Musings on De Grendel’s Sir David Graaff 2015

Thoughts on the line between wine and art, and the problems with out-flagging a flagship wine.

Wine is often compared to art in an attempt to justify or normalise the drinker’s obsession, or exorbitance. But the analogy doesn’t really do its job….

…unless the listener is willing to ponder why art – in the first instance – does not, itself, need a defence for the emotional and financial extremes that it inspires.

This is not the place to outline the rather arduous defence of my position, but I think it suffices to say that, if you’re staring at a painting, and find yourself wondering whether the painter bought the canvas at a discount, or if the oils they used were dolphin-friendly, then I’m pretty sure that what’s in front of you is not art. Whatever it might be, the fact that it has not successfully transcended the sum of its parts is fatally damning.

And so, to return to our analogy, for wine to be considered art, there has to be a moment where a wine stops being a drink, and becomes something far richer. This can’t be forced. It simply happens. For Van Gogh, his incredible works needed time and distance (perhaps even from the man himself) in order to find their audience. I’d suggest that the passage of time through which his artworks travelled were part of their magic. In a sense, art is a carefully curated expression of the cultures and conflicts of the period. As time passes, the chronological gap has a way of clarifying, and distilling the essence of that age into something far less turbulent and muddied than perhaps it actually was. I guess, in that sense, art, over time, becomes less real…but it also becomes infinitely more romantic. And we humans like that sort of thing.

“If you’re staring at a painting… wondering whether the painter bought
the canvas at a discount… then I’m pretty sure that what’s in front of you
is not art”

Which brings me to the Sir David Graaff 2015. It’s always going to be a tricky marketing challenge to release a wine that is – by both physical presence (see image on the right) and price point (R1700 per bottle) – a significant step up from the De Grendel Rubaiyat; a wine that is (in my mind, at least), one of the finest current red blends in South Africa. Unless… unless the Sir David Graaff has no intention of being a current wine at all. That is to say, the tension caused by two wines jostling for the limelight at the pointy end of a wine estate’s marketing pyramid is can be resolved if one of those wines can be sent, in tact, down a corridor of time far beyond the reach of the other.
As I sipped on the Sir David Graaff, my mind was cast back to the turn of the last century. Sir David (then just “David”) was revolutionising the cold storage industry in Africa; building an enormous business empire in the process. The Elon Musk of deep freezes. His incredible wealth enabled him to use his estate to finance South Africa’s effort in World War I, which in turn earned him his knighthood. Now, had Sir David and I been contemporaries, I very much doubt that I would have found  the fridge-fidgeting philanthropist to be a worthy study…and yet, just short of a century after his death, with a bottle in my hand, I find his narrative quite charming. Romantic even.
In the same way, I feel like it will perhaps be another 15-20 years before the contents of this bottle takes on a romance of its own, but when the time is right, as the cork slips its noose, there may well be a rich collision of history, culture, philosophy and debate, only possible due to the bottle’s significant removal from its birth time and place. It will have become a relic, where its value is derived considerably from the fact that it has survived from another era.

So what of the wine itself, in 2022?

Charles Hopkins has built a very sturdy blend of 58% Shiraz, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot (Charles is a huge believer in the future of Petit Verdot in the Cape, partly on account of its incredibly low methoxypyrazine levels). The nose is moodier than a Nick Cave album; packed with notes of smoked meat, white pepper, and cedar, which softens into cocoa dust, cinnamon and cassis with time in the glass. 
(It should be noted that, in the interests of trying to cheat decades of bottle aging, I left the wine in the glass for six hours, before returning to it. The waves of fruit that had been initially subdued by prominent oak, met me with notable enthusiasm. A gratifying result.)
The palate showed ripe, concentrated, viscous blackcurrant, plum and spice. A formidable onslaught of muscly fruit is lifted by hints of bay leaf and more light-footed black cherry notes.
But for all the weight on the palate, this wine is still fairly tight. Without doubt, this is a polished affair, but as I may have implied in agonisingly verbose fashion, it has a long way to go. Which is no accident. The intention of considerably accomplished winemaker is very clear here. I would say that, if you’re an impatient De Grendel fan, you should stock up on the Rubaiyat 2017. HOWEVER, should you have the gumption to delay gratification, setting your gaze on that magical evening, when you open this bottle at your child’s wedding, or the day they get their first paycheck, or because Bafana Bafana made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup, the Sir David Graaff is a wine that will take you there.

POST SCRIPT: At the time of publishing, De Grendel’s Sir David Graaff 2015 had a Vivino rating of 4.3, with 350 ratings. This puts it into the same category as the top 2-3% of wines, worldwide.