville farm is a net carbon sink, meaning that the farm releases less carbon into the air than it absorbs through growth of vegetation on the farm.
The majestically elevated cellar building that also houses the tasting room and the restaurant
We made a turn at the bottom of the farm and took the road back up to the majestically elevated cellar building that also houses the tasting room and the restaurant. The building is designed around the practical considerations of both the process of wine making, and the experience of wine tasting. A ramp leads you from the tasting room into the belly of the building, through different layers and levels and to the glass-roomed restaurant on the floor below where the breathtaking Table Mountain vistas open up.

I also saw magnificent horses, farm goats and a springbok herd. Charles jokingly pointed out that “they also farm with crows” at De Grendel as a huge flock was sitting in a tree next to the road. At the cellar Charles demonstrated the state-of-the-art facilities and the whole wine making operation and introduced us to some of his team members.
  
Aspirant winemaker Gynor Fredericks from the The Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme assisting Cellar Master Charles Hopkins with the winemaking process at De Grendel
As a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild, Charles is also involved with their Protégé Programme that gives aspirant winemakers the rare opportunity of working side by side with members of the Guild. He was very proud to introduce us to his protégé, Gynor Fredericks, who was busy making Pinot Noir. The grapes were handpicked on the Graaff family farm in the Witzenberg Mountain range in Ceres. 


Click here to read more about The Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Programme. 
 

Charles Hopkins and Gaynor Fredericks

We were also privileged to be able to taste some of the freshly pressed Sauvignon Blanc grapes straight from the steel tanks and some that were at different stages of fermentation. For me a highlight was a barrel tasting of some of their red wines as well as the incredible Bordeaux style blend, the Rubaiyat which is De Grendel’s flagship wine. It was first made in 2006 when cellar master Charles was asked by Sir David Graaff to make an ‘iconic’ wine for the Estate. 
  
Guests at De Grendel enjoying the wine and ambience 
Then it was time for what everyone was waiting for, the highlight of the day: Lunch at the De Grendel Restaurant. They describe the food there as contemporary Cape Town cuisine, designed to complement their range of De Grendel wines. The wines are available in the restaurant at cellar door prices! The menu changes every day according to availability of ingredients and are locally sourced, served in creative flavour combinations and served with a an inventive, modern edge.
  
Food and Wine Pairing at De Grendel Restaurant
The kitchen prepared a five course food and wine pairing feast for as and each course was introduced by Sous Chef Conrad van den Heever, who has years of experience working at Michelin-starred restaurants in London as well as some of South Africa’s award-winning fine dining restaurants. Charles told us more about each of the De Grendel wines that were served with the dishes.

Charles recently tried his hand at cider making and as a result Three Spades Cider saw the light. It offers an exquisite, almost champagne type flavour which is a combination of five different apple varieties. This was served with our first course, an exquisite scallop dish with yuzu caviar.

For details of the other dishes that was part of this 5-course lunch and the wine it was served with click here to go to my Instagram account.
 
Wine Tasting at the beautifully appointed Tasting Room
After a mind blowing lunch, paired with delicious De Grendel wines, we ended the day in the beautifully appointed Tasting Room downstairs where we were treated to a comparative tasting of the two Sauvignon Blanc wines described earlier as well as a 2007 and 2015 Bordeaux style Rubaiyat. I took a bottle of The Rubaiyat 2015 back home. I’m keeping it for a cold winter’s day when I will be making my special lip-smacking Osso Buco.
  
The Rubaiyat 2007 and 2015 Bordeaux Style Blend
For more information about De Grendel, visit their website at www.degrendel.co.za/ or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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