It seemed only right that I start my South African wine safari in the place that the country’s wine industry itself began. Cape Town’s Groot Constantia estate was founded in 1685 when the Cape’s first governor fancied trying his hand at winemaking. Fortunately, things have progressed immensely since Simon van der Stel’s first batch of notoriously undrinkable wine.
Considering the historic importance of the estate, we started our tour by brushing up on a little local lore at the rather excellent orientation centre. My limited attention span appreciated the brevity of each historical point, whether it was an event affecting only the vineyard or a nationwide incident mentioned to give visitors a little context. We briefly roamed the grounds, but our plans to enjoy a picnic were scuppered – not by the legendary packs of baboons that roam the vineyards, stealing grapes for their lunch but by Cape Town’s famously unpredictable weather.
Still, if you’re going to spend an inclement afternoon in the Cape, Groot Constantia’s tasting room is the place to do it. Local art adorns the walls, comfy couches offer a chilled place to quaff and soaring pillars offer an air of grandeur that befits such an estate. The tasting menu is always changing, but you can always expect to choose five wines from their menu of nine whites, reds, roses and ports.
At times I enjoy a tutored tasting but on a lazy Saturday afternoon Groot Constantia’s laidback approach was ideal. Taking turns to order our next tipple at the bar, we kicked off our shoes and slouched into the leather couches, sipping and chatting the afternoon away. Others more keen to learn propped up the bar discussing bouquet, mouth feel and recommended pairings, but at least in the short term I was utterly content with the pairing I had – a glass of peppery 2008 shiraz and a couch so comfy I had to take care not to fall asleep between sips.
Groot Constantia is open every day from 10am to 5pm. Tastings are R30 per person and cellar tours are also available. See www.grootconstantia.co.za for more information.