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

Gourmet (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - TEXT IVAN FAL­LON

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


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 beau­con­stan­; Con­stan­tia Glen con­stan­tia­

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

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