At Beau Constantia And Constantia Glen, high up on Vlakkenberg, Cape town, two families share A winemaker, A winery And A love of Bordeaux wines
The story of two families and their shared love of wine
It all began with the great fire that swept across the Constantiaberg range in the summer of 2000, destroying thousands of hectares of forests and fynbos. Up near Constantia Nek, one of only two passes crossing Table Mountain, an old goat farm was burnt to a cinder. Compared to the devastation around it, nothing much was lost: lots of invasives, which fed the fires and whose blackened skeletons still stand, and some rough grassland. But from the ashes, a new vineyard would spring up within a few short years.
Even in the highly cultivated valley of Constantia, first planted by Simon van der Stel in 1685, these perilously steep, rocky hills near the top of Vlakkenberg had never been tilled. But the fire changed all that. Today it is a glorious scene of immaculate rows of tailored vines, clinging, at what looks an impossible angle, to the vertiginous mountainside.
Where the goats once browsed is now the home of the Beau Constantia vineyard, newest of the eight Constantia wine farms, commanding a spectacular view of the valley all the way across False Bay to the Hottentots Holland mountains more than 30 kilometres away. From the top, both the Indian and Atlantic oceans are visible, providing a cooler, more maritime climate to the vineyards lower down.
Just below Beau Constantia, with no separation between its vines, is Constantia Glen, with equally spectacular – albeit different – views across the valley to Table Mountain. The two are related by more than terroir: their proprietors, Austrian-born Alexander Waibel (Constantia Glen) and Pierre Du Preez (Beau Constantia), an investment banker from Stellenbosch, are married to sisters Stephanie and Cecily, and they share a winemaker (the highly regarded Justin van Wyk), a winery and a love of Bordeaux-style vintages.
Constantia Glen, the larger of the two, came first. The 60-hectare (30 hectare under vines) farm, then called Glen Alpine, has actually been in the Waibel family for 50 years but until the late 1990s it was a cattle farm, with a few fruit trees and some table grapes. In 1951 Alexander’s grandfather, Manfred Thurnher, a textile manufacturer eager to diversify his interests out of Allied-occupied Europe (they were in the comparatively benign French sector), bought a textile factory in Diep River, Cape Town. He then began buying land cheaply on the north-facing slopes of Constantiaberg where he built two houses for his managers and a facility for the staff.
On his death in 1967, the farm and factory were passed on to Alexander’s father, Dieter Waibel, who was the first of the family to live there, building himself a Cape Dutch-style manor house modelled on Meerlust, one of the oldest homesteads in the Cape. ‘I think it’s a very good copy,’ he told his son admiringly when it was
‘IF YOU DON’T LOVE WHAT YOU MAKE, YOU CAN’T SELL IT’ ALEXANDER WAIBEL
done. By the end of apartheid he was persuaded to abandon cows for grapes: it was, he decided, time to get into wine.
That job fell to his son Alexander, by now involved in what was an international textile business doing most of its manufacturing in China (the Cape Town plant, like all South African textile mills, succumbed to cheap imports soon after tariffs were lifted). He knew very little about wine, just enough to know what he liked: Bordeauxstyle wines. ‘It was what we drank in Austria when I was growing up. This project was such a labour of love and if you don’t love what you make, you can’t sell it. I was in love with Bordeaux wines.’
In 1995, optimism about the Rainbow Nation in full swing, Alexander and his young family moved from Austria to Cape Town and began what has turned into a lifetime’s mission. He and his brotherin-law, Gus Allen, changed the name of the farm to Constantia Glen and started work. The vital question was: would the classic Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot for the reds, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites – thrive on this terroir of mixed decomposed granite and sandstone? Some 160 boreholes later the viticulturists decided they would, but it was only in 2000, in the wake of the fire, before planting could begin and five years later before the first wine was produced. The winery was opened two years later.
The old byre, standing on the farm’s most scenic spot, was converted into an elegant tasting room which the ferocious Constantia conservationists would never
have allowed if it had not been an existing building. Today it can seat up to 200 people for a wine tasting and light lunch (platters of cheese, salami and smoked trout) – now one of the most popular tourist sites in the southern suburbs.
However, food is a sideline to the more serious business of producing good wines. Alexander has stuck rigidly to his original plan of producing Bordeaux-style wines, concentrating on just four: two reds (Constantia Glen Three and Five) and two whites (Constantia Glen Two, a Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend, and a 100% Sauvignon Blanc). The names reflect the number of different grapes used: Three is a blend of the most revered Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot – for the Five, Malbec and Petit Verdot are added. Both have won countless awards: the Two was awarded five stars by Platter’s and Tim Atkin gave the Five, the vineyard’s flagship wine, 93 Points in his 2015 South Africa Special Report.
‘Some people make 20 wines and get confused,’ says Alexander. ‘We make four and can concentrate on them. We took a very old recipe which had been around for 400 years and changed it to suit our own environment.’
If Constantia Glen is built on steep hills, the neighbouring 22 hectares farm (11.7 hectares under vines) of Beau Constantia is positively precipitous. In 2002, Pierre du Preez spotted a ‘for sale’ sign on the burntout goat farm as he was leaving his sister-in-law’s after a Sunday lunch. After extensive soil tests, Pierre bought the property, much to the bemusement of his friends. ‘You didn’t buy a farm – you bought a mountain,’ one of them remarked.
Unlike Alexander, Pierre has wine in his blood. An early ancestor, Hercules du Preez, established a vineyard in Tulbagh and, although his father was a hotelier, Pierre himself grew up in the Winelands, picking grapes at Morgenhof and playing in wine cellars with farmers’ sons.
For a career, however, he chose financial services and left the creation of the farm to Japie Bronn, the bearded ‘silent legend’ of the wine industry whom he tempted out of retirement. The famously reticent Japie died last year, aged 76, his memorial a new Beau Constantia brand called Pas de Nom, which incorporates his iconic whiskers on the label. The other wines are named after the Du Preez family: Pierre (Sauvignon Blanc with a little Sémillon), Cecily (Viognier), Lucca (Merlot/cabernet Franc blend), Aidan (a red blend of 35% Shiraz, 23% Malbec, 23% Petit Verdot and 19% Merlot) and Stella, a Shiraz named after Pierre’s deceased mother. Cecily and Lucca received 93 and Aidan 92 Parker points from Neal Martin.
When it came to building a new family home, Pierre hired architect Jon Jacobson to design an ultra-modern glass-andconcrete house. The glass-sided tasting facility, overbooked in the high season, is a little too close to the house so Jon is building another, even more modern house down the hill.
Beau Constantia beauconstantia.com; Constantia Glen constantiaglen.com
From top the contemporary tasting room at Beau Constantia; delectable dishes accompany the wine tasting at Constantia Glen; winemaker Justin van Wyk opposite PAGE the vineyards at Beau Constantia and Constantia Glen stretch to the top of Vlakkenberg in Constantia
Clockwise From top Beauconstantia’stasting room; the legendary Japie du preez who helped establish Beau Constantia; sweeping views across the estates; Alexander waibel opposite page Constantia Glen’s manor house; and its traditional interiors; a cheese platter at Beau Constantia