Five fun facts you didn't know about Groot Constantia
Whether you’re after fine wine, good food, or a slice of history, Groot Constantia won’t disappoint. Next time you visit the grand old estate, impress your friends with these fascinating titbits…
Groot Constantia is the oldest wine estate in South Africa.
In July 1685, when Simon van der Stel was the governor of the Cape of Good Hope, he was granted the title to about 763 hectares of land by the ruling Dutch East India Company. Van der Stel, who owned vineyards back in the Netherlands, used the land for viticulture, as well as cattle farming. Following the death of Simon van der Stel, the farm was divided up into three parts: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, and Bergvliet (yes, that’s a whole suburb these days!).
Constantia Wyn gets a mention in literature.
Under the ownership of the Cloete family (1779 – 1885), the estate became well known for its production of dessert wine, known as Constantia Wyn. This esteemed sweet wine, which gets a mention in the works of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, fetched high prices at European auctions. While in exile, Napoleon had 30 bottles of the stuff shipped to St Helena every month! In 2003, the estate began producing its famous dessert wine – now called Grand Constance – for the first time since the 1880s.
The original wine cellar boasts a pretty important sculpture.
When Hendrik Cloete took over the farm in 1779, he started upgrading and adding to the buildings on the property. One of the first buildings he erected was the Wine Cellar. The sculpture on the pediment of this building, The Rape of Ganymede, which was created by the renowned German sculptor Anton Anreith, is regarded as one of the more historically important sculptures in South Africa.
The government bought the farm for a mere £5275 in 1885.
Towards the end of the Cloete period, the vineyards suffered major setbacks. In 1859, powdery mildew destroyed many of the estate’s vines. This disaster was followed by an infestation of Phylloxera — a root louse — that plagued the vineyards for over a decade. When the farm was put up for auction in October 1885, it sold for £5275, which was a paltry sum compared to the £18 750 paid for the farm in 1824.
The Manor House was almost destroyed in 1925.
In 1925, a fire destroyed much of the historic Cape Dutch Manor House. At the time the farm, which was owned by the government, was used as an experimental wine farm. The fire forced the government to rethink the property and the house was restored under the chairmanship of the architect Franklin Kendall. These days, the Manor House is home to an exhibition of furniture, paintings, ceramics and copperware from the 18th and 19th centuries. Exhibitions on the estate also focus on the history of wine-making and the lives of rural slaves during the colonial period.