Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Groot Constantia Vineyard – 1856 & 1858


The following extracts is taken from the National Library of Australia:

Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), Wednesday 17 December 1856, page 3

The Constantia Vineyard. The following information was collected by Lt. Du Cane, &. £., during his short stay at the Cape en route to England and transmitted by him to a friend in this colony: —

”Some of the Cape bush is exceedingly like the Western Australian bush, flowers and all We went to Constantia and I asked Mr. Cloete several questions about his methods of growing and manufacture of the vine and wine, and will put down what may be useful to your vine-growers. All his vines are short pruned ; two eyes as at the Swan. Long pruning he says will, no doubt, give more fruit, but the disadvantages are that more labour is required while the vines, as they yield more will require more manure and that renders the quality of the grape inferior. He only manures once in eight or ten years and with common stable manure, but bones are the best. In this hot climate the long pruning from allowing less shade for the grapes renders them liable to be spoilt by the sun. He does not mix brandy with his wine, but says it is necessary with some thin wines. Here they are allowed to distil any quantity they like, but only the lower classes drink the home made spirits. He never mixes the different sorts of grapes except in the case of red pontac which is too pulpy to give much juice, and he therefore mixes with it red muscatel, but there is none of that miscellaneous mixing as at the Swan. The grapes are first pressed with the feet in two operations and afterwards in a screw press working in a wooden box about 4 feet cube with an inner lining of thin wood pierced with holes about as big as a pea. The juice runs in between the box and the lining and out by a hole at the lower part of one side. No wine is sent out until it is three years old. Travelling, and keeping beyond this, does not improve it. It is essential that the casks should be kept thoroughly clean, and if the wine is light the casks should be kept full to prevent acidity. Mr Cloete has 45 acres in his vineyard and if he gets 25 casks of 150 gallons per annum, he considers he has had a good season. His store is long, high, clean and beautifully cool. The soil of Constantia is like that of Alverstoke and its neighbourhood— a dry brown coloured soil, but some of it is redder, more like that ia York and Toodyay. It is composed of decomposed granite mixed with day, and Mr Cloete says the drier it is the better it is. At the Cape they make beautiful shady roads by planting fir trees and oaks by the road side. They would flourish well at the Swan, the soil, &c, being similar.



[We have been kindly favoured by Henry Evans, Esq., of Evandale, with the following paper on the wines of Constantia, written by the Hon. George Fife Anges, on the occasion of his recent visit to those far- famed vineyards.]


During our visit to the Cape, in February, 1858, we devoted a day to visiting the Constantia estates, situated about fourteen miles from Cape Town ; being anxious to see them, not only on account of their universal celebrity, but hoping to obtain some information relative to the manufacture of wines that might be useful in South Australia. Little Constantia was the first we approached; but, unfortunately, the proprietor, Mr. Vann Reimann, was from home, and not being able to see much there, or obtain much information, we first took a cursory survey of the place. Most of the soil is very poor, and the wine in consequence inferior, we tasted the kinds they had on hand, but they were made from last seasons grapes, as Mr. Van R. always sells his wine before it attains any age. We then proceeded on to Great Constantia, belonging to Mr. Cloete, who received us most cordially. This gentleman belongs to one of the most ancient families in the colony, and his ancestors have resided at Constantia for upwards of a century and a half, and have paid great attention to the cultivation of the grape and manufacture of wine. Without entering into any description of the grounds, scenery, &c., I would just state that it is situated at the base of the range, of which Table Mountain forms part. The land undulates gently, and faces the S.W. The soil appears to be composed of a sort of decomposed granite and sandstone, and a kind of peaty substance mixed with it, which seems, like the remains of decayed roots of plants, as if the grounds were originally overgrown with the scrub, which covers the country round about for a considereble space. One portion of the vineyard, however, was composed of a reddish soil, like Evandale. The vines are planted in rows, about four feet apart, and are never suffered to attain a greater height than 2½ to 3 feet. This practice is adopted to prevent the vine wasting itself in the production of leaves and branches, requiring a large quantity of the sap of the main stem, which otherwise would go towards the nourishment and perfecting of the fruit, and also preventing the free access of air and the rays of the sun. which of course are highly important. The ground is kept very free from weeds, and is often hoed over ; this prevents the surface of the land from getting baked by the sun, and allows any rain that may happen to fall to sink to a greater depth in the soil. When the grapes ripen, about the commencement of February, they are exposed as much as possible to the rays of the sun by plucking off surplus leaves ; all decayed and bruised grapes are removed, and when they become almost as dry as raisins, they are gathered. It is not desirable to mix grapes (even of the same kind) grown on soils of different qualities. The season and state of the atmosphere at the time of gathering the grapes materially effect the wine. It is an acknowledged fact that the flavour of the wine is produced from the soil, and a poor soil is the best for obtaining a superior wine. Bordeaux wine is grown in a quartz ore sand. Johannisberg in disintegrated slate, both poor and porous. Rich soil is not approved of. Mr. Cloite only manures his vines about once in 4 to 6 years, and then but sparingly. Good wine is never made from grapes that produce abundantly, small berries, growing loosely on branches that are not very large, and not too many of them on one vine, and whose flavour is not approved of for table purposes, make the best wine on the Rhine, such as Reisling, Medoc, Pincanx, Lachryma Christi, is highly recommended for wine. The grapes are pressed by men’s feet-the press is found to crush the stones and injure the flavour of the wine. The grain is fermented in large deep vats, shallow ones are not desirable. If the juice is watery, boiled must is recommended to improve the quality of it. The great object is to prevent acetous fermentation without the use of alcohol. To absorb the carbonic acid gas, evolved during the process of fermentation, the insertion of one end of a bent tube in the fermenting tub is recommended, and the immersion of the other end in water, this would effect the retention of the alcohol, and the aroma of the grape. Mr. Cloete’s cellar is a large oblong building, about 140 feet long, without any underground apartment. The walls are thick and built of stone with apertures all round provided with shutters. The floor is composed of a sort of concrete. The upper apartment is used as a store, and roofed with thatch covered with plaster. It is kept very clean and constantly washed out, which preserves a cool temperature.

Four kinds of wine are made by Mr. Cloete, viz:

constantia pontac, £18 per cask of 19 gallons; constantia white, £12 per cask of 12 gallons; constantia frontignac, £15 per cask of 19 gallons; constantia red, £12 per cask of 12 gallons.

We tasted all the kinds ; they were three years old with a rich full flavour, and perfectly free from spirits of any kind. He makes a common sort of wine which is not honoured with the prefix of Constantia.



17 Dec 1856 – The Constantia Vineyard. – Trove – 17 Dec 1856 – The Constantia Vineyard. – The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901) via @TroveAustralia

19 Jul 1858 – HORTICULTURIST. – Trove – 19 Jul 1858 – HORTICULTURIST. – The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889) via @TroveAustralia

Image Source:






The origins of Pontac, is there a Mauritian connection?


Simon vd Stel with barrel, grapes and mountain backdrop by Dutch painter Pieter van Anraedt

There is very little available on the mysterious origins of Pontac. A.I. Perold considered Pontac to be the same as the Teinturier male of France. In general it is speculated that Pontac should have its origins in Bordeaux. This would be the most plausible explanation since the Pontac family in the 17th century created Chateau Haut Brion. Nick Stephens wrote an interesting piece on the Pontac family which can be found online at the link below.

To cloud matters further I recently found reference that Pontac was imported to the Cape from Mauritius. In 1803 Lachlan Macquarie called at the Cape and visited Klein Constantia. Macquarie made the following entry about that visit on 7 March 1803:

“We set out at 7 and arrived at Little Constantia at 9,O’Clock. — Here we Breakfasted, and walked in the Vineyard both before and after Breakfast. — We visited the great Wine Vaults or Cellars in Little Constantia attended by the Proprietor thereof Mr. Colyne, of whom some of us made Purchases of Wine on tasting it, and finding it so deliciously good. — I Purchased here two Casks of Constantia Red Wine – one of which is called Pontac – the name of a grape originally imported hither from the Mauritius – and of a most lucious [sic] rich quality. — I paid 80 Rix Dollars for it, and 100 Rix Dollars for the other Cask – which was still of a more superior quality.”

At first one would find it curious that vines would be brought from Mauritius, an island not known for wine production. It is however plausible that the VOC planted vines at Mauritius in an experimental manner as they also did at the Cape. François Leguat on his voyage to Mauritius during the latter part of the 17th century commented that the vine grew there but the grapes did not ripen well, which at least implies that an attempt was made at growing grapes.

What is even more interesting is the fact that there is a link between the creator of Constantia, Simon van der Stel, and Mauritius. First owner of Constantia, Simon van der Stel, was the son of Adriaan van der Stel, an official of the VOC, first Dutch governor of Mauritius in 1639. Simon was born at sea while his father was en route to Mauritius to take up his new posting. Adriaan had a long tenure in Mauritius, and Simon spent seven years there. Perhaps also significant is that Simon’s mother-in-law married in 1658 to the wine merchant Jean Mariau.

Could it be that Pontac first found its way to Mauritius with cutting‘s brought to the Cape by the van der Stel’s?

Prof C.J. Orffer commented that Pontac was one of the earliest varieties planted at the Cape and was certainly already planted during the van der Stel era and as early as 1772 Pontac was shipped to the Netherlands.

Frenchman Henry Lowcay, appointed Government Viticultural Expert in Cape Colony in about 1888, wrote the following in 1898 in the Australian Chronicle:

Then there is the ‘Tein tuner,’ a grape originally from Central France and the Bordelais, which is known under the name of ‘Pontac.’ This is a wine of a very deep color, and heavily loaded with tannin, which gives it an astringent and peculiar flavor.

The name Pontac was however not given by the folk at the Cape of Good Hope but rather the name was already in use in the Netherlands. Johann Hermann Knoop’s “Fructologia” (1763) shows the Pontac-druif or Vin Tint was for years highly regarded in France and used to give other red varieties body and colour. Pontac was also planted in the Netherlands but became less popular because proper ripeness could not be attained.

For some reason from the beginning of the 20th century Pontac became less heard of and London wine importer Mr Cuthbert Burgoyne after visiting South Africa in 1921 wrote:

A natural Pontac might have an attractive richness (as opposed to sweetness) that would make it a valuable article on the English market. I hope the time may come when demand and price will enable you to replant this remarkable grape.

Today they only remaining plantings of Pontac is found at the Allesverloren wine farm.


Pontac cluster. Source: Ursula Brühl, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof – 76833 Siebeldingen, GERMANY


Internet References:

Lachlan Macquarie’s journal entry found here.

The Pontac Family of Haut Brion – Their Legacy: Pontac Chateaux, a London Tavern, an Old English Sauce and Perhaps a Grape. Link here.

19 Nov 1898 – VITICULTURE. – Trove – 19 Nov 1898 – VITICULTURE. – Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954)

Knoop, Johann Hermann: Fructologia. Leeuwarden 1763