Constantia Wine Route: Little marketing, Tasting Rooms range from rustic to refined!

Taking our intern Lorraine Bourgogne from Reunion on a recent sightseeing tour of Cape Point and Boulder’s Beach, we stopped at Groot Constantia, to ask for a map of the Constantia Wine Route.  To our surprise, the best we were given was a hand-drawn map, an experience that was replicated at two other wine estates in the valley.  A week later we returned to Constantia, and stopped at the wine estates we did not manage to get to last Thursday.  It appears that little or no marketing, other than a few events, has been undertaken for the Constantia Wine Route, that there is confusion as to who is handling the marketing for the Route, and that there is huge disparity in the wine tasting experience across the ten wine estates on the Constantia Wine Route. Confusion exists amongst the wine estate staff between the Constantia Wine Route and the Constantia Valley Association, and between the roles of Karen Michalowsky of the Constantia Valley Association (a not-very-nice person on Twitter), and Carryn Wiltscher of the Constantia Wine Route, both first names sounding similar!

The Constantia Wine Route is the closest we have to our Whale Cottage Camps Bay, yet we are more likely to recommend the Stellenbosch or Franschhoek Wine Routes to our guests, as they are more top of mind than the Constantia one, and they have informative maps, detailing where all the wine estates are located, but also the opening and closing times, availability of a restaurant and art gallery, and further information.  Our starting point was to request a map for the Constantia Wine Valley, and we were shocked at the unprofessional pieces of paper we were given, too embarrasing to copy and give to our guests.

The Constantia Valley is Cape Town’s oldest wine region, winemaking having commenced in 1685, and one of two wine regions in the city, at two opposite ends of the city. Not only does it have excellent wines, some with an international reputation, but there is a world class hotel, with some of the country’s top restaurants too.  The ten wine estates on the Constantia Wine Route are the following:

*   Silvermist is a Lodge and Wine Estate, situated just before Constantia Nek within the Table Mountain National Park. It is difficult to judge where the Constantia Wine Route starts, the traffic circle at Constantia Nek appearing to be its start, but Silvermist is on the Hout Bay side of the traffic circle. The wine estate is known to make Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz.  Not open to tasting. Tel (021) 794-7601. www.silvermistvineyards.co.za

*   A friendly welcome from the security guard at the gate, who saluted us and smiled when we arrived at Beau Constantia. The wine tasting building is wood-cladded, as are other buildings further away, appearing environmentally friendly. Beau Constantia opened a year ago and produces 10 000 bottles a year. The friendly Chantel offered us a taste of their only wine to date, the maiden 2010 vintage of the Cabernet Franc dominant blend (with Merlot and Petit Verdot) ‘Pas de Nom’ , being most enjoyable with a smooth smokiness, and very good value at R85.  it is named in honour of their viticulturist Oom Japie Bronn, who never wants to take credit for any achievements, therefore becoming the ‘wine without name’, and the label having a drawing of him. The tasting room is cosy and comfortable, a mix of leather and knitted furniture, in white and black, with an amazing view from their modern, glass enclosed venue. Chantel was most informative, and seemed to be the only Tasting Room host with information about the marketing of the Constantia Wine Valley, and offering us the number for Carryn.  It was a most impressive wine estate, second only to Steenberg.  The owners are Pierre and Cecily du Preez, Pierre being a property developer and his wife a member of the American Getty family.  Justin van Wyk is the winemaker. Further wines to be released this year are Aidan and Lucca (named after the children, and both blends), Cecily (a Viognier), and Pas de Nom Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Viognier blend.  Wednesday to Sunday, 10h00 to 16h30, Monday to Tuesday by appointment.  Tel (021) 794-8632 www.beauconstantia.com Twitter: @BeauConstantia

*   At Constantia Glen we were hosted by a very friendly Nadine.  The tastings are usually done on the verandah, with a lovely view over the vineyards, and they are working on the interior of the building to make it more cosy for wine tasting in winter.  The decor is old fashioned and functional.  Winemaking commenced in 2005.   Nadine promised to send us background information from their information booklet, not having a brochure, which we have not received yet. Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (R100), Two 2012 (R175), Three 2009 (R150), and Five 2008 (R245) make up the range. Food is served, but they do not want to be known as a restaurant: soups in winter at about R45, and charcuterie platters at R80 in summer.  Monday – Friday 10h00 – 17h00 and weekends 10h00 – 16h00. Tel (021) 795-5639. www.constantiaglen.com @ConstantiaGlen

*   Right next door is Eagle’s Nest. This estate is owned by Bill Mylrey, and their young winemaker is Stuart Botha, who has appeared in a TV series on winemaking. Their 2010 Shiraz (R225) is the flagship, having won the Best Shiraz in the Five Nations Challenge.   Despite it being a cold and grey day, the fire was not lit.  We were not asked if we wanted to taste the wines. They sell Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (R75), Viognier 2012 (R145), Merlot 2008 (R130), and Verreaux 2009 (a blend of 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot, at R145). Mondays – Sundays 10h00 – 16h30.   Tel (021) 794-4095.  www.eaglesnestwines.com Twitter: @eaglesnestwines

*   High Constantia must be the most laid back ‘Tasting Room’ ever seen, and appears as maverick as its owner David van Niekerk is reputed to be.  The entrance is hard to find, being en route to Groot Constantia.   The cellar is a messy collection of tanks and winemaking materials with a small desk, through which one has to walk to get to the verandah, on which the tasting is done.  On chilly days, as we experienced, the tasting is conducted inside the cellar, but then the equally laid back hostess Sannaline has to set up a table and chairs for the tasting, but we did not have time to wait, having a glass of the Clos Andre MCC 2009 (named after the owner of the land from which the grapes are sourced in Constantia), a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir costing R250 per bottle, at the counter instead.  One cannot see where she would have set up the tasting table in the very limited space.  It is a ‘man’s man’ space, judging by the ‘decor’ on the wall. Clos Andre 2005 Cuvee Reserve costs R420, Sauvignon Blanc 2012 R92, the Bordeaux blend Sebastiaan 2006 (45% Cabernet Franc, costs R250), and Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 R160.  The Silverhurst range consists of Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Special Reserve (R74); and Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Merlot 2009, Shiraz 2009, and Pinotage 2008 all cost R60.  Monday – Friday 8h00 – 17h00, Saturday 10h00 – 15h00.  Tel 083 300 2064.  www.highconstantia.co.za

*  Groot Constantia is South Africa’s oldest wine producing estate, boasting a proud heritage of 327 years, reflected in the buildings on the estate. The Tasting Room was a huge disappointment for a wine estate with such a heritage, its history not being represented inside the Tasting Room, and the building itself appears newly built.  It is a massive open hall, with staff sitting at opposite ends of the venue, not communicating with each other.  The interior design is the most kitsch we have ever seen on a wine estate, with what seems like faux leather and faux Cape Dutch furniture. Massive wildlife paintings appear to be part of an exhibition, not professionally hung, with modern African-style paintings too.  On a cold rainy day the fire was not lit. They only had a hand-drawn map of the Constantia Wine Route.  Communication was very slow and unprofessional. Simon’s and Jonkershuis restaurants, and Manor House Museum and Cloete Cellar. Monday – Sunday 9h00 – 18h00. Tel (021) 794-5128.  www.grootconstantia.co.za Twitter: @Groot_Constantia

*   Klein Constantia specialises in Sauvignon Blanc (R115) and Vin de Constance, which costs R 465, and is the re-creation of the legendary Constantia wine which was drunk in the homes of nobles in Europe, particularly favoured by Napoleon Bonaparte, and is featured in books such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. They also produce a MCC Brut 2010 (R160), and a second label range of wines called KC (R60 each), as well as Anwilka.  Friendly host, who tried to assist in a wine route map, but also just had a ‘home made’ map of the route. The entrance to the Tasting Room has illustrations depicting the history of the Cape, the Constantia valley, and the wine estate, but the rest of the interior is modern and not reflective of the estate’s history. Monday – Friday 9h00 – 17h00, Saturday 9h00 – 15h00 Tel (021) 794-5188. www.kleinconstantia.com Twitter: @KleinConstantia

* Buitenverwachting, which means ‘beyond expectation’, is aptly named. They have a relatively new cosy Coffee Bloc coffee shop, decorated in autumn colours.  They serve their own Quaffee coffees roasted on the estate, as well as breakfast and lunch.  The massive wine tasting room is bright even on a wintry day, with glass panels facing the courtyard. Buiten Blanc 2012 (R50), Blanc de Noir 2012 (R45), MCC Brut (R110), Meifort 2009 (R65), Merlot 2009 (R110), Christine 2008 (R270), and grappa (R180) are some of the wines in the range.  Jewellery made by Meagan Maack, wife of the owner Lars, and her partner Collette Martin, is on display for sale.  Edgar Osojnik is the Austrian chef running the Buitenverwachting Restaurant kitchen, and has been an Eat Out Top 10 chef.  Monday – Friday 9h00 – 17h00 and Saturday 10h00 – 15h00. Tel (021) 794-5190. www.buitenverwachting.com Twitter: @BeyondBuiten

*   Constantia Uitsig, known until 1940 as Constantia View, was the home of the Lategan family for five generations. Their ancestors arrived in South Africa in 1735.  All Constantia Uitsig white wines are screw capped, whilst the red is bottled in natural cork. Constantia Uitsig was one of South Africa’s screwcap closure pioneers, implementing the select use of screwcap as early as 2003. Constantia Uitsig produces Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Red and White Bordeaux blends.  For the stature of the wine estate and the area, the Tasting Room was very rudamentary, more of a Wine Shop and Deli than a tasting room.  The estate is also home to Eat Out Top 10 restaurant La Colombe. Monday – Friday 9h00 – 17h00 Saturday and Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.  Tel (021) 794-1810. www.constantia-uitsig.com Twitter: @UitsigWine

* Steenberg is a state of the art modern winery which opened in 2009, with the most impactful Tasting Room in the country, dominated by its amazing chandelier of grapes.  Wines proudly and beautifully displayed to form part of the decor. Best known for its 5-star Platter Magna Carta, and produces a wide range of wines, including Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, PInot Noir and Chardonnay 1682 MCCs, Nebbiolo, and Catharina.  The Steenberg Hotel has received accolades for its quality, including best hotel in Africa. It houses Catharina’s Restaurant and the Graham Beck Gorgeous bubbly bar. The cellar door restaurant is named Bistro Sixteen82 after the year in which Steenberg was first established,  Monday – Friday 9h00 – 18h00 Saturday and Sunday 10h00 – 18h00. Tel (021) 713-2211 www.steenberg.co.za. Twitter: @SteenbergWines

Yesterday I managed to speak to Carryn Wiltscher, who has been at the helm of the Constantia Wine Route for the past eight weeks, she said. She is from KwaZulu Natal, and plans to create a Constantia Meander for the area.  This is a summary of her plans: ‘Our appointment is effective from 01 July so we are in the very early stages of our planning, and as you can imagine are in the process of presenting our ideas to the Wine Route and getting buy-in from them all. But going forward……..as a visitor to the Valley, you can look forward to the following changes:

1. A new, more dynamic and informative website

2. A Constantia Meander map detailing the wine route, restaurants, organic markets, retails outlets, beautiful walks in the green belts in the valley, activities etc

3. An information desk at the Constantia Village Shopping Centre for any tourists or visitors or residents wanting some recommendations of where to visit while in the Constantia Valley

4.We will be working with each farm on the experience they offer at their wine tastings to ensure each farm has a unique touch point that differentiates the experience for visitors from one farm to the next through the valley

5. We have our annual Constantia Food and Wine Festival which has an amazing atmosphere and is very well supported, which we will continue to hold every year – next year dates are 11 to 13 April.  We plan to launch a new festival in 2014, Spring It On Constantia, which will offer live entertainment, tastings and food pairings at each farm during the weekend, With the intention that visitors spend the weekend in the Valley visiting each farm to experience the unique beauty of the farms and taste the food and wines on offer at each farm.

6. We will be profiling the Constantia Valley on the social media platform through creating an interactive Facebook page and twitter profile, with the view to developing a loyalty/fan club programme which will see members enjoying additional experiences and wine specials from the Valley.

7. We will be working on general brand awareness for the Constantia Valley with the intention of creating a brand loyalty amongst customers and to re-position and profile Constantia as the world class wine destination it has always been. And to ensure that it offers a world class experience.

As mentioned on the phone, we will be hosting a day for media and bloggers (separately) to take them through the Valley and showcase the farms and the experience at each.  We look forward to meeting you and hope to change your view of the Valley and your experience’

Carryn and her team has a tough job to improve the marketing of the Constantia Wine Route, but has an exciting project to better market some of the oldest and best wine estates in our country, and to highlight that Cape Town itself is part of the Winelands.

Constantia Wine Route. Cell 083 679 4495. www.constantiawineroute.co.za Twitter: @Constantia 1685

Chris von Ulmenstein, with the assistance of Lorraine Bourgogne, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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