It’s become clear in recent years that there’s something of a struggle going on between Groot Constantia and at least some of the other estates in Constantia, especially Klein Constantia. And especially over the legacy of the famous old Constantia wines of the 18th and 19th centuries. But Groot Constantia also claims that it is the only current estate justified in giving its origin as 1685 – the date of the original grant of the whole vast Constantia farm to Simon van der Stel.
Let’s deal with that one quickly: the only difference between GC and the many other Constantia properties that derive from the 1712 break-up of the original estate is that GC includes the buildings (a nice advantage, but not one that disqualifies the others from tracing their origins to 1685). In fact, if no-one else is entitled to claim 1685, nor is Groot Constantia, given that the name wasn’t used until 1712. And during the period of the wine’s fame, two estates and later three, were responsible for supplying it: the wine was most generally known as “Constantia”, without a specific farm being mentioned.
And so to today’s little article on wine.co.za entitled “Constantia’s dessert wines; when Vin can really be Grand”, by one Dave March.
It’s a pretty shameless piece of propaganda on behalf of Groot Constantia – I don’t know if they commissioned the article but he does point out his indebtedness to estate personnel, and doesn’t seem to have done any research or consulted Klein Constantia. Perhaps what I’m writing here can be seen as propaganda on behalf of KC and the rest of the ward’s wineries – but I can at least assure you that I am indebted for my information only to the standard histories of the area (notably Jose Burman’s classic Wine of Constantia). And my only interest is to challenge the manipulation of historical fact by Groot Constantia and those who peddle the results. Constantia is too important a part of the Cape’s wine history for such manipulation to pass unchallenged.
Mr March (who comes very close to accusing KC of telling lies) seems confused by the name of Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance, and the claim that it is a recreation of the original Constantia wine (or one of the original wines – there were various versions, including red). It’s a modern name, Dave and GC – there’s no significant claim, as far as I know (as there is for Grand Constance) that the name was used historically. So, pointing out triumphantly that Vin de Constance has only been produced since 1986 is not disputed, and doesn’t prove anything. It certainly doesn’t prove that Vin de Constance is not a “true descendant” of the original.
Continuing his theme of “Vin de Constance” not having been produced back then, Mr March says:
“Also, Klein’s VdC was not being produced at the time they refer to on their website in a Baudelaire poem of 1856 and Charles Dicken’s ‘Edwin Drood’ (1859) in which the Constantia sweet wine is mentioned – the wine mentioned came from Groot yet Klein Constantia make mention of it inferring it came from them?”
Now, if we disentangle that, add a few commas and replace “inferring” by “implying” we might get to a point that is valid: Klein Constantia does not seem to have contributed to “Constantia” wines in the mid 19th century. Groot Constantia did contribute – and so did Hoop-op-Constantia and High Constantia, which is something that GC and their propagandist conveniently ignore. In fact, by the middle of the century, it seems that High Constantia was doing rather better than Groot.
Anyway, the wine was generally known as Constantia, though it seems that in France at least some bottles were labelled “Grand Constance” – the name that GC have chosen to give to their recreation of the historic wine (a few decades after KC’s was launched).
So that’s a point, but then Mr March continues by saying that “No, the wine supped [he must mean sipped] copiously by the likes of Frederick the Great of Prussia and Jane Austen before 1817 … was a wine from Groot Constantia”. That “No” is inaccurate, and it’s all meaningless if you want to deny Klein Constantia’s role. Firstly, as I say, there were three farms (early on only two) that supplied the wine known as “Constantia” to most of its customers. There is no knowing the precise origin of the grapes in Jane Austen’s Constantia.
Secondly, in 1817, Klein Constantia was part of Groot Constantia as it had been for a century! That split came only in 1823 (the name Klein Constantia was dormant till then, having earlier been used for a quite different estate).
So KC’s vineyards were undoubtedly supplying grapes for Constantia in those days, including the whole of the 18th century. Any claims Groot Constantia can make about pre-1823 Constantia can obviously also be made by Klein Constantia.
What’s the point of this aggressive bickering by Groot Constantia and its scribes? Can’t they see that getting on with their neighbours, and jointly revelling in a splendid history, would be better for everyone, including themselves? Trying to take to themselves all that glory (they already have many of the best buildings, even if the GC manor house was reconstructed after the great fie of 1925), and trying to rubbish Klein Constantia is not only against the facts of history – it’s downright stupid. Just as Romanée Conti and Echezeaux, or Lafite and Latour don’t detract from each other in Burgundy and Bordeaux – rather the opposite – there’s plenty of room for both Vin de Constance and Grand Constance to celebrate great modern wines in continuity with their splendid past. A shared past. Let’s have a shared present.