Vin de Constance comes from the Klein Constantia estate founded in 1695, just 20 miles from Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain. Most unusually for a ‘New World’ wine, it was big news in Europe throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Napoleon is said to have shipped over bulk quantities of Vin de Constance to St Helena, to allow for about a bottle a day to see him through his exile there, but he was not alone, Louis XVI, Frederick the Great and the discerning gastronomes that made up the Russian Royal family were all more than partial too. Our own dear Jane Austen recommends it in Sense and Sensibility to sooth a broken heart and the more effusive Frenchman, Monsieur Baudelaire, suggests that only the ‘lips of a lover were more heavenly sweet...’ Following its early success the estate’s fortunes changed in the mid nineteenth century – the dreaded Phylloxera devastated the vineyards and the estate went in to rapid decline. Not until 1979 did life get breathed back in to Klein Constantia when a local family picked up the pieces, planted new vines and started the revival of this once illustrious wine estate – the revival has continued as new owners took the reins in 2010, with deep pockets and huge ambition. You can read David Porter's latest blog piece on the recent 2008 Vin de Constance Tasting with Matt Day the Winemaker Here
Klein Constantia is a 146ha parcel of a once vast estate established in 1685 by the Cape's first governor. His wine was collected by royalty and immortalised in literature, yet production was halted by the phylloxera epidemic of the 1800s. In 1986, then-owner Duggie Jooste was inspired to recreate the famous wine, and the first release of the new-era Constantia (the 1986 vintage) was in 1990.
Vin de Constance is the modern iteration of a late-harvest style made from Muscat de Frontignac grapes that hang until shrivelled (without botrytis). Grapes are macerated on skins before being left to ferment for up to a year on their sugar levels. Yet because vines are planted on slopes in the path of cooling Atlantic breezes, the wine has enough acidity to mitigate potentially excessive sweetness.
The winery is now owned by a consortium that includes well-known Bordeaux statesmen Bruno Prats (ex-owner of Château Cos D'Estournel) and Hubert de Boüard (Château Angélus). Under them, the estate has had a vest renovation and replanting programme.
Winemaker Matt Day emphasises Klein Contantia's commitment to sustainable agriculture. 'We produce wines in an environmentally responsible and biodynamic way', he says. 'Our philosophies and practices culminate in a unique Klein Contantia style of wine, which, in a great year, can yield up to 40,000 50cl bottles.' Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 (Jun 2017)
This remarkable natural sweet wine traces its history back to the first days of winemaking in South Africa, more than 300 years ago. Since its resurrection in 1986, it continues to be made in much the same way. Winemaker Matt Day says the aim is to achieve ideal balance between sugar, alcohol and acidity - something which requires painstaking work at harvest time, with up to 25 passes through the vineyards to pick the Muscat de Frontignan grapes at perfect maturity. Even then, the conditions of the year must be ideal if rot is to be avoided. For this to happen, Vin de Constance owners much to its vineyards' unique location, influenced by both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Winemaking is 'just a tool to reveal the grapes' true potential,' says Day. Klein Constantia is a part of what was once the huge Constantia farm, established in 1685 by Simon Van de Stel. it soon established a stellar international reputation for its sweet wine, which became the preferred drink of royalty, the aristocracy, poets and writes. Today Klein Constantia is owned by a consortium including Zdenek Bakala, Charles Harman, Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard. Decanter World Wine Awards 2015 (Jul 2015)