On the 2nd February 2018 I went to Groot Constantia for the 2018 Harvest Celebration.
Harvest time is cause for a celebration in all spheres of farming, but when it is the 333rd consecutive year of successful wine production, that is something to really celebrate.
But that is not all.
Groot Constantia were also recently awarded the status of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Conservation Champion in recognition of their conservation focused farming practices.
Rigorous conservation criteria must be met before this award is bestowed. These include protecting the natural habitat, enhancing biodiversity in farming methods and maintaining a proactive stance to environmental sustainability and conservation.
Wait, there is more.
Groot Constantia and Voice Map launched 3 new audio walking tours of the estate, covering everything from the historical buildings to the varietals of grape, the micro climate and what happens inside the cellar.
Sitting under the oaks in front of the Jonkershuis restaurant we started our morning with snacks, bubbly and coffee and discussing the probability of rain. This is the only topic of conversation in Cape Town right now.
We had experienced a few drops of rain earlier in the morning and the mountain was covered in cloud giving us yet another day of false hope. (by midday we had all stripped to the bare minimum as the sun came out, the clouds vanished, and the temperature soared into the thirties)
Floricius Beukes, the Viticulturist and Estate Manager joined us and provided a fascinating insight into what makes this estate so special, some of the challenges experienced at Groot Constantia and the creative solutions the team have put into practice.
The unique Groot Constantia Terroir.
Floricius first explained the unique environment of Groot Constantia.
Situated on the slopes of Table Mountain, the south facing slopes overlook False Bay and suit the white variety grapes while the beautiful north facing slopes are loved by the reds.
Two very different soil types dominate the farm, granite which produces powerful, concentrated wine, and sandstone which yields floral, aromatic wine.
The abundant sunshine is softened by the shade of the mountain, and the cooling sea breezes coming off the oceans on the northern and southern slopes. Being right up against the mountain, Groot Constantia and the Constantia Valley has a higher average rainfall than London.
Fog from the ocean gets pushed against the mountain providing moisture for the vines.
Boela Gerber is Groot Constantia’s wine maker extraordinaire. Boela is a traditionalist and he endeavours to capture whatever the vine is producing in its simplest form.
He is frequently heard stating “ look after the vines and you will produce magic wines”
Floricius Beukes seems to know every inch of the estate in intimate detail, and he is the one who looks after the vines, not an easy task.
It is the combined passion, knowledge and talent of these two men that makes Groot Constantia’s wines great, and the methods they use deserving of the recent award.
Water thirsty alien vegetation like Black Wattle and Port Jackson trees have been cleared from the estate. After a burn, any young aliens that pop up are removed.
Grape skins are used for composting, this helps to keep the soil moist.
Reducing the crop size obviously reduces water usuage, and although Groot Constantia does irrigate, this season 60% of the vineyards have not required any irrigation.
During the veraison period which is when the berries ripen and change colour, the vines are traditionally irrigated for 12 hours. This has been reduced to 6 hours.
Did you know that 1 ton of grapes yields 630 litres of grape juice, and it takes 13.4 litres of water to produce 1 litre of wine?
Boela Gerber and his assistant, Rudlof Steenkamp, reduced this amount to 8 litres and recently have managed to use just 6.4 litres of water per 1 litre of wine. A significant saving.
The Animals at Groot Constantia.
During winter a cover crop is planted to sustain the soil, keep it cool, add nitrogen and prevent it washing away. The noisy Egyptian Geese absolutely love this and eat it all, so driving them away is an ongoing process.
Buzzards catch moles and recently 9 owl boxes were added to the estate as the owls are excellent predators for moles, mice and other small rodents. A few Barn owls have taken up residence in the boxes so far.
Electric fences have been erected to keep the baboons out of the vineyards. Not only do they love the grapes, but the young ones play quite roughly and damage the vines in the process. From the vineyards, the next stop is the restaurant as the baboons are very keen on take away snacks in a snatch and grab style.
The beautiful, sleek caracul can sometimes be seen on the higher slopes. This one was spotted and snapped by Rob from Escape Hikes just a few weeks ago.
Reduction of Chemicals.
No pesticides are used at Groot Constantia. The mieliebug is the biggest threat to the vines but Groot Constantia have solved this problem by buying in its natural predators, ladybirds and the parasitic Anagyrus wasp.
The spraying of herbicides to eliminate weeds has been reduced to spot spraying. Due to the water crisis and the high water guzzling nature of weeds this will be relooked out. Using a herbicide to eliminate weeds can prevent the need to irrigate.
Due to the high rainfall, usually 1200ml per annum, but only 600ml this year, fungicides are used as a preventative measure. Much of it is organic and high in copper and Sulphur.
A wine cellar must be thoroughly washed daily. This is no longer done the easy way with hosepipes, only buckets are used now.
Wine in waiting at Groot Constantia
Groot Constantia Audio Tours.
Not just another app.
The Voice Map app is exactly what the name implies. Each walk you select and download becomes a fully comprehensive, talking tour guide on your smart phone or tablet. A podcast explaining what you are seeing as you explore.
Accurate maps and voice directions ensure you will not get lost but the content of the talks are what make Voice Map truly special.
The narration is done by local experts, and the audio is activated by your location. This means you do not have constant of chatter and you can do the tour at your own pace and return to your favourite spots.
The tours are very informative and I would recommend doing all three tours offered at Groot Constantia.
Allow for 2 to 3 hours to get the full Groot Constantia experience.
The Deep Roots and Trade Routes Tour is a 3km wander through the vineyards. Groot Constantia wines are known for their big personalities and this tour introduces you to the various grapes in the most charming way. This tour takes about 50 minutes.
From Cellar to Barrel to Bottle is a fascinating cellar tour for any wine lover. You will meet Boela Gerber the resident wine maker who provides insights and comments as you follow the process of wine making in the cellar.
The Museum Tour animates the history of Groot Constantia and takes you back to the times of slaves and exiles, lords and ladies, villains and celebrities of days gone by. Remember, this estate has 333 years of history. That is a lot of stories. Allow 1 hour to complete this tour.
The maps and audio can be downloaded and used offline, so you don’t have to worry about your data getting chomped.
You can even read the text via the website by clicking on the circular satellite image icons located just below the map.
Everything at Groot Constantia tastes good and the lunch paired with wines from the estate was a celebration on its own.
For the foodies, this is what we had.
Sustainable fish, Filleted Kingklip and sliced Karan rib-eye with crispy rosemary salted potatoes and a cos and avocado salad with Groot Constantia grapeseed oil.
Desert was a dream, Smashed Meringue with summer berries and Chantilly cream.
Each course was perfectly paired with a Groot Constantia wine obviously.
Waiting for a feast
With our current water crisis, the simple solution to make your 50 litres per day go further is to drink more wine. If you select Groot Constantia Wine you are supporting an estate that is environmentally friendly. Everybody wins.