• LOCATION 7 | Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Study: A Letter

    Study: A Letter  on Cape Town audio tour Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine

    Narrator: Men retreated to this cosy study after dinner, to drink brandy, smoke their pipes and complain about the Dutch East India Company. It was also where the master of the house read and wrote by candlelight, especially Hendrik Cloete Senior, who was a diligent correspondent.

    One letter from 1780 illustrates how the hardworking Cloete set about improving the farm not long after he bought it. It’s addressed to another Hendrik – Hendrik Swellengrebel Junior.

    Swellengrebel was a Dutch aristocrat with a family estate outside Utrecht. He had visited the Cape and at one point was tipped to become its governor. Cloete must have measured his words carefully.

    The letter is full of interesting details. The post from Holland took more than four months to arrive here, for instance. And Cloete included slaves with the “goods” purchased with the house. Then there’s his careful balancing act for the benfit of Swellengrebel. While Groot Constantia’s current viticulturist Floricius Beukes reads the letter, listen to how Cloete emphasises both the promise of the farm and the cost and hard work it’ll require before he realises a profit.

    Floricius: This is an answer to your letter of the 8th of July 1779, which I received on the 17th of November, in which you congratulate me on the purchase of Groot Constantia.

    I am enclosing a list of goods I bought from Mr Serrurier for £30,000 which go with the house. This is, however, not the sum total. Sixteen slaves were not sufficient to return this neglected farm to good heart. I had to buy 16 other slaves and had to add another £2,000 to buy more furniture.

    Other changes were made. I built a wall 600 feet long and 9 feet high to the right side of the house and planted along the wall every kind of grape known in Africa. Other vines which my son Pieter brought from Europe have unfortunately died, except the Frankenthaler which is growing…The big oak forest between Colijn and me has been uprooted to make place for more vineyards. About 10,000 new vines have been planted there and elsewhere. They are doing uncommonly well.

    Narrator: Cloete goes on to list other improvements. Then he moves on to his first harvest at Groot Constantia.

    Floricius: And now I am going to tell you how I fared during the first harvest…During harvest-time we were unfortunate enough to have heavy and continuous rain, so my wine, especially the white, did not turn out well, which accounts for my only having two aums of wine to give the Le Sueurs; but I have in store in my cellar two more of the very best, to be shipped to you whenever the Le Sueurs let me know there is a favourable opportunity.

    This year I hope things will go better…The weather is better and I am convinced that that the Constantia wine this year will be the best ever. You shall be the judge, because I shall send you as much as possible whenever I can, hoping to find opportunity to do so when I become known amongst the crews of passing ships. Enough about Constantia.

    Narrator: The letter moves on to other matters, including secretary bird’s diet, before returning to work on the farm right at the end.

    Floricius: I am writing this in the cellar. Here I sit all day and no longer take an afternoon nap. Klientjie is in the vineyard. I am all day beside the wine-press without a jacket and in thin trousers.

    We, my wife and children and I, greet you and your sister cordially,
    H Cloete

    Narrator: Before you leave the study, take a look at the ceramics here. Most of it is Delftware made in Holland 200 or 300 years ago. Potters there imitated world-famous Chinese and Japanese kilns, sometimes to the point of copying oriental scenes onto their own plates. The most successful of these Chinese kilns were south of the Yangtse River, sometimes in the same towns and cities as the factories that make knockoff iPhones, Rayban sunglasses, and Nike sneakers today.

    Let’s move on now. If you’re interested in how the view overlooking the sea outside has changed over the years, take a look at the painting on the far wall – closest to the front door – as you leave the study. It’s by a military engineer who visited Cape Town in 1784.

    Then carry on into the entrance hall and play track eight.

Museum Audio Guide: Home to South African Wine