Cape Town - Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, in which case you can never get enough. It was British pounds that paid for the facelift of Delaire, with the estate’s acquisition in 2003.
At the time of the sale, Laurence Graff, chairman of Graff Diamonds International, vowed to transform the property at the top of the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch into South Africa’s most desirable art, hospitality and wine destination.
The estate, originally developed by John and Erica Platter of the eponymous wine annual, was then already a reputable wine producer, but with the multimillion rand investment, relaunching as Delaire Graff Estate, with art, two restaurants, a spa, accommodation, landscaping and viticulture, it has flourished into one of the most coveted properties in the winelands.
Whether you’re stopping by with a view to do a tasting, staying for lunch, relaxing in the spa or spending the night in the luxurious lodge, Delaire Graff Estate just about has it all. Of course, this comes at a price.
Elevation at the top of the pass lent the property’s landscape to a hanging gardens of Babylon design – something one of South Africa’s most eminent landscapers, Keith Kirsten, was tasked to do.
Kirsten, a celebrity horticulturalist and multiple gold-medal finalist at the Chelsea Flower Show, mapped out the design to incorporate a display that blooms 365 days a year as a backdrop to the estate’s art and architecture.
More than 300 mainly indigenous plants, shrubs and trees were planted, with hedges of camellia and coffee jasmine providing perfumed privacy for the lodges. Water features, rills and reflective pools add to the tranquillity of the mountain setting and provide an opportunity to display sculptures by Anton Smit, whose specially commissioned rivetted bronze figures from his Faith collection dive towards the heavens, while Dylan Lewis’s graceful cheetahs stand frozen in time.
Tretchikoff’s The Chinese Girl takes pride of place in the reception – bought last year for almost £1-million (equivalent at the time to R13.8m), the painting was unveiled at Delaire Graff Estate by his original model, Monica Sing-Lee – alongside works by Deborah Bell, William Kentridge, Lionel Smit and Cecil Skotnes.
Morné Vrey, who started out at Hazendal wine estate and has worked harvests in France, Germany and New Zealand, tends to the wine production, which benefits from vineyards which are influenced by some of the area’s best soils and cooling breezes.
Vrey’s red wines are big in structure with soft tannins and elegance, and his white wines, sourced from cool-climate properties, are fresh and crisp. With one of the most modern cellars in the southern hemisphere, the estate is among the top 10 wine producers in South Africa.
Despite the cellar only being six years old, some of their highlights have been winning five stars in the Sauvignon Blanc Challenge in 2009, and the Coastal Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc winning the Old Mutual Trophy for Best on Show in 2010. In addition, their 2008 cabernet sauvignon reserve received the John Platter five-star rating, while their their Botmaskop 2012 Bordeaux blend, a personal favourite, was presented with a Bacchus at this year’s Taj Classic Wine awards.
Both of their restaurants were Eat Out nominees last year. While the contemporary Asian restaurant, Indochine, offers a meditative fine dining experience, the chic Delaire Graff Restaurant buzzes with energy.
Executive chef Christiaan Campbell oversees both kitchens, where they utilise fresh organic produce grown on the property and sourced nearby.
In the Restaurant, we dined on a fresh cos salad with Parmesan cream, smoked beef dust and cheese biscuits; and a simple, fresh fish and chips with home-made tartare sauce.
The following night, we set course for the East with dinner at Indochine, where flavours were lively, aromatic and robust. I highly recommend the tom yam goong with prawns, shiitake, chilli, spring onion, ponzu – a soup bursting with punchy spicing, rustic touches, and stunning plating; the mussel and whelk laksa with coconut, turmeric, lemongrass, chilli and Thai basil; a rich pork belly with Thai barbeque, shiitake sausage, charred onion; and the succulent Szechuan and plum duck. Ending with the banana and white chocolate spring rolls and a trio of brûlée with white chocolate and chilli, ginger and lime, coconut, we rolled off to our bed in the lodge.
Breakfast can be served in the room, or in Indochine, which makes it a tough choice because both have their own allure. On the menu there are berries from a nearby farm, local charcuterie, organic dairy, pastries and hot dishes.
The lodge offers luxury on another level with glorious views, plush gowns in adult and child sizes, Nespresso machines, specialist teas, a pop-up television set and private plunge pools for each room.
If you want a cinema experience, there’s a private cinema, with soft leather armchairs – and they serve popcorn and milkshakes. Utterly divine.
If you want to splurge (if even with your eyes), head for the Graff diamond store or the 100 percent Capri boutique – said to stock Graff’s personal favourite clothing lines.
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