Duncan MacLarty (Londolozi’s Operations Manager) and I are currently on a mission to find the driest white wine in South Africa, something that compares to a really dry Riesling from the Mosel in Germany or Alsace in France, a wine where the fruitiness doesn’t give an impression of sweetness over dryness. This is proving to be a challenge with our warmer climate. If there are any family-run South African wine farms out there reading this, and you have the perfect wine, we’d be happy to take your call! That said, in our quest to find this wine, we stumbled upon another little gem, which we have recently added to our wine list, the Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc.
Klein Constantia is a 146-hectare wine estate that originally formed part of “Constantia”, a vast property established by Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape in 1685. Constantia is the oldest wine-growing region in South Africa.
How Constantia Wines Came to Be
In 1711 Simon van der Stel passed away at Constantia and as none of his family remained in the Cape, Constantia was divided into three parts and sold.
Hendrik Cloete purchased a part of the neglected estate in 1777, and in the early 1800’s Constantia started producing a rather famous sweet wine called “Vin de Constance”. Napoleon Bonaparte, while in exile on the island of St Helena, had 30 bottles of this wine shipped over to the island each month for his enjoyment. He even reportedly requested a glass on his deathbed, refusing all other food and drink offered to him.
When Hendrik Cloete passed away in 1817 the property was divided between his two sons into what is known today as Groot (Big) Constantia and Klein (Little) Constantia. Johan Gerhard Cloete took over Klein Constantia.
In 1865, two hundred years after the original estate was founded, Phylloxera (a louse which causes great damage to vine roots) arrived in the Cape devastating the vineyard and winemaking at Klein Constantia came a complete stop.
In 1912 Klein Constantia was purchased by American heiress, Clara Hussey, and her husband, Abraham Lochner de Villiers, a Paarl milliner. In 1953 when Clara passed way (after Abraham), the estate was left to their nephew, Jan de Villiers who was sent to the University of California at Berkley to study viticulture. Unfortunately Jan couldn’t make a success of the farm and in 1968 it was sold to Ian Austin, who then sold it on again to Duggie Jooste in 1979.
In 1986 Klein Constantia released its first new vintages for commercial sale in over a century; the wines were widely celebrated and praised, especially “Vin de Constance”, a recreation of the original mythical Constantia sweet wine so beloved in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1989 Lowell, Duggie’s son, took over the reins of the estate.
The Future of Constantia Wines
And so we enter modern-day Klein Constantia which was purchased from the Jooste family in 2011 by new owners Zdenek Bakala and Charles Haman, and in 2012, celebrated Bordeaux wine personalities, Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard, merged their Stellenbosch based farm “Anwilka” with Klein Constantia adding two extra shareholders.
The farm is situated between 70 meters and 343 meters above sea level, with a constant sea breeze above 150 meters (the ocean is only 10km away). The higher slopes the farm lies on are some of the coolest slopes in the Cape, with fewer sunlight hours and lower temperatures, the location is perfect for preserving the acidity and pH of white varieties, especially Sauvignon Blanc. The wind also plays an important factor, often stressing the vineyard resulting in an increase in concentration and flavour in the fruit.
The current winemaker, Matthew Day, has been with Klein Constantia since 2008 and his current vintage of Sauvignon Blanc, 2013, has a residual sugar of 1.3g/l which is classified as bone dry. 2013 had a ripening season which led to higher degrees of physiological ripeness (colour, flavour and tannins) at a later stage than previous years, creating a wine that expresses a great amount of tropical fruit. This creates an impression of sweetness above the dryness.
It has crisp green notes on the nose, complimented by delectable tropical flavours of sweet melon, gooseberries and kiwi fruit. Fresh acidity on the palate, together with great fruit intensitiy and classic Constantia minerality create a bold wine which is great on its own and with food.
A great wine to look out for, especially for summer. I can’t wait to try this with Chef Anna’s roasted tomato and red pepper with basil soup.
Written by: Kim Drake
Which wine region in the world produces your favourite Sauvignon Blancs and what are they?