From Cape Town, it takes scarcely an hour to reach the Delaire Graff. The former vineyard, which has since expanded with a very exclusive lodge, has become an essential stop along the legendary and scenic Helshoogte Pass, a road crisscrossing some of the world’s most beautiful countryside.
Delaire Estate became the Delaire-Graff Estate in 2003, when it was bought by Laurence Graff, jeweler to billionaires and heads of state. Set in a matchless location between Stellenbosh, the city of oaks, and Franschhoek, a divine village of Provençal ambiance, the estate impresses in every way, including with its peerless view of Simonsberg Mountain.
Coming here at autumn’s peak, when the vines explode in a palette of rust and red and the sun drenches the landscape in claret-colored light as far as Table Mountain, is an experience as precious as the diamonds acquired by this philanthropic businessman, stones that, in some cases, are displayed within this extraordinary property. Beyond these gems of dizzying carats, among the most spectacular in the world, the sweeping panorama is cause enough to visit. There is a reason that – on the hillside above rows of vines so aligned they might have been traced with an engineer’s square – a clearing was made to serve as a heavenly lookout point. From there, one can distinguish the architecture of the premises and the dozen or so pavilion-villas. These Lodges, which soon grew slightly in number, all with typical Cape Dutch facades, are the very definition of discretion, for their modern structures and elegant windowscaping are shown only to the garden or the valley they face. They were designed, like the rest of the estate, by the United Kingdom’s David Collins Studio in a consummately consensual spirit; most have a breathtaking, unimpeded view and offer all the modern comforts, from the butler’s kitchen to the private patio to the heated outdoor pool, not to mention a vast living room and a plethora of amenities far above the usual standards. For Delaire Graff Estate does nothing halfway. While the figures and ratios would make any other hotelier’s head spin, it would take more than that to worry Sir Laurence, whose portrait by Lionel Smit watches majestically over the entrance of the property’s 230-ton wine cellar, one of the most advanced on the entire continent.
With nearly 200 people at his service and that of the twenty-some guests sharing a property spanning twenty hectares (nearly fifty acres), where absolute tranquility reigns once visitors have gone, the well-established, keen-eyed collector adopts an unusual approach when it comes to his establishment. This man, known for his talent of letting stones truly sing, feels that the natural setting here, as remarkable as it may be, is an insufficient setting for his jewel. Though, in his winegrowing paradise, he does not exhibit any of the celebrated European or American paintings he has acquired over the years, and for which he has himself become famous, he has given free rein to his recent passion for African Art. There may be no Warhol, Basquiat, or Bacon on the walls, but there is plenty of Smit, Kumalo, Kentridge, Schimmel, Skotnes, and many more. Apart from Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl, one of the curious 20th-century icons returned to South Africa by virtue of his intervention, there is not a corner here that does not pay rousing tribute to the African continent, its fauna, its flora, or its people. The best example of this is undoubtedly the impressive series of bronzes, by the prolific Dylan Lewys, standing guard at the entrances or dotting the manicured walkways, paths designed by Keith Kirsten across these immense grounds hemmed in only by the mountains. The parklands, a veritable conservatory of endemic species such as Crassulas or Protea and called upon to bloom 365 days a year, were born of the same principle as the vegetable garden or the supply of animal resources: a celebration of the diversity and natural qualities of a region that is truly unique. Under the foliage of the oaks, in the shade of a parasol, or beneath a flock of swallows in flight – an impressive sculpture by Andre Stead and Lionel Smit –, the chef's cuisine is exemplary and exquisite, be it served at the gigantic Delaire Graff Restaurant or the intimate Indochine, which, as the name suggests, is a journey to Asia through esoteric epicureanism. Here, like everywhere else on the estate, there is a genuine thirst for excellence. Beyond that, though, there is a quest for the best in the simple, yet fervent, desire to do well, in which the human dimension is necessarily central. Contrary to appearances, ostentation and grandiloquence have no real place at the Delaire Graff Estate. The site is meant to resemble the service, the perfect balance of intimacy and deference, as measured and complementary as the Relais & Châteaux collection to which it belongs.