Home > History of Wine > A likely case of American constantia wine

A likely case of American constantia wine

A view of Philadelphia from 1800.  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

A view of Philadelphia from 1800. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

I have a bit of an obsession finding early references to Constantia wine in America.  One such references occurs in the probate inventory of John F. Mifflin.  John F. Mifflin (1759-1813) was an attorney in Philadelphia who left a wine cellar with various selections upon his death.  His cellar was located in his house at 5 Delancey Street in Society Hill.  His cellar contents are listed in John M. Bacon’s “Cellars, Garrets, and Related Spaces in Philadelphia Houses, 1750-1850” (1991).

1 pipe Madeira Wine [worth $] 260
1 quarter cask Marsela ditto 60.
1 do do supposed 1/4 full 15.
8 Demijohns Old Madeira wine supposed 1/4 full 48.
1 do do Spirits, 1 do Brandy do 1/4 full 12.
56 Btls. Claret 20.
5 do Old Madeira, 12 bottles constantia and other wines 12.
11 do Porter 1.37 1/2, [and] 9 dox. empty bottles.

“Wine Cellar” inventory taken early 1813

The probate inventory reveals that his cellar contained four specific types of wine Madeira, Marsala, Claret, Constantia, and other wines.  Constantia was a rare and expensive wine so it is curious that the larger lot of wine including the Constantia was valued much less than the smaller lot of Claret.  There are two general reasons for this, the appraiser undervalued the Constantia or the constantia was not the precious nectar from the Cape of Good Hope.

In reviewing Philadelphia wine advertisements during Mifflin’s lifetime I come across no listings for Constantia.  There are, however, advertisements for “Cape Wine”.  One possible source for Constantia was from nearby New  York City.  Indeed, there are a handful of scattered advertisements in the early 19th century for aums of Constantia.

I think it is likely that these bottles of constantia were made from nearby vines.  Peter Le Gaux famously claimed to have brought over Constantia vines from the Cape of Good Hope which he propagated at his Spring Mill vineyard near Philadelphia.  On July 22, 1787, General George Washington and General Thomas Mifflin visited Le Gaux’s vineyard just one year after it was planted.  General Thomas Mifflin was the half-brother of John F. Mifflin.  It is possible then that John F. Mifflin received his constantia through his brother’s connection with Peter Le Gaux.

Categories: History of Wine
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