High Constantia has been restored to its former winemaking glory. David van Niekerk resurrected the historic High Constantia by creating wines which combine traditions of the past with flavours that resonate in the New Millennium.
High Constantia, originally called Wittebomen, because of the number of Silverleaf trees growing there, became the property of the Van Renen family when it was purchased, in the early 1800s, from William Duckitt. An 1816 record reports Sebastiaan van Renen as ‘preparing to make vineyards’ in the hope of successfully vying for market share with Cloete and Colijn, his neighbours at Constantia and Hoop-op-Constantia known today as Klein Constantia.
Van Renen was acting on the conviction that the hedge, which separated his farm from Constantia, did not change the nature of the soil; he believed that something in the climate of that hill imparted the wine’s particular flavour. The Van Renens planted 110 000 stocks of the Muscadel grape on their hillside and when adverse rains washed away vines and land, they quickly applied themselves to the conditions and dug trenches to lead off the water in the next season
History suggests that Sebastiaan most likely purchased the farm for his son Jacob in May 1813 and when disaster struck, Sebastiaan Snr stepped in on condition that the farm was transferred to his younger son Sebastiaan Valentijn Jnr. On 21 February 1821, less than two months before his father’s death in May 1821, the transfer of the farm to Sebastiaan Valentijn Jnr., who named the property ‘Sebastiaan’s High Constantia’, took place.
Being an excellent wine farmer and a canny businessman, it was he who established the reputation of High Constantia and by 1824 High Constantia was producing wine good enough to compete with Groot Constantia and Hoop-op-Constantia. By 1827 the three estates were receiving the same price for their wines in England.
James Holman, 1829, wrote:
“The whole vineyard lies on a declivity [facing] the east and having the Hout Bay range … behind it. It produces upon an average of 45 leaguers of Constantia wine.
If a corresponding sum of money were laid out upon the property,” he continues, “it might produce 200 leaguers annually.
By 1841 High Constantia & Groot Constantia were the two main competitors in the area, Cloete relying on the antiquity and tradition of Constantia and Van Renen on his highly competitive prices.
High Constantia was described in its heyday by Sam Sly, a newspaper reporter, as consisting of three mail buildings set amidst lawns, plants and trees, the most notable of which was a great oak, near the wine store, in which was constructed a table and chairs where family & friends took their ease.
After almost 3 decades, Sebastiaan Valentijn transferred the farm to the joint ownership of his two sons, Sebastiaan Valentijn and Rudolph Cloete van Renen, respectively in 1850. Another decade later, Sebastiaan Valentijn received Rudolph’s 117 morgen upon the latter having been declared insolvent. When Sebastiaan died in 1875, odium & phylloxera had ruined the farm and it was left an insolvent estate.
David John Pullinger bought High Constantia on 14 May 1889. It changed hands again in 1902, becoming the property of Robertson Fuller Bertram who, within a few years, made a success of the farm.
High Constantia ended its career in 1942 with Bertram’s death. 1944 saw the beginning of its subdivision into residential properties. The cellars, however, were saved by becoming part of the Groot Constantia project initiated by the government.
Today David van Niekerk is again planting stocks and producing wine from his cellar – a structure reminiscent of High Constantia’s original proud home for wine. High Constantia produces wine echoing the gracious past of the historic estate with new life by nurturing the subtle flavours brought forth by the mystic blending of earth and climate in the Constantia Valley.