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Constantia (wine)

Constantia wyn (wine) is a South African dessert wine. It is made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Muscat de Frontignan) grapes grown in the district of Constantia, south of Cape Town. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was widely exported to Europe. However, production of Constantia ceased in the late nineteenth century following the devastation of South African vineyards by the phylloxera epidemic. Production resumed at Klein Constantia in the 1986, at Groot Constantia in 2003 and at Buitenverwachting in the 2007'.


In 1685, the Constantia estate was established in a valley facing False Bay by the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel whose "Constantia wyn" soon acquired a good reputation.[1][2] But it was Hendrik Cloete, who bought the homestead in 1778,[1][3] who really made Constantia famous, with an unfortified wine made from a blend of mostly Muscat de Frontignan (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), Pontac, red and white Muscadel and a little Chenin Blanc. It became a favorite of European kings and emperors, such as Frederick the Great and Napoleon who had it ordered from his exile on St Helena.[1]

In 1861, however, the Gladstone government removed empire preferential tariffs, and as a result exports nearly dried up, and the golden era was brought to an end when the vineyards were decimated by phylloxera and powdery mildew,[1] In 1980 Duggie Jooste bought Klein Constantia, redeveloped the farm, and with the help of then winemaker Ross Gower & Professor Chris Orferr of Stellenbosch University created and began selling a new recreated version of the early Constantia wines made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains which they called Vin de Constance.[4][5]

The wine that is produced at Groot Constantia is called Grand Constance, "1769" at Buitenverwachting and "Vin de Constance" at Klein Constantia.

In popular culture

  • In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen's character Mrs Jennings recommends a little Constantia for "its healing powers on a disappointed heart".[4]
  • In Charles Dickens' last (and unfinished) novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Constantia wine is served to the reverend Septimus by his mother. "As, whenever the Reverend Septimus fell a-musing, his good mother took it to be an infallible sign that he ‘wanted support,’ the blooming old lady made all haste to the dining-room closet, to produce from it the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit."[6]
  • In Charles Baudelaire's ( Les fleurs du mal) poem XXVI entitled sed non satiata Baudelaire compares the charms of his beloved to the pleasures brought by Nuits-Saint-Georges and Constantia wine: “Even more than Constantia, than opium, than Nuits, I prefer the elixer of your mouth, where love performs its slow dance.” [7]
  • In Brad Thor his 'lions of Lucerne' the wine plays a prominent role in the book. It is one of the major clues which helps the lead character 'Scot Harvath' to unravel a compost.


  1. ^ a b c d The Oxford Companion to Wine. "Constantia". 
  2. ^ Atkin, Tim, The Observer (January 18, 2009). "Happy returns". The Guardian (London). 
  3. ^ Great history of Constantia
  4. ^ a b History of Constantia
  5. ^ Baikoff, Jill. "Old Constantia Wine: Vin de Constance". Retrieved 2012-03-20. 
  6. ^ Charles Dickens The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Chapter X
  7. ^ The Reputation of South African Wines