With its Mediterranean climate, well-drained soils of clay, shale, and limestone, proximity to the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and warm growing climate, South Africa is the ideal place to grow top-quality wines. Hugh Johnson wrote, “The most dramatically beautiful wine country in the world is surely South Africa.” Geographically, it was ideally located for the Dutch and English fleets to restock with fresh wine en route to their empires and colonies further to the east.
The first vineyards were planted by the Dutch in 1654, initially just to supply the Dutch sailors heading to the Orient, but by the end of the seventeenth century, the sweet white wines of Constantia were so highly-regarded that they were being shipped back to Europe for the Royal courts. Both Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia praised the dessert wines of Constantia, and Napoleon Bonaparte had as much as 1,126 liters (297 gallons) of Constantia wine shipped in wooden casks each year to Longwood House, his home in exile on St. Helena, from 1815 until his death in 1821. The Count de las Cases reported that, on his deathbed, after consuming thirty bottles each month, Napoleon refused everything offered to him but a glass of Constantia wine. Even Jane Austen recommended Constantia wine’s healing powers for a disappointed heart, and other writers, from Charles Dickens to Charles Baudelaire, spoke glowingly of its charms and pleasures.