Situated in a prime position at the very summit of the Helshoogte Pass, which winds its way up a steep incline (‘hell’ to ascend by ox-wagon but a delight to drive today), Delaire Graff Estate looks out over some of the most spectacular scenery the Cape Winelands has to offer. Here, vineyards and manicured lawns plunge down mountain slopes, overlooked by soaring peaks that are snow-dusted in winter. At the centre of this dramatic setting stands a collection of dignified thatched buildings that, at first glance, give the impression they have graced the site for centuries. However, this fine location has only existed for a decade in its current form. Acquired by world-renowned diamond jeweller and art collector Laurence Graff in 2003, the Estate reopened to the public as the reimagined Delaire Graff Estate in 2009. In the succeeding 10 years, it has been buffed and polished into a world-class destination that wears its ‘Africanness’ with pride.
Accessed via an avenue of pin oaks and strelitzias, bordered by sculptural figures, the Estate boasts one of the most scenic views in the country. This vast vista, which stretches all the way to the towering Banhoek and Simonsberg mountain ranges, compels visitors, magnet-like, to stand and appreciate the setting before entering the reception area. Mr Graff’s love for art and wildlife is immediately evident, with striking sculptures by Dylan Lewis greeting guests on arrival, including a cheetah – one of many that grace the Estate. You have now arrived in an enchanting world that blends old-world elegance with contemporary, creative opulence. The buildings here – from the reception, winery and restaurant areas to the guest lodges and Owner’s Villa – have all been carefully constructed and furnished with a loving nod to the area’s Cape Dutch heritage. Working with David Collins Studio and DHK Architects, as well as garden guru Keith Kirsten, Mr Graff was able to realise his vision of creating a unique winelands destination that echoes the vernacular architecture of the past.
The reception area, a feast of textures and shimmering surfaces, beckons, flanked on either side by sculptures and elegant water features that flow down into the winery area. This idea of bringing the outdoors in recurs throughout Delaire Graff Estate. The reception desk, accessed by vast double doors decorated with a studded sunray pattern, is watched over by a giant Lionel Smit painting aptly titled The Sentinel. Admirers of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s art will instantly recognise the cornerstone of this extraordinary collection, Chinese Girl, which was brought back to South Africa by Mr Graff in 2013. His impressive art collection at the Estate comprises hugely collectable local names such as Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto and William Kentridge, not to mention extraordinary pieces by Mr Graff’s son, Stephane Graff.
Further sculptural elements include enormous vases containing striking floral arrangements by Okasie that reach up, beanstalk-style, to almost touch the ceiling above. The David Collins Studio team’s eye for detail is evident everywhere. Beneath your feet you will notice the textured peach-pip floor (traditionally, pips were inserted into animal dung that dries into a hard surface, though here resin is used), and there are other, carefully chosen references to the area’s past in both the architecture and the furniture. Sourced by David Collins Studio, the chairs, custom made for the wine and restaurant terraces, are a case in point. Featuring riempie backs, traditionally made of narrow, criss-crossing leather strips, on these chairs the strips are threaded vertically in a minimalist take on the original design.
For cooler winter evenings, an oversized marble fireplace is a welcoming presence in the wine lounge. Here, another Cape vernacular feature draws the eye: a loft ladder situated beside the tasting desk, mimicking the ladders, leading to gabled lofts, that were once a common sight throughout the winelands. The cosy lounge opens out onto a terrace where a breath-taking view of the Simonberg Mountains unfolds, the ideal space in which to savour the Estate’s exquisite Sunrise Brut MCC wine.
Summer is for al-fresco dining on the Delaire Graff Restaurant terrace. Here, the custom-made chair backs – another thoughtful touch by David Collins Studio – echo the Victorian veranda railings, known as ‘broekie lace’, found throughout the Cape. There are few finer starts to lunch than the freshest, most succulent oysters, followed by your choice of beautifully crafted seasonal cuisine accompanied by the sommelier’s choice of premium, award-winning Delaire Graff wines. For dessert, indulge in one of the most exquisite panna cottas you will ever taste. The restaurant interior, designed by David Collins Studio, combines indigenous African architectural influences with artwork by some of South Africa’s most talented contemporary artists. Anchored in the heart of the restaurant are orange leather banquettes by Pierre Cronje, which snake through the space like giant songololo centipedes. Overhead hangs a custom chandelier, handcrafted with blackened metal and blown glass shades.
The newest jewels in Mr Graff’s crown are six Superior Lodges and a four-bedroom Owner’s Villa. Luxuriously appointed, they take opulence to a whole new level. Designed by DHK Architects, natural, raw materials, such as stone-clad walls, feature prominently, alongside thatched roofs and 200-year-old French oak ceilings – an ode to the wine cellar at Delaire Graff Estate. Next, it was the turn of David Collins Studio to transform the interiors. Subtle African touches abound, from the tribal drum footstools to the dark leather and wood surfaces (think ebony and stinkwood), which evoke the continent’s beating heart while infusing the space with a sense of calm. When you are ready to tear yourself away from the private pool deck overlooking the valley below, each Lodge has its own, inspired art theme to delight the eyes. The showstopper – the dual-level Owner’s Villa – creates the illusion that you’re hovering above the ground as it looks out, across a private rim-flow pool and Jacuzzi, to the panorama that unfolds below. The Villa is part art gallery, part presidential homestead, combining into an impressive but welcoming whole. Curating the art for the 660m2 Owner’s Villa was a very personal project for Mr Graff, who carefully chose each piece himself. “Among the remarkable displays of international talent are works by new and established African artists, demonstrating the immense wealth of creativity discovered across Africa and showcased and celebrated throughout Delaire,” he explains.
Organic textures and wood finishes take their cue from the Villa’s natural surroundings, and the furnishings are artworks in their own right, including rough-hewn forest wood console tables and wall lamps that subtly resemble tribal shields. The double-height living and dining spaces, accessed via timber double doors trimmed in bronze, are separated by an open, double-sided, bronze-clad fireplace that creates a stunning centrepiece. White plaster chandeliers commissioned for the Villa by Alexander Loge adorn the soaring oak ceiling, while oyster-coloured linen, decorated with an African chevron motif, dresses the windows. The furniture by Vladimir Kagan includes an organic, serpentine sofa upholstered in burnt orange, accompanied by barrel armchairs in ivory boucle. Custom made by the artist Atang Tshikare, side tables are realised in black stoneware and clay, while decorative lighting, cast in bronze, adds another layer of textural detail to this exceptional space. A sophisticated family room leads off the living area, with a neutral colour palette in shades of silver, grey and mink contrasted with burnt orange. The master bedroom suite, a haven of soft pinks, sumptuous linens, dark timber, ox-blood leather and bronze detailing, features a custom bed upholstered in a hand-woven ombré fabric, with Vladimir Kagan barrel chairs from which to admire the space. Honed Crema Marfil marble and polished Imperial Marron, illuminated by custom wall lights, brings a classical European elegance to the bathrooms. Concertina doors fold back to reveal unsurpassed views of the Estate’s vineyards and mountainous landscape, while natural light floods in and adds its own creative touches to the space as the day progresses. “Looking out from the deck, an extraordinary orange hue envelops the entire vista,” says Mr Graff. “We endeavoured to capture this exact shade in the interior design – a prelude to the natural spectacle each evening.” After a pampering massage at the adjacent spa or a soak in their private pool, guests retire to their suites. As the African sun sets on another sublime day at Delaire Graff Estate, it’s time to savour that magnificent view just once more – until the next stay, that is.
Image references: (Colour images all sourced from the Delaire Graff Estate website; black-and-white images from the Elliott Collection, Western Cape Archives & Records Service, Cape Town).
Jim Hislop is a freelance features writer and editor based in Cape Town.
Charles Russell is an interiors and lifestyle photographer based in Cape Town.