Groot Constantia: Championing winelands conservation for over three centuries

2018-05-16 08:30 - Saara Mowlana
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Groot Constantia

Lush vines surround you at Groot Constantia. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

About 95% of South Africa's wine growing takes place in the Cape winelands. That's a lot of fine wine being produced on our Cape grapevine - of which Groot Constantia wine farm forms a significant part. 

Celebrating 333 years of wine crafting excellence, the prestigious estate was recently heralded by the WWF SA for its conservation champion efforts.  

WWF spokesperson Joan Isham, commended Groot Constantia at an event held at the estate, as it upholds the protocols and practices to preserve and protect the natural biodiversity unique to this Cape region.

That's right, the winelands are not just home to seemingly infinite bouts of bright green lines of manicured vines, but to two global biodiversity hot spots as well - the Succulent Karoo and Cape Floral Kingdom. The latter of which has 70% of its species nestled solely within our pretty Cape wine farms.

And according to Isham, "Only wine farmers - they are the custodians of the land and only they can ensure that these natural areas are protected. Only they can make sure that they use farming practices or wine making practices with minimum impact on the environment."

To help play their part as wine producers to protect and preserve our fynbos and natural vegetation, Groot Constantia has implement a wide range of strategies, including:

  • Ecological restoration projects. This looks at removing alien vegetation destroying our indigenous biodiversity and planting our own fynbos and flora instead. 
  • Biological control for pests also helps alleviate running the risk of poisons damaging our natural vegetation and plants.
  • Many farms have also been cutting down on their water wastage and electrical footprint by implementing the use of solar power and water saving measures. 

Planning a day-trip to Groot Constantia?

Located a quick drive of about 40 minutes from Cape Town's city centre, Groot Constantia winds off the leafy main roads of Constantia and into a world all its own.

Whether you're travelling solo or with your family, by car or by the City Sightseeing tour bus you can expect to be transported into an ethereal vineyard setting. 

The winery is set beside a backdrop of Cape Town's iconic mountain range area and surrounded by lush and vibrant vines on either side.

READ: Groot Constantia to offer new visitors route experience

This land was chosen by the winefarm's founder, Simon van der Stel, in 1685 and hundreds of years later, it's still clear to see why.

He was appointed to govern the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East India Company in 1679 and had requested land for his service provided.

The land he chose is situated behind Table Mountain and added to its spectacular vantage point, and magnificent scenery - the soil also held great wine-growing potential.

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Get lost in stunning views at Groot Constantia wine farm. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

SEE THE New 195-year-old attraction arrives in Groot Constantia, Africa’s oldest wine farm

Groot Constantia Visitors Route Experience

The vineyard offers a range of services for guests to engage in and enjoy. Whether you wish to go on a guided or solo tour or just wish to enjoy some tasty meals along with the breathtaking views for a quick city break, there is something for everyone.

You are welcome to purchase tickets for their Visitors Route Experience tour that takes you through the Manor House to two wine tastings - one of which includes chocolates - and through their museum and cellar as well. You also get a complimentary Spiegelau Crystal Wine Glass with this package. 

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Look toward False Bay over rows and rows of vibrant vines. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

CHECK OUT: Groot Constantia reinstates its place in world (class) history

You can also go on one of three self-guided audio tours if you're not up for the semantics of a crowd or guide. Simply download their free Groot Constantia VoiceMap app here

Alternatively, you could just go to admire the view and take aesthetic shots around the vineyard using this handy map

Or if you're just in a mood to eat outside of the crowded and buzzing city - you can enjoy a delicious meal one of the estates two resident restaurants, Jonkershuis restaurant or Simon's Restaurant.

Word to the wise: the winery warns guests to practice caution or avoid picnics due to baboons that frequent the surrounding area. 

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Visit Jonkershuis restaurant for an extravagant and tasty meal. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

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What you can expect

Soak up the view overlooking vines that wind down in the direction of False Bay while soaking up refreshments, courtesy of the Jonkershuis restaurant that is located on the premises. 

Compliment your beverage of choice (wine, water or cappuccino) with orders of hors d'ouvres comprised of crunchy vinaigrette soaked crackers, topped with a range of topping options, from quail eggs with mushrooms or avocado mash with finely diced tomato or hummus with chickpeas.

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A set up fit for royalty greeted our arrival. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Some hors d'ouvres were served while we mingled over coffee, water and wine. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

Learn about the winery and its history from a tour guide - we had the company of Jean Naude and Karen Woodcock - as you're taken on a tour through the Manor House, Cloete Cellar and its surrounding grounds.

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Jean Naude from Groot Constantia. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Karen Woodcock from Groot Constantia. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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The artwork that embellishes the entrance to the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

ALSO CHECK OUT: Wine Worth Travelling For: 5 Cape Winelands Estates perfect for a summery day-trip

Between the Manor House and Cloete Cellar lies a serene pond which often sees ducks and birds frolicking about in its water. You can also learn about the Wild Peach tree that sits beside the cellar and how it got its name.

Spoiler alert: It has to do with the shape of its leaf, however, it does not actually bear peach fruit. 

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Ducks frolicking on a sunny autumn day between the Manor House and Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

The Manor House itself is decorated in hard wood cabinets and tables set on tiled floors and has a modest Dutch styled dining hall that you pass through when being directed to the Cloete Cellar. 

The Cellar, on the other hand, features a museum of artefacts from the site as well as information boards about its history. It also has a quirky modern styled bar area for tastings.

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Inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Karen Woodcock taking us on a tour inside the Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

You might even be surprised to learn that the infamous dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte used to order his wine from Groot Constantia - or Grand Constance as it is dubbed in French. His bottles would be marked with his seal on the top of its cap. 

Before his death in 1821, Napoleon had 30 bottles of Grand Constance shipped over to St Helena Island every month to ease his exile.

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Jean Naude pointing out a bottle with Napoleon Bonaparte's seal. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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A bottle with Napoleon Bonaparte's seal. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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A bottle with Napoleon Bonaparte's seal. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

ALSO READ: Cape Winelands: Alternative activities to try this summer

Dictators aside, it was also a favourite of renowned writers, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Charles Baudelaire.

Dickens celebrated the wine in Edwin Drood, while Austen's character recommended it as a cure for a broken heart to heroine Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility and Baudelaire compared Constantia wine to his lover's lips in his most famous volume of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal (the title translates into The Flowers of Evil in English).

The cellar also features a plaque on the wall which seals off a whopping 12 bottles of Grand Constance wine from 2009. The bottles were placed into the wall on September 15 2016 and is to be opened on February 2 2109 which will mark the winery's 450 years of existence.

The wine will be aged 100 years by the time the plaque and bottles are removed in 2109. 

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The plaque sealing off the 12 bottles in Cloete Cellar. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

After an extensive and intriguing mini-tour, make your way back to Jonkershuis restaurant to enjoy an elaborate one, two or three course meal from its versatile menu to let your tastebuds go on a tour of the fresh ingredients used by the restaurant.

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Winter Apple & Fennel starter at Jonkershuis restaurant. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Spinach & Salted Ricotta Ravioli main course at Jonkershuis restaurant. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Spiced Apple Crumble dessert at Jonkershuis restaurant. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Each course was paired with a carefully selected wine. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

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More on WWF SA's appearance

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WWF SA had come to celebrate one of their conservation champions - Groot Constantia - on Friday, May 11. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)
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Joan Isham representing WWF SA. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)

See her full talk below:

See what Groot Constantia had to say on their practices to maintain their status of being conservation champs:

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Celebrate SA's wine heritage by visiting this conservation champ on your next city break. (Photo: Saara Mowlana / Traveller24)