The History of Constantia

Cape Dutch Architecture

Cape Dutch Architecture. Image by Len’Alex

Constantia Valley has the Table Mountain National Park bordering the west and the Main Road on its eastside. In between these two sites is one of South Africa’s oldest wine-making regions going as far back as the late 1600s.

It has always been a point of interest since the 1700s mainly because of the vineyards, breath-taking views, and peaceful landscape. Constantia Valley is very rural in spite of its popularity and fame.

The Constantia Wine Route

The Constantia Wine Route is made of 8 wine-making farms, several of whom have won major awards in their wine products. Since the time of Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th century, royalty and VIPs have been seen in this part of South Africa because of the quality of wine being made here. What makes the farms so notable, perhaps, is the fact that they’ve survived from early colonial times all way through to the 21st century, an age of the internet, graphically real computer games, iPhone covers and quantum mechanics.

The history of the wine route begins with one man, Simon van der Stel. He put up the first wine farm in South of Africa and gave it the name, Klein Constantia after the daughter of his benefactor. Its first wines, Vin Constance, were known to be sweet and very popular, enjoyed not just by Bonaparte but also by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Simon van der Stel was also the first governor and had a violent and eventful childhood starting with his birth on a ship. His grandmother was a slave, and his father was killed and his head placed on a picket, which Simon had unfortunately seen. His mother also died early and he grew up an orphan. He learned the art of wine-making from his mother-in-law. In 1679 he was picked by the Dutch East India Company to be governor and served for 20 years. During that time, he acquired land and started Groot Constantia. When he died this land was divided into smaller wine farms with one retaining the name Groot Constantia.

Groot Constantia was purchased by Hendrik Cloete whose family owned it for 100 years. They had to sell it to the government after an epidemic hit the country. The other half of Groot Constantia was sold to the Eksteen family who were forced to give it up at the end of the 19th century when the British defeated the French.

These were the 2 families who more or less controlled the Constantia Valley for years. It was only the late 19th century that land was redistributed because of growth and progress in the area, immigrants, and the migration of Muslim slaves and men of means who were forced to live in Constantia Valley to keep them away from infiltrating or controlling in any way the Dutch East India Company. Two men ended up buried close to the entrance of the Klein Constantia wine farm. They were Sayed Mahmud, a spiritual leader, and Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, the last sultan from the Malaccan tribe.