South Africa’s oldest vineyard is Groot Constantia wine estate, established in 1685 and still producing red wines of distinction. ‘Groot’ is the Dutch word for ‘great’ while ‘Constantia’ means ‘’constancy and steadfast’ in Spanish. The fertile land granted to the Governor of the Cape Colony Simon van der Stel has certainly lived up to its name, with hardly a vintage year missed in 331 years.
Original Wall Around Groot Constantia Farm
Fresh produce was scarce in those days. The Dutch settlers longed for a glass of wine. Governor van der Stel built a simple thatched farmhouse, and planted vineyards, and orchards, and vegetable gardens. He had to keep a careful eye on his produce and cattle. The local hunter-gatherers knew nothing about private property. They believed nature’s bounty belonged to everybody.
From a Farmhouse to Groot Constantia Manor
The farm passed into the hands of the Cloete Family in 1778. Hendrik Cloete was wealthy and ambitious. He asked architect Luis-Michel Thibault to enlarge the house and add the character Dutch gables still common along Amsterdam canals. Then he built a new wine cellar, and embellished it with a pediment carved by German sculptor Anton Anreith, whose work adorns many of Cape Town’s heritage buildings.
Groot Constantia Manor House
A century later the government obtained the buildings and land for use as an experimental wine and agricultural estate. All was well until 1925 when Cloete’s manor house caught fire and burned to the ground. Fortunately, there was enough money to reconstruct it to its original splendour, while memories were sharp enough to recall the details.
Groot Constantia Wine Estate Still Producing Wines After 331 Years
Today the main building is a memorial to the slaves who worked the estate under conditions unacceptable today. The vineyards continue to yield generous harvests of grapes. When I am in Cape Town, one of my greatest pleasures is to walk in awe through high-ceiling galleries to the tasting room in Anton Anreith’s wine cellar, and savour the delicious merlot and shiraz wines that are the estate’s hallmark of constancy to this day.
Groot Constantia Wine Estate: Fertile Vineyards Rolling On