Klein Constantia occupies a special place in the heart of anyone interested in wine from the Cape. Not only because it is the birthplace of what can probably, without hyperbole, be called the New World’s first ever icon wine – the extraordinary Vin de Constance sweet wine, which was wowing European courts in the 18th century – but also because the estate is so indelibly linked with the history of the Cape.
Klein Constantia is part of the original farm owned by Simon van der Stel, the immensely influential governor of the Cape from 1679. And yes, in case you were wondering, the town of Stellenbosch is named after him.
He was given the estate in recognition of the diligence and skill of his service; a thank-you which involved a whopping 763 hectares of prime land behind Table Mountain.
There was, originally, only one ‘Constantia’ estate, but over the years, as owners’ fortunes waxed and waned, it was split into two. Due south of Cape Town, towards Cape Point, Klein Constantia is a truly beautiful spot with spectacular views out towards False Bay and the Cape wine lands.
Van der Stel knew about wine, and as well as a house, garden and orchards, he also put in 10,000 vines, among them Muscat, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. He was very definitely on the right lines, because even today this breezy spot – around five degrees cooler than Stellenbosch on average – is very much a white wine area.
Of Klein Constantia’s 65 hectares of vineyards, all but seven are white. And if you needed any further proof of how cool it is here, over half of them are Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Matthew Day is a huge fan.
‘I love the variety,’ he says unequivocally. ‘It’s my favourite wine to make. It is serious and it is ageworthy.’ He’s worked with Loire legend Pascal Jolivet, and incorporated some of his techniques – wild fermentation, no additives, no settling before fermentation to name but three – to create wines of texture and longevity.
Their best Sauvignon vineyards are a good way up the side of the mountain, at around 250 metres above sea level, before it gets too steep and rocky to plant. The cool east- and south-east-facing slopes are perfect for the variety.
The only problem, in fact, is baboons, who live on Table Mountain and munch their way through an astonishing 27 tonnes of ripe fruit every year!
Klein Constantia – Four wines to try:
Vin de Constance, Constantia, 2020
Enticing bright gold in colour, there’s a regal air to this sticky delight that befits its one-time status as European court wine. An intense explosion of flavours – peaches, sugared grapes, candied lime plus lemon, ginger and vanilla pod. It’s a drink to savour slowly – either on its own or with a plate of blue cheese. Count the finish in minutes…
Drink 2024-2043 | Alcohol 13.7%
Clara Sauvignon Blanc, Constantia, 2021
A blend of the best Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in the Perdeblokke, 250m up on cool East and South-facing slopes, this combines intriguing elements from its different terroirs. Exuberant tropical fruit flavours – mango and fig are the predominant note, but smokier, more saline flavours lick in around the edges – and the finish has real grip. Quite oily and textural, it’s one for scallops or lobster.
Drink 2023-2033 | Alcohol 14%
Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Constantia, 2022
Currently only 10% of this well-priced Estate blend is barrel-fermented, but winemaker Mathew Day has hopes of increasing this to nearer 50%. There are plenty of enticing tropical fruit flavours, backed up with zingy, zesty herbal notes to provide lift, and a taut minerality on the finish. If you want the essence of the Klein Constantia estate, this is it.
Drink 2023-2028 | Alcohol 13.7%
Anwilka, Stellenbosch, 2019
This Stellenbosch estate (co-owned by Klein Constantia) is undergoing a long, slow process of regeneration. There’s no shortage of intensity – dark, ripe fruit, liquorice spice and deep colour – though tannins still squeak in around the edges of the finish. Needs time to settle down but has potential.
Drink 2023-2038 | Alcohol 14.9%