It’s rare to visit a wine estate outside of Europe that has more than 300 years of history behind it. Klein Constantia, in the Constantia Hills some 20kms from Cape Town centre is a 146 hectare estate that was once part of the greater Constantia estate, founded by the Cape’s first governor in 1685.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the estate became world famous for its incredible sweet wine known as Vin de Constance. Imortalised by poets and authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Baudelaire. Although the wine survived wars, trade battles and fashion it was virtually lost thanks to the most aggressive of vine pests; phylloxera.
A renaissance began in 1980 when the estate was purchased by Duggie Jooste. 30 years later the potential was spotted by Czech-American investor Zdenek Bakala, UK businessman Charles Harman, as well as Bordeaux luminaires Bruno Prats (Cos) and Hubert de Bouard (Angelus). Wine expert Hans Astrom joined as MD and 24 year old winemaking protégée Matt Day was appointed head wine maker.
“One of the most mythical vineyards in the world…” Institue des Paysages & Architectures Viticoles.
Touring the vines you can clearly see why such powerful men were excited by the possibilities at Klein. Plots rise and fall along a sweeping ridge, climbing to over 400 metres above see level. Blocks of Sauvignon, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Muscat and many more streak across the landscape. Some on guyot, some planted in the old “goblet” or bush style. They all share granite soils and vineyard management of obsession attention to detail.
“From these Elysian fields used to come one of the greatest wines in the world – the legendary Constantia” Hugh Johnson.
The winery itself is also spectacular with plenty of new toys for Matt to trial, including some tronconic tanks which allow the red wine to be fermented with less aggression, resulting in finer, softer wines. Matt, now 30, benefits from collaboration with the aforementioned Prats and de Bouard, but also, of course Pascal Jolivet of Sancerre.
The wines we tasted were as exciting as the estate itself. The estate Sauvignon was beautifully textural and controlled, benefitting from excellent fruit and some wild ferments. The Metis is an exciting wine for ‘wine geeks’ as it’s hard to tell from a Sancerre, except for its extra ripeness. Perdeblokke was intense and amplified by comparison although it was certainly overshadowed by a new creation; Block 371. This really was exquisite and a really fine addition to the world of brilliant SB. We also tasted a couple of estate Rieslings. The only South African Rieslings planted on granite soils (we believe). While the 2015 was superb it was usurped by a bottle of 2012, illustrating how good this wine is with 5-6 years of bottle age. This is certainly a wine for Riesling-Heads to search out.
The estate also make a red, just one now; Estate Red. It’s a blend of Cab Sauv, Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Both the 2014 and 2015 were superb, emphasised by enjoying some from magnum in the evening. It’s smooth, savoury and complex and ages well. With influence from the two Bordeaux gurus is it any surprise that it’s excellent and not just a little Bordeaux-esque? I implore you go big on this wine. We also tasted some Klein MCC aka Method Cap Classique, a fermentation in bottle wine (a la Champagne). Made from 100% Chardonnay this is a wine that’s really come on in leaps and bounds and definitely makes a good “stunt double” for the French stuff.
Of course we finished our tasting with the world famous Sweet Muscat of Vin de Constance. 2012 stood by its reputation as being the best ever bottled and 2014 was typically lush and rich. We also tasted a pre-bottling sample of 2017 which suggests this could also be a first class vintage. This is a wine with grapes that are picked bunch by bunch over a 3 month period. An incredible labour of love.
Sitting with Hans and Matt it’s clear that this is a team that is totally committed to the philosophy of continual improvement; never resting and always questioning. They harvest information and feed it back into their pursuit of brilliance. The wines are world class but I’d be lying if I didn’t think they’ll achieve more, much, much more.