Celebrating 333 years of wine production

* Dr Ernest Messina, chairman of Groot Constantia Trust, with the bottle of 1855 Pontac JP Cloete wine.

Groot Constantia celebrated its 333rd year of uninterrupted wine production last week by planting trees and unveiling a bottle of 1855 Pontac from JP Cloete, of Great Constantia, as Groot Constantia was known at that time.

Jacob Pieter Cloete was the last private owner of Groot Constantia before it became a government farm in 1885.

He acquired the farm in 1824 and produced five different kinds of natural sweet wine – Red Constantia, White Constantia, Frontignac, Steenwyn and Pontac. Cloete died in Plumstead on 2 December 1875.

The bottle of 1855 Pontac is one of two that went up for sale at an auction house in Doullens, France.

Someone who had visited Groot Constantia many years ago contacted the estate’s general manager, Jean Naude, in June to ask if he would be interested in making a bid for the wine which was estimated to go for anything between 100 euros to 200 euros (R1 549 to R3 100).

Mr Naude agreed and the deed was done. But he did not know if the wine would arrive in time for the birthday celebration held on Friday July 13, 333 years since the original title deed for the estate was signed and Simon van der Stel was granted the property.

But it did arrive and was so unexpected that Dr Ernest Messina, chairman of Groot Constantia Trust, did not even have a sharp knife to cut open the packaging.

Earlier, guests were invited to plant oak saplings in the avenue leading to the historic homestead.

Mr Naude said he would love to plant indigenous trees but the oaks were in keeping with history.

He said three trees were planted in honour of the more than three centuries of wine production and a further three for the next 333 years.

Rain showers held off long enough for some of Groot Constantia’s creche children – Kaylen Jordaan, 3, Tarryn Wilson, 5, Aiden Jordaan, 1, and Kylelee Jacobs, 2 – and Nelly Groote, who has worked at Groot Constantia for 33 years, to also get their hands dirty.

Winemakers, bloggers, trustees and staff were treated to a three-course lunch paired with Groot Constantia wines in Simon’s Restaurant.

The former chief director of the provincial Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Hannetjie du Preez, spoke about the history of the estate which now belongs to all South Africans.

She said that the red Pontac 1855, along with a white Frontignac, had been awarded silver medals at the Exposition Universelle Paris of 1889. It was the largest exposition of its time, attended by almost 30 million visitors who entered through the Eiffel Tower which was completed just in time for the opening.

“No other wine farm in the world received so much attention, including poetry,” said Ms Du Preez.

She suggests that Groot Constantia should now look for a bottle of Frontignac that may have a label on stating that it is the “Colonial Wines which obtained the first-class prize silver medal at the Universal French Exhibitions of 1855 and 1867, and two at Vienna, 1874, and Philadelphia, 1876”.

“Groot Constantia wines were considered to be the best of the Cape of Good Hope and as such, were showcased on these world fairs,” said Ms Du Preez.