Based in Constantia, a short drive from the suburbs of Cape Town, Klein Constantia produces some of South Africa’s finest wines, including its iconic sweet wine, Vin de Constance.
The estate has a long history stretching back to 1685. The 146-hectare property was part of the original Constantia estate founded by Simon van der Stel – the Cape’s first governor and one of the region’s pioneer. The property was divided in three when he died in 1712, but continued to produce wine until the late 19th century.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Constantia became renowned for its sweet wines. Napoleon Bonaparte was just one of its many famous fans, having vast volumes shipped to him in exile in St Helena (reportedly drinking it on his deathbed). Such was the wine’s fame that it appeared in various novels, for example in the pages of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, where Constantia is recommended for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”.
The abolition of slavery, the arrival of mildew, then phylloxera, and the removal of preferential import duties on Cape wines to Britain, as well as a shift in tastes away from sweet wine, made for a difficult period for the Constantia estate – as well as the broader South African wine industry. Production at Klein Constantia ceased for a century as the property was passed between various owners.
It’s only when the site is bought by Duggie Jooste in 1980 that Klein Constantia’s modern era begins, with the first wines released later that decade. He worked with Professor Chris Orffer of Stellenbosch University to restore the estate to its former glory. A new cellar was built, and the wines started winning awards. The region’s sweet wines had disappeared, but Klein Constantia revived the tradition, releasing the first vintage of Vin de Constance (1986) in 1990, made according to an old recipe.
Today the Muscat de Frontignan grapes for the estate’s iconic sweet wine are picked by hand at night in multiple passes, sorted, macerated and then fermented slowly (for up to a year). The wine is then matured for a minimum three years in a combination of new French oak, Hungarian oak and French acacia.
The Jooste family sold the property in 2011, and in 2012 Klein Constantia merged with Anwilka Vineyards in Stellenbosch – a joint venture with Bordeaux winemakers Bruno Prats (previously of Cos d’Estournel ) and Hubert de Boüard (of Angélus ).
Today Matthew Day heads up the winery. He studied in Stellenbosch before making wine around the world – including Meerlust in Stellenbosch, Ch. Bellefont Belcier in Saint-Emilion, Elderton in the Barossa and Dancing Hares in Napa. He arrived at Klein Constantia as Assistant Winemaker in 2008 and took over as Head Winemaker in 2010.