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Wines of South Africa: Constantia
When it comes to South Africa’s wine-making tradition, Constantia is where it all began. Boasting a history of more than 300 years, the Constantia Valley is the oldest wine-producing region in the Southern Hemisphere, internationally recognised for its world class wines. Its location in the centre of the Cape Peninsula practically makes it Cape Town’s vineyard, with wine farms situated only 10 to 20 minutes from the city centre.
Even so, the valley is really a world away from all the hustle and bustle of the city. Visit to one of protected fynbos vineyards and historic manor houses guarantees to be a relaxing and pleasurable experience for wine lovers from all corners of the world.
The Cradle of Winemaking in the Cape
Constantia is the oldest wine producing region with a history of winemaking going as far back as 1685. The first governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel , chose this location both for its beauty as for slopes cooled by ocean breezes and the decomposed granite soils. Constantia wines were supposedly enjoyed by Napoleon Bonaparte and royalty in the 18th century. Muscat Capp Constantia, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was also appreciated by Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Baudelaire and other famous authors, largely thanks to its restorative powers. Unfortunately this wine ceased to be produced after the phylloxera devastated Cape vineyards in the late 19th century.
Constantia Vineries and Wines
Stretching up the south-east slopes of the Table Mountain National Park, the wine route consists of ten farms which feature distinctive heritage and premium produce. Award-winning wines of consistently high quality are being produced thanks to a unique combination of climate and terroir. The cool climate favours white wine production, notably Sauvignon Blanc.
Even though Constantia Valley is the smallest of the Cape’s wine routes, it’s home to world-renowned wine producers such as Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Constantia Uitsig and Steenberg. Centuries-old wine estates mix with new boutique wineries such as Constantia Glen, Eagles Nest and High Constantia, which produce smaller quantities of exceptional wines.
Steenberg Vineyards is the Cape’s first farm, established in 1682. It was not originally a wine estate, but over the course of the next 300 years, the farm has grown to be one of the finest wineries in the area.
Groot Constantia, Constantia's first wine farm, was founded in 1685 by Simon van der Stel who has implemented his solid background in viticulture gained back in the Netherlands. In 1709 there were 70,000 vines on the farm which produced more than 5,000 litres of wine. Since then, the estate has changed hands several times and is today owned by a non-profit company called the Groot Constantia Trust. Situated on Cape Peninsula in the steep valley on the east of Table Mountain, it’s one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions, offering a wide range of quality estate wines. Reds which represent about 70% of the production include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Pinotage, Malbec, Touriga Nacional and Muscat de Frontignan. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon are some of Groot Constantia major white wines. The estate is also home to a wine museum which testifies to the extensive history of the Constantia Wine Route.
Often described as one the most beautiful vineyard locations in the world, Klein Constantia was once part of the original vast property established by Simon van der Stel in the late 17th century. It didn’t take long for its lusciously sweet wines to become recognized and favored by the royalty and best authors of the 18th and 19th century. The estate is located on the upper hills of the Constantiaberg and boasts one of the world’s leading natural sweet wines called Vin de Constance.
Constantia Uitsig, meaning “Constantia View”, was also originally a part of van der Stel’s 1685 wine farm. The estate stretches over 60 hectares, with about half being under vines. Grape varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.