Next time you drive into the Constantia valley from Wynberg Hill give a thought to what you could be driving over.
Lynn and Don Rowand of Nova Zonnestraal recently launched their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc and officially opened their new wine cellar.
With wine writers, sommeliers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, retailers, friends and family in attendance on the farms upper vineyard, Ms Rowand gave the background to why they were there. “We don’t make a habit of selling our wine from the farm’s, with the exception of friends and family, who’ve been with us and believed in us from the start,” she said.
Ms Rowand said it all began in 1936 when her father, Reg Parker bought a substantial track of property from the Bairnsfather Cloetes of Alphen.
“Hanepoot grapes were the flavour of the month, year, decade, at that time and were duly planted on the arable land,” she said.
Then, in the early 1960s the City decided that they wanted a highway to join Newlands to Muizenberg. “You can imagine what happened. Nobody wanted their properties expropriated, rather like now, albeit with some compensation in those days… But the inevitable happened and in 1965 the bulldozers moved onto the farm. My father had unfortunately died two years before and left the farm to my brother to negotiate the details,” said Ms Rowand.
It was her gap year and she was “footloose and fancy free” in Europe not giving one thought to what was going on back home.
The council decided that only one lane was necessary. It was two years later that the actual highway came into existence. By that time she was grown up, married and had moved to Johannesburg. Her brother had convinced the council that a subway/tunnel had to be built in order to be able to carry on farming on the other side of the highway, especially as he and his wife Elizabeth were living on the bottom side of the property.
And, in 1967, the tunnel was built, at the family’s expense. The pine trees were planted in the same year along the highway but have subsequently been felled. Ms Rowand said these pines, Pinus insignis only have a 50 to 60-year life span, unlike the stone pines which seem to live forever.
Moving forward 32 years, the Rowands returned to Cape Town in 1999 and took over the farm and Nova Zonnestraal was born.
A house and equestrian yard was built and over the years two other family homes were built.
Meanwhile, Ms Rowand realised that she needed to farm this land and so, after her brother’s death in 2001, his landing strip became an olive grove; the empty land at the farm gate became a nursery school; and the unused arable land was planted with wine grapes. And the table grapes, hanepoot, no longer flavour of the month, were replaced by wine cultivars.
“I became a farmer. I love the land. I’ve always been a stable hand,” laughed Ms Rowand, adding that husband Don also plays a part, by being able to read the farm accounts.
In 2014, they decided to specialise in sauvignon blanc and aim for Nova Zonnestraal’s to be the best in Constantia. “I’ve always believed one has to dream big in order for big things to happen,” said Ms Rowand.
The first step was to find their own winemaker and she met Roger Burton. “And the rest is history and Constantia Royale was born,” she said.
For the first three years they processed and stored their wine at Steenberg until they decided they needed extra space for their Robertson wine. They moved to the newly constructed cellar of Constantia Uitsig where they made the 2018 vintage.
Then Uitsig had no storage space, which is when Mr Rowand suggested cleaning out the tunnel. And now they have a unique storage and tasting area which runs under the highway.
Mr Burton started his career at Buitenverwachting, working under Hermann Kirschbaum.
“I remember lunch breaks sitting under the oak trees, knowing I always wanted to stay in Constantia Valley. My favourite wine at that time was the Glendirk Sauvignon Blanc. So it’s fitting that I now make wines from directly next door to that vineyard. And my first proper holiday job was next door, at Chart Farm, picking and pruning roses for Mr Garlick (my dad worked at Garlicks in the 80’s) so I really feel connected to the land,” said Mr Burton.
Five years ago he met Ms Rowand and went on to produce the first vintage of Constantia Royale in 2015 at Steenberg until 2017. Then last year their first vintage was made at Uitsig.
“The advantage was that we are able to work with smaller parcels and have a lot more opportunity to play around with blending. An added bonus with the 2018 was that I got to add some semillon in to wine. I think this really helps to soften the wine and add some complexity. The semillon is only three years old, so I wasn’t planning on adding it this year, but it was showing beautifully, and really helped lift the wine,” said Mr Burton.
The tunnel is west facing and has richer soils than the other side of the valley towards the mountain. “On this side of the farm our focus is on accentuating the fruitier and juicy aspects of the wine. And then the opposite, east facing side, is more granite and clay dominated, which produces more austere, flinty style Sauvignon,” said Mr Burton.
He said none of the vines are irrigated and yet they handled the drought well.
Mr Burton said they were recently awarded a runner up certificate at the prestigious FNB annual top 10 award.