The Constantia Wine Tour offers a unique wine experience in the first and most historic wine region established outside of Europe.
Established in 1685, Constantia wine became world famous during the 18th and 19th centuries. Beloved by Frederick the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, eulogised by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott and Baudelaire, Constantia set a unique milestone as the first wine from outside of Europe to enjoy world-class status. Sadly, phylloxera ended all this towards the end of the 19th century, when the disease destroyed the Cape’s vineyards as well as Europe’s.
Although Constantia recovered and re-established itself once again as a region producing premium quality wines, it was only in 1986 that the natural sweet wine that made Constantia famous in previous eras was re-introduced. Meticulously researched from old records and made from oaked Muscat de Frontignan, Klein Constantia released the 1986 vintage of Vin de Constance in 1990. Since then, Vin de Constance has gone on to re-establish the great glory of Constantia’s past and has achieved world renown once again, not only for itself but also for Constantia. Following the success of Vin de Constance, Groot Constantia and Buitenverwachting have introduced their own versions of oaked Muscat de Frontignan in wines named “Groot Constance” and “1769 Muscat” respectively.
Blessed with a regular winter rainfall that makes irrigation unnecessary, Constantia is fanned by cool Atlantic breezes during the summer months on either side of its peninsula setting. Besides the granite-based soils that Simon van der Stel identified in the 1680s, Constantia also has substantial deposits of sandstone on clay, ideal for releasing moisture in the dry months. From this terroir, Constantia can produce a remarkable variety of wines. Overseas visitors are often amazed to find that the great varieties of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, the Rhone and Rhine all flourish side by side in Constantia. The result today is a wine harvest that appeals to every palate and taste.
During the current century, there have been exciting new developments in Constantia, particularly in the northern mountainous reaches. A passionate new breed of boutique wine makers, have established the new Constantia wineries of Eagle’s Nest, High Constantia, Constantia Glen, Constantia Mist, Beau Constantia and Silvermist. (The Constantia Wine Tour is the only wine tour that has been granted access via four-wheel drive vehicles to the highest of these mountain vineyards for their breathtaking views.)
After much hard work and investment, these new wineries have established new dimensions of modernity and experimentation that complement and balance the heritage they share with the more historic wine estates. The contrasts between large-scale and boutique wine operations add to the general interest and charm of the delightful journey through Constantia’s vineyards.
Although Constantia offers a wide of range of over 58 premium quality wines, the region’s focus is primarily on Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux-style red wines. In volume terms, Sauvignon Blanc production exceeds all other. Nevertheless, over 20 Bordeaux-style red wines are also offered, either as blends or as single varietal wines. Add to these of course the iconic dessert wine offerings made from oaked Muscat de Frontignan, already mentioned. There is also some production of excellent Méthode Cap Classique (traditional Champagne method) made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Platter’s South African Wines (South Africa’s top independent wine guide, 2012 edition), gives an average score of 4.3 stars out of five for all 58 of Constantia’s premium quality wines. Few wine regions in the world, certainly none in South Africa, come close in terms of such consistently high quality ratings.