20 November 2018
I would never consider myself as an expert on wine, despite my life-long exposure to grape juice. I have never quite felt comfortable when I have been requested to approve a wine by a usually supercilious waiter, and I will never forget the day when I tasted and ‘approved’ a wine at a lunch in Paris, only to have my colleagues spit it out, declaring it to be ‘corked’. It had tasted fine to me. I hope that Liliana Frigerio cannot recall that occasion!
When my sons arrived here in Cape Town last November, one of our suggestions of ‘Things to do in Cape Town‘ was a visit to the oldest wine farm in South Africa, followed by lunch. So one day we set off in two ‘Ubers‘ for the 30-minute drive to Groot Constancia.
Now why they are called ‘wine farms‘ and not ‘vineyards‘ I am yet to understand. I assume that something got lost in the translation to English from Afrikaans or Xhosa.
It was Simon van der Stel, then Governor of the Cape, that established Constancia in 1685, believing it to be best suitable for vineyards. And it was Hendrick Cloete who bought land in Constancia in 1778 and planted thousands of vines. In time, according to the local marketing material, the resulting wine of Groot Constancia became a favourite drink of many European kings and emperors, including Frederick the Great of Prussia, King Louis Philippe of France and Napoleon Bonaparte.
And how did it come about that Napoleon was able to drink wine made at Groot Constancia, while exiled on the island of Saint Helena in the Southern Atlantic, from 1815 to his death in 1821?
It so happens that the English East India Company, based in Cape Town at the time, was commissioned by the British authorities to provision the garrison and the regiments stationed on the island, as well as the ships of the Royal Navy patrolling the waters around Saint Helena.
While the rest of our party went on a tour of the facility and a presentation on the wine-making process, I wandered around the well-preserved buildings and the vineyards. It was so tranquil and I found it difficult to believe that I was in Africa. It felt more like Spain.
When we convened, after a delicious lunch in the restaurant, we had the opportunity to sample some of the local wines. They proved to be delicious, and I couldn’t resist buying a case of their white.
And two other examples of the local wine that we purchased…
For more information on the interesting history of Groot Constancia, click here