Groot Constantia Estate is the oldest wine estate in South Africa, and it is here that the country's thriving wine industry has its roots. Since its origin in 1685, Groot Constantia has always been a wine farm and its name is forever linked to the most famous wines that were so highly prized by the European gentry in the 18th century.
The history of the farm dates back to 1685 when it was granted to the first Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, as an experimental farm for agricultural produce. Van der Stel named the farm "Constantia" and the produce of vegetables and fruit was supplied to ships that called in at the Cape. Van der Stel mainly developed the practice of viticulture on his estate, and thus laid the groundwork for one of the major export industries of South Africa today.
Four years after his death in 1712, the farm was divided into three portions - Bergvliet, Klein Constantia and the main portion onwhich the Van der Stel manor was built, which officially became known as Groot Constantia during the mid-19th century.
In 1778 the farm was bought by Hendrik Cloete, a winemaker from Stellenbosch, and remained in his family for over one hundred years. Hendrik Cloete gave the farm a new look - he built a new wine cellar, adapted the original house and expanded the outbuildings in front of the manor house. He also improved the vineyards and introduced his own winemaking methods. His wines became world famous. His family carried on and maintained his standards after his death, and later supplied wine to the exiled French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on St. Helena.
In 1885 it was decided to sell Groot Constantia by auction. The Estate was bought by the Master of the Cape Supreme High Court for the Cape Government, and was used as an experimental wine farm. In 1925 the manor house was severely damaged in a fire. From 1927-1952 the house was restored and refurbished under the supervision of the architect F. K. Kendall, and with items donated and bought solely for this purpose by the art collector A. A. de Pass. To this day, the De Pass Collection still forms the nucleus of the exhibition in the manor house.
Responsibility for the house, its collection and the viticultural functions of the farm was redistributed, until in 1993 the Groot Constantia Trust was established. Today the Estate is owned by the Trust, whose main objective is to preserve this beautiful and historic estate and to honour the name of South African wine.
Groot Constantia Today
Today Groot Constantia welcomes its visitors with the tranquility and beauty that charmed Simon van der Stel all those years ago.
The Manor House, with its elegant gables, is a magnificent example of Cape Dutch architecture. Today it houses a cultural history museum, portraying the early years of Groot Constantia.
The Cloete Cellar, the original wine cellar, dates back to 1791 and houses a Wine Museum, exhibiting various wine making equipment and especially wine storage and wine drinking vessels. The beautiful pediment gable above the cellar is one of sculptor Anton Anreith's masterpieces.
Groot Constantia produces a range of excellent wines, and has over the years won numerous awards for both reds and whites. The wines may be tasted and bought at the tasting cellar, locally known as Bertram's Cellar, at the entrance of the Estate. There is also a souvenir and gift shop. In the production and maturation Cellar, tours and tastings take place daily.
Visitors are offered a choice of excellent dining on the Estate. The Tavern Restaurant, built in the original bottling and maturation cellar, offers a variety of continental dishes and caters for larger functions. The graceful Jonkershuis Restaurant in the historic core of the Estate serves Cape Malay, classical and contemporary cuisine. What could be more satisfying than a delicious meal and a glass of excellent wine, surrounded by atmosphere and architecture, vineyards and breathtaking views?
The Estate also offers stunning walks to various viewpoints. Visitors can order picnic baskets from one of the Constantia restaurants and let their senses take them to a beautiful place in the peace and tranquility of the Constantia surroundings.