It was my first time visiting Constantia, which is one of the oldest areas in Cape Town, South Africa.
Constantia is situated about 15 kilometres south of the centre of Cape Town. Its common for locals and tourists to gush over the prestigious suburb and its landscapes of unsurpassed beauty but I had to confirm it for myself.
As we drove up the path, I inhaled a lungful of fresh air, noting the earthy scents and the fleeting aroma of blooming grapes.
I recall my childhood as I take in the awe-inspiring scenery. The serenity of the vineyard reminded me of the joy I felt as a child when I would run barefoot on the rich soil at home.
As we climbed out the car, we were greeted by an antique wine barrel that read, “Groot Constantia Wine Estate”. A tour guide introduced himself as Joshua, and welcomed us into an old white farmhouse known as the Art Gallery.
Joshua explained the history of the Winelands to us with immediately. We learnt that Groot Constantia originates from the Dutch word “groot” which means “great” in English, that the wine estate is the oldest wine estate in South Africa dating back to 1685. The first owner of the farm was Simon van der Stel, who came to the Cape in 1679 to fill in his post as a commander but later became a Governor.
In 1685 Van der Stel was keen to acquire a farm, a piece of land that is more than 2454 hectors. It is estimated that it is the same year when he built his double storey house. The farm became known for growing vegetables, fruit and they started producing wine. In 1712 Van der Stel died and the farm was sold and divided into two parts which were known as the Bergvliet and Klein Constantia but the double storey house stood and it has now formed part of the Museum exhibition in the farm estate.
I couldn’t quite concentrate as I peeked at the old wine house that was host to families and friends sipping on the Groot Constantia Shiraz, Pinotage and Gouverneurs reserve.
I whispered to my friend next to me, “Are we in a history class?”.
I was dying to see the vineyard, so do forgive my impatience. Joshua concluded by informing us about the vineyard packages: R30 per wine tasting, R50 for art gallery & wine and R90 per person for the visitors’ route. The visitors’ route includes guided wine tours, wine tasting, visiting the cellars and museum.
Yes, you guessed it, we opted for the visitors’ route immediately.
Before we bolted towards the vineyard, Joshua informed us that we had to walk a few kilometres before reaching the Manor House where we would register for the visitors’ route and begin with the wine tour. We trudged along the pathway, stifling groans, and weaving through the vineyard. It felt like we walked straight into a Victorian era, where the presence of horse carriages and pompous ladies sipping tea with their pinky fingers poised was somewhat expected.
We tried not to steal the ripe black and white grapes but we couldn’t resist the temptation. We arrived at the Manor house, registered and received our tickets.
Cape Town’s iconic heritage wine farm, Groot Constantia, is officially a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Conservation Champion. This partnership with the WWF is part of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative (BWI), which sees the South African wine industry and the conservation sector working together to promote awareness and drive participation in conservation-focused farming practices. #FeelGrootConstantia #ConservationChamps @wwfsouthafrica #Conservation #Wine #WineEstate #CapeTown #SouthAfrica Image: @justinhawthorne
THE WINE TOUR BEGINS: The Museum/ Groot Constantia Manor House
We were ushered into the Van der Stel double storey family house that was built in 1685. “Anticlockwise,” the receptionist ordered as we were about to enter the wrong room. We entered the front room, paved with white marble and red stone; the dwelling had a musty smell. Everything was old, a kind of old that suggests hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
Manor House exhibits furniture, paintings, textiles, ceramics, brass and copperware which provides an insightful understanding of the life of a successful 18th to late 19th Cape farmer.
Every room had more than one painting on the wall, most of them were of the family. The main bedroom was covered in curtains, with a mattress made from feathers. Featherbeds were only for the rich in the 14th century, but by the 19th century they were a comfort that ordinary people could aspire to – especially if they kept a few geese.
I was amazed at the quality of the indigenous grained wood including imported wood such as stinkwood native to tropical Africa, rosewood and yellowwood which grows in Indiana. The pieces of furniture in the Manor are the products of fine craftsmanship, unlike some modern day furniture that can’t even survive a year.
SLAVERY AT GROOT CONSTANTIA
As much as I appreciated the splendour, history also has a tragic side to it. The history of the Groot Constantia slaves is fragmentary and little is known about them or their occupations. Anna de Koningh, wife of Oloff Bergh and a descendent of slaves became the first female owner of Groot Constantia. During her tenure (1724-34), a total of 27 male slaves, one of them from Natal, attended to the farm. Most of the others came from India and Madagascar.
During Cloete tenure extensive use was made of slaves on the farm. One reads about the restoration work of Groot Constantia roundabout 1778 requiring many hands, and sometimes 120 to 150 men were required to do the work (Schutte 2003:271). Who they were, where they came from or to whom they belonged, is not known.
In spite of this, the history of the slaves during the Cloete tenure became better documented, but still fragmentary. A big improvement however, came in 1816 with the inception of the Slave Office and Slave Register.
I wondered what it was like to be a master rolling out of bed, expecting a prepared bath with slaves that scrubbed my back and had breakfast waiting. I shuddered knowing that there was more than meets the eye to all the beauty.
THE PRODUCTION CELLAR
The Production cellar is where the wine is produced. The Groot Constantia wine estate prides itself on producing their wine from grapes that are carefully hand-picked instead of using machinery. Using people to pick every bunch in one sweep greatly reduces the detritus that mechanic harvesters may incur, but the only other advantage is that it is easier to replace a sick worker than a broken tractor.
Their grapes are picked into small grape crates so that the grapes are not smashed. Depending on the style of wine, the grape skins are used in the final product or not. The grape skin that is not used during wine production is used as soil fertilisers. When wine is left with skin, it becomes darker and when the skin is removed, the lighter the wine becomes.
Interesting Fact: Wine is stored in oak barrels to give the wine its identity and compound flavours.
In Groot Constantia, wine tasting is held in the Production Cellar and the Cloete Cellar. The visitors’ route package also includes wine tasting, where you get a pick of five selections. The best part is that the sommeliers (wine stewards) also help you pair the wine with chocolates.
5 steps to tasting wine:
1. Tilt the glass to examine the residue of the wine and look closely at the colour.
2. Gently smell the wine and determine the aromas (e.g fruity for most whites and sparkling and smoky for reds).
3. Slowly swirl the glass of wine in your hand to allow oxygen into the wine (swirling releases the bouquet).
4. Smell the wine again (the aroma of the wine should now be stronger and more defined).
5. Sip and taste. Savour the flavours and intensity of the wine. Do the flavours linger in your mouth even after you swallow it? (the aftertaste is known as the finish).
The sommelier explained that wine is open to interpretation. What happens when we smell a distinct aroma? Do we say that Pinotage has ripe plums in it or do we say that Pinotage reminds us of ripe plums? What makes wine beautiful is that its interpreted in so many different and unique ways.
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Entrepreneur, Tinashe Nyamudoka is one of our Mzansi Top 100 leaders. He is also a top sommelier from The Test Kitchen, who has a first release of his own wine. ‘Kumusha’ is a Chenin/Semillon blend from the Slanghoek Valley. This wine shows great elegance and length with a creamy mouthfeel, yellow stone fruit, baked apple and pineapple, quince and lemon peel.
His journey began in the hospitality industry at the Roundhouse Restaurant in Camps Bay to be specific, when he was amongst the 50 candidates who had applied to work in this new establishment.
He started growing his career and he has learned alongside seasoned sommeliers André Bekker and Eric Botha at The One & Only in Cape Town, earned his official badge via the Cape Wine Academy and took tenure as head sommelier at Cape Town’s Nobu and then at The Oyster Box in Umhlanga.
In July 2015 Nyamudoka returned to Cape Town and joined the team at The Test Kitchen which ranked 28 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Nyamudoka has won numerous awards and who best to seek advice from than the wine expert himself?
1. What factors should you consider when buying a good bottle of wine?
I consider price first. In every category that is Entry Level, Mid Range or Premium wines, there is always a good wine. Technically a good wine is a balance between fruit, alcohol and acid for white or fruit, alcohol and tannin for red. As a consumer, you have to rely on recommendations be it fruit wine ratings or a wine critic. Personal previous experience helps too.
2. What does Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot add to the wine?
Merlot adds fruit flavours, Cabernet Franc adds herbaceous and earthy notes and Petit Verdot usually adds colour and dark fruit flavours.
3. What is the best way to pair red and white wine?
This topic is very subjective. The old rule of thumb is still relevant,
– High acid white wines with high acid or fatty food
– rich white wines with seafood, creamy or spicy food or even white meat
– big and bold red wines with red meat dishes
Try out ‘Kumusha’ and tell us what you think on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter- @theyoungindy
4. What is your go-to summer/winter/spring/fall wine and why?
Summer – I go for dry Rosé or light reds like Pinot Noir which I can chill or slightly chill on a hot sunny day.
Winter – Mature or old red wine that I can keep warm over a heater or fireplace.
Spring/Fall – Anything in between!
5. Do the bottle and the overall wine aesthetic have a direct effect on how the wine tastes?
Not at all.
6. Which places do you recommend in Cape Town that sells good wine at affordable prices?
– Wine at The Old Biscuit Mill
– Wine concepts
– Retailers such as Woolies and Checkers also stock some good wines
7. What is the best way to store wine?
– Away from direct sunlight and heat.
– Cool and humid area, an average temperature of 17 degrees.
– Keep the bottles lying horizontally especially if they have a cork. This keeps the wine in contact with the cork to avoid the cork drying out.
8. Any wines you would recommend for beginners?
– Warwick First Lady wines
– Porcupine Ridge wines
– Odd Bins from Checkers
9. Which wines are more potent?
Generally, reds have a higher alcohol content. The trend is low alcohol wines at the moment.
10. What temperature do you recommend when serving red, white or sparkling wine?
Sparkling wine 6-8 degrees
White wine 10-12 degrees
Red wine 16-18 degrees
11. What wine are you currently obsessing over and why?
I’m obsessing over my own wine. It’s a white blend of Chenin Blanc and Semillon. It has lovely fruit and texture and great to match with food.
[Stay tuned for weekly ‘Trending Millennial’ blog posts where Jane Folodi shares her South African millennial experiences.]