Groot Constantia’s iconic Grand Constance wine is the epitome of a message in a bottle.  Its rich and delicious amber contents tell the story of Groot Constantia’s history, and the birth of South Africa’s wine industry – and what a tale it is!

Groot Constantia is South Africa’s oldest wine producing estate – in existence for 336 years this year.  Wine has been produced at Groot Constantia without interruption since 1685.

The founder of Groot Constantia was Simon van der Stel, who began with the planting of the vineyards and the building of the homestead. Over the centuries there were other owners, such as Oloff Bergh, Anna de Koningh, and Anna Catharina Scheller, but the true architect of Groot Constantia was Hendrik Cloete, who bought the estate in 1778. Cloete extended and improved the Manor house, built the Cloete Cellar, extended the vineyards, and did much to improve the production and marketing of the celebrated Constantia wines.

The stuff of legend

Worldwide, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the wines produced at Groot Constantia and Hoop op Constantia were coveted. Groot Constantia supplied royalty such as Frederick the Great of Prussia and Louis Philippe (King of the French). It is documented that a monthly order of Groot Constantia’s Constantia wine was delivered for the exclusive use of Napoléon while he was exiled on Saint Helena Island from 1815 until his death in May 1821. 

The famed Grand Constance, “sweet wine of Constantia”, was produced in two cellars. Both historic cellars are still in existence:  the 1791 Cloete cellar behind the Groot Constantia homestead, and the Hoop op Constantia cellar built and used by the Colijns. Today the Cloete Cellar on the Groot Constantia Wine Estate is a museum that represents the cornerstone of South Africa’s wine producing heritage.  Display cases house a collection of old bottles sourced from all over the world that have made their way back to their origins.  Panel displays tell the stories of the people who built the Groot Constantia legacy of consistency, quality, heritage, and sustainability.

At some stage in the long history of Groot Constantia, the production of Grand Constance wine was halted, until several years ago when under the guidance of award winning wine maker Boela Gerber, Groot Constantia took the decision to recreate this historic wine – far from an easy task and one which entailed much experimentation, sampling and testing. 

Finally, armed with a formula that would recreate the original Grand Constance this grand old wine was resurrected.  Once the contents were on track, it came time to create the signature bottle with its long neck and red wax seal.  A five-year journey ensued, and after scouring the internet, Gerber discovered an intact bottle of Grand Constance in Paris.  From this one photograph, an engineering firm redesigned the Grand Constance bottle and the bottle was produced by a glass manufacturer in South Africa.

Since then, other rare bottles of Grand Constance have surfaced, with an unopened bottle having just been sold on auction for R967,300 by Strauss & Co, setting a new record by more than doubling the price fetched from another bottle sold in May for R420 000.  Prior to this, Grand Constance bottle shards and bottle seals dating from as far back as 1774 have been found in far corners of the world in some unusual circumstances:  at the bottom of the ocean in the archipelago outside Stockholm, in the cellar of a castle near Belgium, on a beach in the Delaware Bay (and identified by historians to be part of the cargo of the Severn – a ship that was stranded there in 1774) and unearthed in an excavation in Meiningen in Germany.

A liquid time capsule

“Groot Contantia’s Grand Constance is a historical treasure and an important part of world wine heritage.  To make this wine is a challenging task and takes a lot of skill from our wine making team – it is essentially matching flavours perfected over centuries,” says Boela Gerber, winemaker at Groot Constantia.  “Each bottle is like a liquid time capsule.”

Floricius Beukes, viticulturist at Groot Constantia, explains that Grand Constance is produced from a two-acre vineyard block next to the Manor House, which is original French stock on American rootstock, and was replanted in 1992. “This special location on the farm enjoys a Mediterranean climate with cool breezes from the Atlantic Ocean that is optimal to grow the fruit that becomes Grand Constance.”

“The most important value that we strive for at Groot Constantia is the pursuit of consistency.  In fact, consistency is our name as Groot Constantia means ‘Great Consistency’.   Grand Constance, with its immense history stands as a symbol of this consistency and is indeed a gift from nature.”

Alchemy meets wine making

“Grand Constance, which put Groot Constantia on the global map centuries ago, and became a favourite among royalty, is still a considered purchase today,” says Jean Naudé, CEO of Groot Constantia.  “This is unsurprising as this wine is like the product of alchemy – where grapes have been taken and magically turned into a rich golden treasure with its distinctive liquid amber colour and flavours like orange peel, dried peaches, honey and caramel.”

“This magic is also tangible when one stands outside the Cloete Cellar on the estate and watches the days turn to evening, and the seasons shift.  A pattern repeated for centuries on that very spot, but no two days are ever the same – each one bringing its own beauty at every sunset and every night sky when the stars frame this historic building with its fascinating history.”

“Groot Constantia is not just another wine estate and Grand Constance is not just another wine. This is the feather in the pinnacle of our offering and is so special that I always recommend a moment of silence before one takes that first sip to reflect on the rich history and people behind this wine and the origins of South Africa’s wine making industry,” concludes Naudé.

South Africa’s most iconic wine estate is a living museum with the task of preserving the history and cultural legacy of the wine industry and Grand Constance is the heritage wine. For more information visit or connect with Groot Constantia via social media on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @GrootConstantia.