Home to some of the oldest wine farms in the country, the Constantia Wine Valley is a culture-junkie’s paradise.
Discover Constantia's history here:
History of Constantia Wine Valley
The Constantia Wine Valley is renowned for its world-class wines and beautiful scenery. The area is steeped in history, with its gabled houses being some of the best examples of Cape Dutch architecture. But the history of this natural escape, right in the heart of the urban metropolis, is often taken for granted.
The Different Wine Estates That Make Up Constantia
The Constantia Valley, part of the affluent southern suburb of Constantia in Cape Town, is home to nine internationally acclaimed working wine estates: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Beau Constantia, Constantia Uitsig, Eagle’s Nest, Constantia Glen, Silvermist Estate and Steenberg.
The nine estates originally made up one large estate, called Constantia. Measuring 1850 acres (750 hectres), which was founded in 1685 by the then Governor of the Dutch East India Company’s colony at the Cape of Good Hope, Simon van der Stel.
Before leaving for The Cape of Good Hope, van der Stel was involved in making wine in Muiderberg, a region in his native Holland.
Upon arriving in the Cape, van der Stel wanted to continue his vinicultural efforts and acquired the massive estate, located in a sheltered valley facing False Bay.
The Origin of the Name Constantia
There are many accounts of the source of the name Constantia. One states that the estate was named for one of the Dutch East India ships. But the most likely origin of the name, as suggested by Dr. A.J. Boeseken, is that the estate was named after Constantia, the daughter of Commissioner Rijckloff van Goens, who made the original grant.
The estate was originally a producer of fruit and vegetables and a cattle farm, as well as being a wine estate.
Van der Stel
In 1692, van der Stel built a simple country manor on the estate. By 1709, 7,000 vines were planted, many of which were imported from Europe. He lived at Constantia until his death in 1712, when the estate was divided into three parts – Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia and Bergvliet.
The Cloete Era
Groot Constantia, the section of the estate where the homestead stood, changed hands five times until it was acquired by Hendrik Cloete in 1778 until 1885. It was during the Cloete era that the famous Constantia Wyn was produced - a fortified dessert wine that became so acclaimed internationally that it was mentioned numerous times in works of literature.
In 1810, Mrs Jennings, a character in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility recommends a little Constantia “for its healing powers on a disappointed heart”. And during Napoleon’s exile on St Helena island, between 1814 and 1820, he shipped over 30 bottles of “le vin de Constance” every month. He even reportedly requested a glass on his deathbed.
When Hendrik Cloete died, Groot Constantia was inherited by his son, Hendrik Jnr, who died in 1818. In 1824, Hendrik Jnr’s widow divided the estate into two separate estates: Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia. The former was given to their eldest son, Jacob Pieter, while 22-year-old Johan Gerhard inherited the latter, upper portion of the estate.
The Peril of Vine Disease and New Beginnings
In 1865, the vine disease, Phylloxera arrived in the cape, destroying countless vines – Constantia winemaking ceased. Wine making at Constantia remained dormant until 1986. In 1979, Duggie Jooste bought Klein Constantia and built a new cellar, in time for a maiden harvest in 1986, restoring the estate to its former winemaking glory.
If you’d like to view this beautiful part of the world from a different perspective, you can take scenic helicopter tour over the region.