Constantia is the oldest vineyard area in the southern hemisphere, founded by the Cape's first Governor Simon can der Stel in 1685. Klein Constantia was part of the 'Constantia' wine estate and the source of one of the most prized wines of the 18th and 19th centuries - the legendary sweet wine Vin de Constance. It has been under new ownership since 2011 which has seen significant investment in the vineyards and winery and a subsequent impressive lift in quality.
Klein Constantia is a 146 hectare estate on the east facing slopes below Table Mountain, a beautiful 20 minute drive from Cape Town. The easterly aspect captures morning light rather than heat, while the mountain backdrop protects the property from the warm afternoon sun. The proximity to the cold waters of False Bay fosters a very cool climate bringing natural elegance and vitality to the Klein Constantia wines. The decomposed granite soils discourage vigorous vine growth resulting in naturally low yields.
Vin de Constance has been the wine of royalty since the 18th century. Kings vied for possession of this wine; Louis Philippe sent emissaries from France to fetch it; Napoleon drank it on the island of St Helena to find solace in his lonely exile; Frederick the Great and Bismarck ordered it; and the English Prime Minister – who had sampled it with much delight at Downing Street – made sure that regular consignments from the Cape were delivered to Buckingham Palace for the King. Queen Elizabeth II served the 2008 Vin de Constance to Chinese President Xi Jinxing at Buckingham Palace in October 2015.
The production of Vin de Constance is almost prohibitively expensive and complex. The technique for its making was lost for more than a century following the devastation of South African vineyards by Phylloxera in the late 1800s, and revived in 1986. In fact detailed research continues through to today to identify the secrets and mysteries of its production, including winemaker Matt Day tasting one of two 1791 Vin de Constance bottles bought at auction.
Several parcels are picked early to capture the fresh aromatics and acidity of Muscat de Frontignan, while the majority of grapes are left to reach various levels of shrivel on the vine. These are hand picked in the cool of the night (with headlamps no less!), and the berries are left to macerate on their skins for several days to soften which facilitates the recovery of their golden juice during pressing.
The ripest berries are picked to make a tiny quantity of essencia which is used to sweeten the wine but also, counterintuitively, arrest the fermentation by shocking the yeast. Dozens of different cuvees are made and blended to make the final Vin de Constance.
Vin de Constance is vibrantly golden, with an intense perfumed nose of apricots and spice, cloves and vanilla thanks to barrel fermentation in the best French and Hungarian oak puncheons (500L barrels). Developed secondary flavours of orange marmalade and dark chocolate come with time in bottle. An intriguing and ever-evolving wine. The bold, sweet palate is perfectly balanced by tight acidity which results in a lingering honeyed finish. Typically around 150g/L of residual sugar and 14% alcohol this is a globally unique wine and star of South Africa.