Constantia is known for its breathtaking vineyard and mountain landscapes, lush surroundings, and its many wine farms. As well as its natural beauty, it is a truly unique valley as its climate, location, slopes, and soil make for a diverse range of wines being made in a relatively small area.

Constantia also has a superb retention rate of winemakers and vineyard managers.  When you leave Constantia, it’s usually to go to another Constantia farm!  If not, then you must head overseas, like in the case of Boela of Groot Constantia, who was then replaced by Danie, another Constantia winemaker!

This high retention of winemakers means that we all get to know our vineyards very well.  It takes about five years to really get to grips with each block, and after 10 years you begin to get real intuition as to what is going on with every part of the farm.

Constantia currently has 437 hectares of grapes of which, Sauvignon Blanc occupies 188 hectares, by far the most popular grape. This area will never get bigger due to urban growth.

The factors which play a huge role in our wines are varied. Let’s look at how each adds to the unique makeup of a Sauvignon Blanc wine.

Maritime climate

The wild Winter storms of the Atlantic come rolling over the seas and literally crash into the Southern tip of the Western Cape, their first port of call being the Peninsula, that stubbornly stands its ground at the front-line, softening the blow for the rest of the winelands. As it drives over the Constantia Berg, all its pent-up energy is released into large amounts of rainfall over the entire Constantia Valley, generously watering all the farms, averaging around 1 000mm per year, explaining why most of the vineyards are unirrigated.

And we all know about the Summertime South Easter, our very own Cape Doctor, that blows straight off the False Bay Ocean, and cools the air down by about five to 10 degrees.  This wind really comes whipping through the Sauvignon Blanc vineyards, which are mostly planted facing that general direction. Besides the cooling effect, the wind is quite a good canopy manager as it can stunt the growth of the foliage, and it’s also very effective at fighting off mildew. It is possible that this adds to the saltiness in a lot of Constantia Sauvignons.

Mountain and steep slopes

Constantia cannot claim the highest altitude of the wine regions (our vineyards range from 30 metres at the lowest point of Steenberg to 350 metres at Beau) but thanks to the rock-hard Table Mountain Sandstone, what we do have are very steep slopes, something unique in the winelands of the world.

About 600 million years ago, granite was being moulded underground from around Cape Town to Malmesbury, and then over the next 300 million years, sand was washed down from the interior, and deposited on top of this granite structure. At this time the mountain was a flat seabed, about 3km thick, but one thing to note is that this part of the seabed had a very high concentration of fine to medium Quartz crystals.

As South America and Africa drifted further apart, the mountain began to rise out of the sea, and erosion began to cut away the mountain that was forming. However, the quartz crystals acted in much the same way as stones do in concrete and made the sandstone highly resistant, especially in certain layers.  So that is why Table Mountain has a flat top, and why we have very steep slopes, something unusual in the winelands, which allows lots of variation within individual blocks, sometimes ranging in altitude of 50 metres in a very short distance.  This is one of the factors that results in complexity in our Sauvignon Blancs.

Solar radiation

Because of the mountain, we all lose the sun quite early, and so we have low sunlight hours compared to many other regions, especially the blocks planted on the East-facing mountain slopes.

Soils and aspect

The soil of all the farms is composed mainly of weathered sandstone and granite. In general, the higher sites are rockier, and the lower sites are more alluvial. It is worth noting that the granite here consists of feldspar, mica and quartz crystals, and the feldspar breaks down into clay. There are many theories about how the minerality of a wine is achieved, but most people agree that an abundance of the mineral wines come from granite soils.

Constantia is quite a “hilly” area, probably due to the abundance of granite boulders and outcrops, most of which have been exposed through erosion.  These hills give us many different aspects, and each winemaker has an intimate understanding of the nuances of these aspects, as they affect not only the profile of the grapes, but also the ripening times of grapes, and sometimes different facing blocks are harvested weeks apart, even though it’s the same variety and soil, and within metres of each other.

The winemakers

To all the above add the camaraderie and kinship of the valley’s 10 winemakers where ideas are shared and regular gatherings, tastings and technical seminars are held, and you have a recipe for elegant and fresh wines that are very worthy of ageing. This is a combination that cannot be replicated anywhere else.