Things To Do in ConstantiaGroot Constantia
Where? Groot Constantia, Constantia Valley, Cape Town.
When? 7 days a week, including public holidays. Closed only on Good Friday, Christmas Day and the 1st of January.
How? Call +27 21 794-5128
How much? Free
Groot Constantia is the oldest producing wine estate in the country and has played a pivotal role in wine for over three centuries.
It was first owned (when it incorporated Klein Constantia and some of Bergvliet) by Simon van der Stel, himself an avid wine maker who was to place the Cape on the wine map. He became known as the founding father of the Cape wine industry.
When van der Stel arrived in the Cape in 1662 van Riebeeck was already growing vines in the Company's Garden and along the Liesbeeck River in the areas we know today as Mowbray, Newlands and Rondebosch. His wines were nothing to write home about, however, mainly because grapes were picked way too early to avoid birds making off with the lion share.
Van der Stel knew a lot more about producing palatable wines, particularly about leaving the grapes until they were virtually shrivelled before picking them.
He was to select for himself the area now known as Groot Constantia (although it was a lot bigger then) as a wine farm, and planted about 10 000 vines. The farm's layout today is his, although the appearance of the buildings underwent a major change once the estate fell into the hands of Hendrik Cloete in 1778.
It was during the Cloete dynasty that wine became hugely successful and Constantia wines were celebrated in Europe by kings and aristocracy, including Napoleon who apparently bought it by the case load whilst exiled on St Helena.
A succession of wars between Britain and France, the French Revolution and then the Napoleonic wars meant that the flow of wines from France dried up and the Cape began supplying wines to England and Europe. After the end of the wars the demand for wines of the Cape declined, and so did the wealth of the Cloetes.
The hugely acclaimed dessert wines were successful because the vines were maintained as dwarf bushes, the grapes hung as close to the ground as possible, giving the grapes a high sugar content, and the branches were twisted to lower the flow of nutrients, thereby sweetening the grapes.
At its height, when the wines were doing so well, Hendrik Cloete did major restoration on the manor house and buildings at Groot Constantia. Amongst other changes, he plastered and whitewashed the walls, and doubled the width of the previous roof and thatched it. He also added large sash windows, in order to maintain the proportions of the house and added a much taller, embellished gable, the tallest at the Cape at the time.
The buildings today, are very much what the Cloete's left as their legacy.
The Cape government bought the farm in 1885, just before the original vines were all ravaged by the phylloxera epidemic. The farm was then completely replanted with vines grafted onto American disease-resistance stock.
In 1925 a fire destroyed the homestead in hours. A painstaking restoration project, led by the architect FK Kendall, revealed all the details of Cloete's restoration. It was refurnished thanks to a generous gift by Alfred Aaron de Pass and the government then handed the farm over to an independent trust in 1993.
Since then it has run as a profit making wine estate.
Visit for wine tasting, a tour of the original homestead (now an Iziko Museum), Jonkershuis and Simon's restaurants or to buy Groot Constantia wines. The grounds are particularly beautiful.