Groot Constantia’s revered history tells us how a man’s love of wine established the first wine farm in South Africa. By going back over 300 years, we come to understand how 891 morgen of land (763 hectares) created the origins of the South African wine industry, and how every owner thereafter contributed to what we know as Groot Constantia today.
Commander Simon van der Stel of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) arrived at the Cape supply station in 1679. Estranged from his wife he arrived in the company of his children and sister-in-law, Cornelia Six. Back in the Netherlands Van der Stel had gained a solid background in viticulture at his vineyards in Muiderbergh. There he learnt the art of wine and brandy making which he was soon to implement here in the Cape.
In 1685 Simon Van de Stel was granted the farm land which he named Constantia. He chose the location for its favourable soils and mountain slopes gently cooled by the ocean breezes of False Bay.
Agricultural activities at Groot Constantia included viticulture, and the Constantia wines became renowned in Europe. In 1709 there were 70 000 vines on the farm and Van der Stel produced 5,630 litres of wine. During the years, ownership of Groot Constantia changed, but the legacy and supremacy of the wines produced remained.
Simon van der Stel went onto become the first Cape Governer, a post from which he retired in 1699. On 24 June 1712 Simon van der Stel died at the age of 73. Then in 1714 Constantia was subdivided and sold by way of auction.
Onwership of Groot Costantia changed many times, but the reputation of Grand Constance Wyn grew.
During the Eighteenth century the sweet wines of Constantia received international acclaim for their superior quality and became known throughout the world as “Constantia Wyn (wine)”. “Constantia wyn” began to fetch extremely high prices at well-attended auctions in many European cities and soon came to rival the sweet wines of Europe. “From these Elysian fields used to come one of the very greatest wines in the world the legendary Constantia,” wrote Hugh Johnson, “Constantia was bought by European courts in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries in preference to Yquem, Tokay & Madeira. ”
Emperors and kings, from Frederick the Great of Prussia to King Louis Phillipe of France all vied for their share. Charles Dickens celebrated it in Edwin Drood, Jane Austen’s character recommended it as a cure for a broken heart to heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and Charles Baudelaire compared Constantia wine to his lover’s lips in his most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal. Before his death in 1821, Napoleon had 30 bottles a month shipped over to St Helena to ease his exile.
These wines were all produced and bottled in the famous Cloete Cellar. Simon van der Stel’s magnificent Homestead and the impressive Cloete Cellar still stand today and form part of the farm Groot Constantia, a national monument and still a fully functional wine estate.
In 1976 the Groot Constantia Control Board was established to take charge of the viticulture on the farm. In 1984 Groot Constantia and Hoop op Constantia were declared National Monuments.
In 1993 ownership of the entire estate was transferred from the government to an independent company, named Groot Constantia Trust. The main aim of the Trust is to preserve and maintain the cultural heritage of the estate for posterity.
The trust is committed to maintain and restore this national monument which is South Africa’s oldest and best known wine estate.
The Groot Constantia Estate is 60 – 280 metres above sea level, and 165 hectares in size with 90 hectares under vines.
- Red Wine comprises 70% of production, made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinotage, Malbec, Touriga Nacional (Port variety), Muscat de Frontignan.
- White White 30% of production, made up of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon.
- 500 tonnes of grapes are grown each year which produces over 400 000 bottles.
Highest average rainfall of all the South African regions with both good winter and summer rains. 1 100mm rainfall per annum 78% rainfall from May to October. No irrigation required.
- Nine different soil types exist on the farm and careful planning ensured the selection of the best possible clones of chosen varietals, in harmony with the specific slopes and soil types.
- Mostly Table Mountain Granite soils including Glenrosa, Hutton, Avalon and Oakleaf soils are found on the Estate.
- The alluvial soil types on the lower slopes of the farm provides interesting variation on varietal character, giving the winemaker the opportunity to create more complex wines through skillful blending.
Groot Constantia is situated on the Cape Peninsula overlooking False Bay. The vineyards are tucked in the steep valley on the eastern side of Table Mountain. The area is blessed with a maritime climate due to the oceans on both sides and an annual average rainfall of +/- 1,100 mm per annum combined with cool southern slopes and deep mountain soils provides the ideal setting for the making of top quality wines.
Each year Groot Constantia receives 300,000 visitors, and is one of the BIG 6 tourist destinations in the Cape, along side Table Mountain, V&A Waterfront, Cape Point, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and Robben Island.