The Constantia Wine Walk takes you on private trails through the vineyards, and the colourful history of wine in South Africa, stopping for tastings along the way.
This year, the Cape wine industry turned 365, which is a respectable age we’ll all agree. On 2 February 1659, Jan van Riebeeck wrote in his diary: ‘Heeden is Gode loff van de Caepse druyven d’eerste mael wijn geparst’ (Today, praise be to God, wine was made for the first time from Cape grapes). It was the day the first wine made on South Africa soil was bottled, from vines the governor had had planted in 1655.
From there, the only way was forward, and today the Cape Winelands produce some of the world’s most sought-after wine. It also must be noted that some fine wines are coming out of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and the estates in that region are well worth a visit.
But back to the Cape and an alluring way to learn about the history of wine in the country – the Constantia Wine Walk.
Founder Matt Sterne is an archive of information, and he weaves the story of Cape wine as the walk weaves through the vineyards of the Constantia Valley. South African wine has a fascinating history, tied together by colonists, freed slaves, writers and even royalty.
‘Queen Victoria drank a glass each night, and Napoleon drank a bottle a day,’ says Matt. In her novel Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen recommends ‘a little Constantia for its healing powers on a disappointed heart’, and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens writes of ‘the support embodied in a glass of Constantia’.
Matt tells these stories as you meander through the vines, the chain of mountains running down the peninsula a staggering backdrop. Constantia’s history may have been very different were it not for the son of a freed slave, he says cryptically. ‘Constantia may not have even continued to exist were it not for his influence.’
And then you’re down the rabbit hole as you learn the history of this beguiling place. He tells tales of sumptuous feasts and wild Great Gatsby-style parties, of terrible fires and of Amazonian warriors. Of resilience and tenacity, of riches and rags.
You also learn about the wines made in this cool climate, the Constantia Valley terroir creating poetry in a glass.
The walk kicks off at Groot Constantia, not quite at dawn, but early enough, the first leg taking you around the estate and past the old Cloete graveyard. But before you get there, Matt pops some delicious Groot Constantia Blanc de Blanc CC to be taken with a sweet treat (we had pastéis de natas). Back at the tasting room, it is time to savour some of the estate’s finest.
And then it’s off at a leisurely pace – this is no run – to Klein Constantia, along paths not open to the public. Here the cool tasting room is a welcome relief after all this exertion. And it is time to top up on the tasting front. Klein Constantia, like its neighbour, has superb wines. Groups of eight or more are invited into the cellar for this stop. It ends with the globally renowned Vin de Constance, one of the world’s best natural sweet wines.
From there a short stroll past the dam to Buitenverwachting and lunch. But first, you get to taste three wines, and discover more about what makes the valley’s wines so special.
Platters for lunch can be taken in the tasting room, on the patio, or even on the grass under the spreading trees. The platters are something to behold, the wood almost hidden under the variety of foods on offer. There’s charcuterie, of course, and patés, cheeses and preserves, and dips, crackers and breads. There are vegetarian, vegan and halaal platters – the last two need to be ordered in advance, so be sure to let Constantia Wine Walk know if vegan or halaal is your preference.
It’s a lot of food, but then, you need to get your strength back after your, er, strenuous morning.
The tour is 6km long and usually takes four to five hours as an easy walk, including stops for wine tasting, chatting and a harvest platter lunch at the end. Tours are offered on selected days each week, and cost R1,950 per person.
Group tours with tastings at two farms instead of three and created for South Africans, start from R1,000pp. Shorter Groot Constantia tours are also available, starting from R400pp.
Written by Lorraine Kearney.
Feature Image: Simon Watson Images