Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend, may have been right, but it's so much more.
Like the diamonds we crave, GIRLS are multi-faceted creatures. In order to appreciate an inanimate object of such rarity, quality and style, one has to first UNDERSTAND, in order to assign any value to it (be it sentimental or monetary). It’s the same with any luxury item – there’s a higher level of appreciation involved, beyond the mandatory requirements of sustenance, safety and sanctuary, the appreciation of luxury items take on a holistic approach, an educated approach. And thus like Mindy Kaling said: “‘Best friend’ is not a person, it’s a tier.”
Take Mr. Laurence Graff of Graff Diamond holdings and Delaire Wine Estate. His career is marked by a top-to-bottom approach. If he makes fine jewellery, he doesn’t just make it, he cuts it, he mines it, he designs it. If he makes wine, he doesn’t just make it, he finds a prestigious estate in the Helshoogte Pass of Stellenbosch, he makes it into a Relais & Château quality hotel (one of only eight in South Africa), he offers some of the finest dining experiences in the Cape, opens a world-class spa, he fills it with one of the finest art collections in South Africa AND makes some of the most sought after wines in the country. Mr. Graff does not do anything by halves it would seem, which is something that has defined his career right from the start.
The maker of incredible, over-the-top, statement jewellery pieces, and the buyer and cutter of some of the largest gems of our time. Case in point the second largest rough diamond ever found, the Lesedi La Rona a 1,109 carat diamond, which Graff bought at auction in 2017. Due to the sheer size of the stone they had to custom-build a new scanner with new imaging software to analyse it for cutting, eventually cutting it into 66 smaller diamonds and the Graff Lesedi La Rona stone of 302.37 carats, the largest highest colour, highest clarity diamond ever certified by the GIA. ‘Lesedi La Rona’ meaning ‘Our Light’ in the Tswana language and the product of a nationwide naming competition in its country of origin, Botswana. Given these iconic milestones, and Mr. Graff’s lofty ambitions, his acquisition of the Delaire Graff Estate in 2003 makes sense, given his love of the Cape Winelands and his various mining concerns in Southern Africa.
As it happens, the Delaire Estate, as it used to be known (originally known as Avontuur) was particularly well-suited to making wine. The owner, prior to Mr. Graff, was a Mr. John Platter. The very founder of Platter’s Wine Guide AND winemaker of Delaire wines. The Platters purchased Avontuur in 1982 and named it ‘Delaire’, meaning ‘Of the Sky’, fitting given its close proximity to the heavens. Delaire was one of the first to make wine in the Banghoek valley and in particular Botmaskop – one of THE Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon terroirs, and today the site of Delaire Graff’s Botmaskop Bordeaux Blend. It took the Graffs six years to redevelop the farm, as you can imagine employing only the best to establish what today includes a state-of-the-art winery designed by Gerhard de Villiers of Kleinood, two award-winning restaurants, sixteen lodges and one, four bedroom villa, (rumoured to be one of the most expensive accommodations in South Africa right now), a world-class spa and a number of boutiques including Graff Diamonds, housing the captivating Delaire Graff Estate collection and making one question the relevance of selling all one’s earthly possessions for the chance to own perhaps a diamond line bracelet…or a pair of the yellow diamond butterfly earrings…but then, one’s stomach rumbles. Making the wines just that much more attractive and accessible.
It would stand to reason that if Mr. Graff is such a keen collector of art and jewels, he would also be a keen collector of people. Katherine Harris, Wine Sales & Marketing Manager at Delaire Graff, speaks passionately of her employer, an American by birth she studied at Maties, and you know, just never managed to leave. She recounts the 340 people who work at the property, and have STAYED at the property. Mr. Graff once again having the top-to-bottom aptitude for FINDING the right people, allowing them the FREEDOM to excel and most importantly, getting them to STAY. Winemaker Morné Vrey is a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and has been a part of the winemaking team at Delaire Graff since its inception in 2008. He has managed to grow a modest portfolio into a whopping 22 wines at last count, ranging from the Delaire Graff Cabernet Franc Rosé to the celebrated Laurence Graff Reserve, of which there are only 1500 bottles made annually and arguably one of the finest expressions of Stellenbosch Cab out there. Of the 30ha estate, only 16ha is under vine (mostly planted to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon), meaning that a large number of sites have been identified across the Western Cape for the production of key varietals well-suited to the various terroirs, from Lutzville and Koekenaap to the Swartland and Elgin.
One of my standard questions to winemakers are on how they plan to augment their ranges in the future, perhaps by experimenting with drought resistant varietals or natural winemaking techniques. Katherine answers with a question: Isn’t it interesting how Morné has managed to consistently make classical, noble varietal wines so beautifully? And it is. Managing to maintain that level of quality, tradition and style in itself is an achievement, and the very mark of luxury. Knowing that whichever Delaire Graff wine you purchase is guaranteed by its very provenance and informed by the ethos of the whole estate.
“No man is an island.” What I found most intriguing is the collective initiative of the estate. As a member (Katherine in fact a Committee Member) of the Stellenbosch Cabernet Collective, their wines are aligned with some of the finest examples of Stellenbosch Cabs, finding power in unity, and forming the arrowhead of an initiative trained at the premiumisation of South African reds. Similarly the hospitality element of the brand, as a member of Relais & Château, in association with some of the most luxurious hotels in the world serves to elevate the Helshoogte Pass amongst its neighbouring valleys in the eyes of the international luxury traveller. Training those well-heeled eyes on the bounty of the estate, chief among these, the WINE. And then of course the diamonds, the mere association with which serves as a mark of authenticity.
And so you see, luxury then, a tier.
* As a side-note I would highly recommend the guided tour available for free at the front desk. Just walk up to them and ask. You will be guided by a Delaire Graff representative throughout the Estate and most importantly the art collection comprising some of South Africa’s most renowned contemporary art including works from artists such as Deborah Bell, Cecil Skotnes, Kendell Geers, Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi and William Kentridge.