Klein Constantia Renaissance

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

“How often do we get a chance to taste four decades of Sauvignon Blanc?” was the question posed by Klein Constantia’s MD Hans Astrom to a select group of tasters in early May. Few producers in the world – even in Sancerre, France, the heartland of the tangy white grape – would be hard pressed to put on such a unique tasting. “We have the luxury of having a few older bottles in our cellars and we think it’s important that we share what we have with the wine community,” Astrom said.

The proof of any pudding is in the tasting – and from the 1987 all the way through to 2013, incorporating 1989, 1992, 1995, 1999, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2012, the vertical tasting of Klein Constantia’s Sauvignons Blanc was remarkable. There were distinct differences when the influences of new winemakers could be noted such as in 2004 when Adam Mason took over the reins from inaugural winemaker Ross Gower – and again in 2009 when Matthew Day succeeded Mason.

The star of the show was undoubtedly the 1987, originally bottled as a Blanc de Blanc rather than a straight Sauvignon Blanc because of the influence of noble rot, botrytis cinerea, on the grapes. It’s spoken about in reverential tones because of the reputation it has evolved over the years – possibly on a par with Nederburg’s world-class 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon, a freakishly good wine. It’s one of the country’s truly iconic wines and chances to taste it are diminishing rapidly – the 1987 is holding up remarkably well, still fresh with a creamy lemon zest richness and palate weight and breadth that remains surprising.

But there’s a dynamic thread linking the newly unveiled Metis 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, made naturally (and with a little influence provided by Sancerre producer Pascal Jolivet,) and that 1987 – a distinct gravelly nuance that can only speak of place and of terroir rather than of winemaking or cellar influence.

Klein Constantia’s second renaissance – the first being when the Jooste family bought it in 1980, clearing acres of commercial forest to plant vines on the slopes of the Constantiaberg – is proceeding apace with an army of workers renovating not only the Cape Dutch-styled manor house but the cellar as well. Astrom revealed that it took 18 months just to get permits approved for the manor house renovation! But he has promised that by March 2015 “the grande olde lady should be beautiful again” and will be used for special guests, tastings and events. “No, it won’t be a restaurant!” he said.

But the fortunes of Klein Constantia and its historic sweet wine, Vin de Constance, are inextricable – and I came across a fantastic modern anecdote while in London to judge at the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) in April. In conversation with Chairman of the DWWA, Steven Spurrier, he revealed that he has a soft spot for Vin de Constance! His first granddaughter – now 9 years old – is named Constance. “When she was just a few days old, I wet her lips with some Vin de Constance,” he told me.

Spurrier also revealed that he had laid in a few bottles just for her. “It’s in my cellar on my wine farm in Dorset – and she knows exactly where it is! She often comes down with me and asks to see ‘her’ wine. I’m looking forward to sharing it with her when she’s a few years older because it has real sentimental value for both of us.”

– Fiona McDonald