Constantia is a historic wine-growing area in the southern suburbs of Cape Town in the Western Cape of South Africa. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the area was famed for its legendary dessert wine Vin de Constance. Nowadays, Constantia is known for premium cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux Blend wines, along with the modern dessert wines made from Muscat Blanc.
The Constantia estate was established in 1685 by the second Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, Simon van der Stel. It was subdivided into three parts upon his death in 1712 – Klein Constantia, Groot Constantia and Bergvliet. In 1778, Klein Constantia was purchased by Stellenbosch wine producer Hendrik Cloete, who began to make unfortified dessert wines from Muscat Blanc. Vin de Constance was held in the highest regard by kings and emperors in Europe, and is mentioned in the literature of the day – most notably by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Tragedy struck the area in the 1860s. The twin scourges of phylloxera and powdery mildew all but wiped out wine production in Constantia, and the vineyards lay largely forgotten until the 1980s. Today, they produce larger quantities of table wines, but modern winemakers have created their own version of the Vin de Constance style.
Constantia’s estates stretch from low ground all the way up the south-eastern sides of the Constantiaberg mountain. The highest vineyards reach 1300ft (400m) above sea level and are among the steepest in South Africa. Both the shade of the mountain and the constant sea breezes contribute to lower average temperatures on the slopes, helping the grapes planted here to retain their fresh acidity. Wind is important for vine health as well. The constant buffeting of the south-easterly winds stresses the vines, causing them to dig deeper into the ground for nutrients.
Constantia sits on top of ancient deposits of decomposed granite. These soils are well drained and fertile and have a high clay content. Water absorbed by the clay during wet winters helps to keep the vines hydrated over the dry summers.
Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrive further down the slopes where longer sunlight hours help the ripening process along. Richer, denser characters are present in the wines made from these grapes, which are often combined to make a Bordeaux Blend.