There is a Renaissance sweeping the Constantia winelands and it is very exciting indeed! It is not a question of out with the old and in with the new, but rather whilst acknowledging the history and heritage of the past – and we are talking 350 years of wine-making – there is a sense of revival, reinvention and rebirth.
The very name Constantia evokes the old world and the weight of history. Whilst les Vins de Constance were the first brand to emerge from Southern Africa in the 1700s, today it is the new developments which are capturing the imagination of locals and visitors alike.
The introduction of the Red Hop on Hop off buses have introduced scores to the delights of the winelands right on Cape Town city’s doorstep. Those to benefit most have been Beau Constantia, Eagle’s Nest and Groot Constantia where the buses stop off, but a private wine tour with tutored tastings by the winemakers makes for a special and memorable day in the winelands.
I was recently invited to experience some of the new things on offer in this verdant valley.
Starting off at Eagle’s Nest owned by the Mylrea family, the fresh ‘Little Eagle ‘Rosé was the perfect breakfast wine to start off with. For young families it is hard to beat the picture perfect dell surrounded by established trees to the left of the simple whitewashed tasting room. Because it is a boutique family-owned winery, it is highly likely that you will encounter a member of the family helping out in the tasting room.
I can well imagine how popular the venue is on weekends when families – including well-behaved dogs – can come and spend the day enjoying the peaceful ambiance and one of the many platters and picnic options on offer. By special arrangement one can enjoy – at a price – a trip up to the highest vineyards with jaw –dropping views in the farm’s rustic 4 x 4. The property itself is only 38 hectares with 12 hectares under vineyard. Under the able leadership of young blonde winemaker, Stuart Botha, who has been at the helm for 8 years and under whose skill Eagle Nest Shiraz has secured the accolade ‘Best Shiraz in the world’ the wines are delicious.
During a tutored tasting, we enjoyed the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc – yet to be released, made from 30 year old bush vines from the Darling area. Well known for their Viognier, the 2014 did not disappoint with the most heady, perfumed bouquet. My favourite was the 2011 Merlot, which was bottled in 2013, with its delicious savoury meatiness reflecting the minerality and iron from the granite block. We ended the tasting off with the Shiraz – a veritable Christmas tree of a bottle with all its medals affixed like baubles. It might have been the Riedel glasses or the intensity and passion of the winemaker but this is the kind of wine one could quite happily spend an evening with!
Our next stop was at the flattest vineyards in the valley at Constantia Uitsig. Site of the old River Café, La Colombe and the Constantia Uitsig hotel, loyal past customers to these old Cape Town wine institutions have had to adjust to the changes. The new owners, the Erasmus family, are quietly and with innovation and great partners establishing a new destination winery.
We were met by the movie star looks young winemaker Jacques Du Plessis who I’m sure was appointed on his winemaking skills but his dashing good looks – especially when performing the sabrage on the Uitsig MCC – enhanced the experience all-round.
Flute in hand we set off to inspect the new mountain bike park which is already in operation even though parts are still under construction. Plans are well underway to build a coffee barn where parents can relax with a coffee and pastry from the Open Door restaurant whilst watching their offspring hare around the course. A dam with picnic area, all planted up with fynbos is also in the offing as is an aboveground bikeway for those more adventurous adults. I like the new Open Door restaurant – it is light and airy during the day and in winter it has a fire and cosy lighting. The chefs cook within view and the menu is comprehensive. My crayfish starter was delicate and sublime. Particularly good are their vegetarian offerings.
Over a delicious lunch we were taken through some of the current white wines on offer. The standout for me was their white blend with Semillon making up 70 % and Sauvignon Blanc 30%, a reversal of the traditional percentages, although their Chardonnay Reserve 2013 with ripe pineapple notes was a close second.
Our last stop was the top of the valley at boutique wine farm, Beau Constantia. A relatively new addition as a winery, Beau Constantia is very popular not least of all because of the awesome views across the valley, towards the Stellenbosch Mountains in the distance and False Bay, but for its Sushi Box restaurant. On arrival we were taken up the mountain by the owner to his private viewing area and start of the most precipitous 9 hole golf course. Talk about extreme wine-tasting and golf! Back in the cosy tasting room we tucked into sushi and their popular Pas de Nom white wine overlooking the grassy amphitheatre. The plan is to host charity events, eat sushi, listen to top local bands and sip fine wine in a gorgeous setting – sounds like a winning formula.
The Constantia Wine Route comprising 10 farms offers something for every age and persuasion. From fine dining to picnics, wine-tasting to bike-riding, it is an exciting destination open to everyone and well worth visiting.