Hi weirdos. The year was 2016, deemed the worst year of all, but not for me as I stumbled onto a wine estate of my dreams. My mom and I had taken the City Sightseeing red bus for the first time. We took the red line and stopped at what appeared to be quite a large wine farm in Constantia. Upon arrival, we were greeted by their friendly staff and we walked onto a beautiful picturesque pathway lined by tall trees. Intrigued by the bewildering views of what looked like an infinite number of vines, we ventured about to see what Groot Constantia had to offer.
Fast forward to 2019; after visiting Groot Constantia 5 times more; I still find myself being mesmerized by its vast beauty. Groot Constantia is South Africa’s oldest wine producing wine estate; its 334 years old. I was chosen to be featured for Hertitage month by Groot Constantia. Let’s take a walk back in time to discover how Groot Constantia became world famous…
Governor Simon Van de Stel from the Dutch East India Company was awarded 763 hectares of land on 13th July 1685 for his hard work. He named it ‘Constantia’ which is thought to be because of its Latin meaning ‘steadfastness’ or ‘constancy’. The area was chosen for its favourable soils, mountain slopes and ocean breeze. Van de Stel had a vast knowledge of wine as he was a viticulturist in his home country – Netherlands. By 1709 Simon had over 70000 vines planted and more than 5000 litres of wine being produced.
In the 1800s, Constantia became famous for its sweet wine known as “Constantia Wyn” at the time. It gained popularity in Europe even among emperors and kings; and priced extremely high at auctions. Charles Dickens wrote about it in his book Edwin Drood. It became came even more popular when Jane Austen’s character recommended it as a cure for a broken heart in Sense and Sensibility. Charles Baudelaire compared Constantia wine to his lover‘s lips in his most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal.
Now it is known as Grand Constance, the French translation for Groot Constantia. The Grand Constance brand is an important part of World Wine Heritage and South Africa’s oldest wine. Napoleon was allowed to drink wine made at Groot Constantia whilst exiled on the island of Saint Helena from 1815 until his death. There are artifacts of this wine and Napoleon in the Cloete Cellar. An interesting fact is that it washed up upon Delaware shores and it was found, now you can find it in the Cloete Cellar.
The Cloete cellar is named after Hendrik Cloete, it was finished in 1974 by 16 artisans and himself. This is where the Grand Constance was created. In this cellar you will find the history of Groot Constantia which speaks to the slaves that were used in building it. It talks about every detail; I definitely think it’s quite an interesting read. The architexture of this building is neo-classical. The structure on the pediment is of Rococo design and depicts fertility.
What is even more eye-opening is the Manor house. To see how the owners of Groot Constantia lived back then as compared to now. It’s an adaption of the 18-century European tradition; using gables and symbols like the Lady of Abudance. The kitchen is particularly interesting. While one cannot take pictures in this building, one can definitely learn a lot by visiting. I have to mention that just between this structure and the Cloete Cellar you will find the cutest geese in a pond. These guys have a real personality!
In 1885 Groot Constantia was purchased by the government of the Cape of Good Hope and was used as an experimental wine and agricultural estate. In 1969 the manor house became part of the South African Cultural History Museum, and in 1993 the estate passed into the ownership of the Groot Constantia Trust. Would you believe I was born in 1993? What a coincidence; let me stop be narcissistic to think my birth had any effect on this national treasure, lol.
There are two restaurants at Groot Constantia; Jonkershuis and Simon’s restaurant. I have eaten at Jonkershuis a number of times. I love it for it’s wholesome, flavourful food that really pairs well with their wines. Their service is always incredible and sitting outside in the sun while enjoying the view is absolutely the perfect way to spend your day. Their spaghetti pasta with mushrooms is one of my favourites! This time however, I opted for their new spinach ravioli and it was just as good! Now for the most important part of my meal, you know I am a huge dessert fan. Jonkershuis makes the best malva pudding I have ever had, Nikesh’s best too. It’s a must if you are going to the restaurant. You may be greeted by one of the cute dogs that live at Groot Constantia too; they are super friendly.
My absolute favourite wine from Groot Constantia is their Shiraz. The grapes are hand picked and fermented in closed tanks. The wine is then matured for 12 months in new French oak barrels. Savoury notes are supported by liquorice and black pepper, as well as ripe plums and a hint of smoke. The wine shows beautiful intensity on the palate. The natural acidy adds freshness to the wine, and tannins are soft and approachable. I love this wine so much I carried it in my suitcase to Joburg in July. My family already knew it because I took it there last year as well!
Another wine that stands out for me is their Merlot. The Groot Constantia Merlot is also a Double Platinum winner from the 2018 Top 100 Wines Competition as well as Gold from the Novare SA Terroir Wine Awards and a top award from the Platters Wine Guide. You know I am not a huge merlot fan, right? This one is outstanding! Flavours of ripe plums, black cherries and a hint of black currant on the nose with careful use of French oak. The palate is ripe, the black fruit and subtle oak follow, all framed by soft tannins and a fresh acidity.
They have an incredible visitors pass for R105 that gets you the following:
- Entrance to the Groot Constantia Manor House
- Entrance to the Cloete Cellar
- Wine Tasting of 5 wines
- Souvenir Spiegelau Crystal Glass
- Guided Cellar Tour
- Modern Day Cellar Tour – self-guided audio
- Vineyard Tour – self-guided audio
- Manor House Tour – self-guided audio
Pretty sweet deal if you ask me! I have done it twice… You can read more about it here.
Groot Constantia is rich in history and it has a character that you would not find anywhere else. If you haven’t visited you really need too. There are two self-guided audio walking tours help you to discover the history and production of Groot Constantia wine. You can download them by installing VoiceMap for iOS or Android by searching the App Store or Google Play, or by going to onelink.to/feelgroot.
xx Miss Dhanusha
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Groot Constantia.