To say that Groot Constantia has a long-standing reputation for producing outstanding wine is a gross understatement. This is a wine farm that has been, for centuries, crafting wine of such an unparalleled calibre that its marked bottles have been shipped to destinations all over the world as far back as 1791.
Ancient bottles of Groot Constantia wine have been recovered from shipwrecks in the Delaware harbour, off the U.S. eastern coast, while bottles dating back to the 18th and 19th Centuries have been found in wine cellars all over Europe. It’s this incredible 330-year history that makes Groot Constantia the Cape’s oldest and most special wine farm, a heritage site of vast importance, and a popular attraction for foreigners and locals alike.
On a day that was the epitome of a beautiful spring day in the Cape, we went to Groot Constantia to sample the estate’s repertoire of wines and to partake in a three-course lunch in the historic and beautiful Jonkershuis restaurant. Before I touch on that, however, let’s take a brief look at the farm’s beginnings because it’s in understanding Groot Constantia’s story that a walk down its oak tree-lined avenue, a perusal of the collection of antique wagons and wine bottles at the new visitor’s centre, or a tasting of its incredible offering of wines in the Cloete Cellars becomes transformed into a magical experience.
Groot Constantia’s 330-year history
It is blissfully easy to appreciate the beauty of Groot Constantia purely from an aesthetic point of view. This, coupled with the calibre of wine and food created on the estate, makes Groot Constantia truly one of the Cape winelands’ best. But where Groot Constantia trumps all others is in its length and breadth of history; a 330-year epic that begins with the arrival of Commander Simon Van Der Stel of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the Cape in 1679.
It was upon recommendation from Commissioner Rijckloff van Goens that Van Der Stel was awarded a hefty 763 hectares of land, only a small portion of which we know today as the Constantia valley. Having mastered the art of wine and brandy making back on his vineyards in Muiderbergh in the Netherlands, he had a solid background in viticulture and so it was a natural progression that lead to the planting of the first vineyards on his farm.
There are several theories as to why Simon van der Stel named his estate “Constantia”: one is that it was named after the daughter of Commissioner van Goens, who had helped him acquire the land in the first place. The other is that the name is testament to a virtue upon which, being an alleged perfectionist, Van Der Stel placed great importance: consistency and constancy.
Very likely, it was for both reasons. Either way, by 1709, Groot Constantia was producing 5 630 litres of wine from its ±70 000 vines. And while Simon Van Der Stel died in 1712 and the farm continuously divided up and sold off in the ensuing centuries, his legacy continues to thrive in the Cape and, at Groot Constantia, it lives in every bottle of wine and in every grape on every vine.
Groot Constantia’s range of award-winning wines
Today, Groot Constantia is a formidable opponent at every local and international wine competition it’s entered into. As Simon Van der Stel would have wished, the farm consistently and constantly turns out award-winning wines, having very recently, at the 2017 Michelangelo International Wine Awards, added more accolades to its already cluttered medal closet.
After a welcome glass of Groot Constantia’s elegant yet fruity Brut Rosé MCC and hors d’oeuvres that required extreme willpower not to over-indulge in, we walked to the Cloete Cellar where our private wine tasting was to be held.
Our gracious hosts were Groot Constantia’s General Manager Jean Naudé and wine maker Boela Gerber. With Jean and then Boela at the helm, we explored six of the estate’s wines, including the deliciously fruity and zesty 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, the aromatic and smoky 2017 Shiraz, and the powerful, yet velvety 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. To accent our experience, some of the wines were paired with chocolates that had specifically been created to support and enhance the flavour of the wines; a smart offering that opens up their wine tastings to a much broader audience because, well, who doesn’t love chocolate?
Lunch at Jonkershuis Restaurant
With the tasting concluded we took a leisurely stroll through Groot Constantia’s new visitors centre, laughing at the ducks bobbing in the duck pond en route, before gathering in one of Jonkershuis restaurant’s secluded dining rooms where we were treated to three courses of gorgeous fare: creamy mussels, tomato bruschetta, and curry samosas to start, tender kudu fillet in a delicious berry sauce for mains, and one of the best cheese cakes I’ve had in a long while for dessert.
The Jonkershuis restaurant is an ode to the rich cultural history of the estate with its charming décor, series of intimate farmyard-style spaces, and honest, beautifully made food. On the menu is a medley of authentic Cape Malay inspired and bistro-style dishes that have been crafted from fresh, sustainable ingredients in a way that is a feast for the eyes, the heart, and the stomach.
There’s really little question about it: if you haven’t been to Groot Constantia, you are missing out on a quintessential Cape Town experience. It’s an indelible part of our beautiful region’s story and you’d be doing yourself a disserve to ignore it, so the next time you need a quality weekend plan or want to impress the socks off a visiting friend or family member, you’d better make Groot Constantia your port of call.