Klein Constantia take great pride in their long history and influence not only on the story of South African wine, but of the industry as a whole. The Constantia vineyards date back to 1685, when they were established by the 10th Commander of the Cape, Simon Van der Stel. Many varieties where planted in this vast area of land, the most famous being Muscat. Over the years, the sweet wine of Constantina became a well-known, much sought-after wine. Its rarity and reputation meant it was prized by nobility, with Frederik the Great, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, George Washington, all keeping Constantina wine in their cellars. Their fame was such that they were even mentioned in novels by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. However, as all good things do, this 'Golden Era' for Constantina wines came to an end after being passed through many different owners. Between 1857 and 1872 the winery dissolved due to the poor financial management of its then owners. The upkeep of the winery had become difficult due to the devastation caused by phylloxera and a change in fashion towards dry rather than sweet wines.
The winery became dormant for many years until it was bought in 1912 by Clara Hussey, an American heiress. Winemaking did not start immediately again, as through the 1900s the estate again passed through many different owners, until the 1980s. In the 80s it was bought by Duggie Joose, who wanted to bring Klein Constantina back to its former glory of winemaking. With some revitalization and the building of a new cellar, he released his first vintage in 1986. As time passed, Jooste's son Lowell took over and Klein Constantina first started to gain recognition once again.
Klein Constantina now grow many different grapes varieties, producing red, white, and of course sweet wines, their terroir contributing to the personality of each. Constantina is situated just south of Cape Town where the sunshine is moderated with a cool sea breeze. This creates a slightly cooler climate, which suits the grapes grown at the estate. The soil of the vineyards has a high percentage of clay and some granite. The clay soil is perfect for retaining water for the vines so they can grow sufficiently. The granite retains warmth and is also said to add a slightly mineral flavor to the wines, especially the whites.
Klein Constantina take great pride in their sweet wine, known as Vin de Constance. This is mainly due to its importance in the history of the estate and how popular it was for many, many years. The sweet wine is made from the grape Muscat and is produced using late harvest grapes which have not been affected by botrytis. The picking process is crucial, particularly in terms of timing. 10% of the grapes are picked early so a base wine can be made. This base wine provides some alcohol (around 12%-13%) and good acidity which helps balance the sweetness in the finished product. When the grapes become raisined on the vine they pick again, and by this point a lot of moisture has left the grapes, leaving only very sweet juice. The grapes are firmly pressed as tannins are important to the style of the wine. Fermentation then takes place and ends at around 14% ABV when the wine still has a good amount of unfermented sugars.
Klein Constantia will always be recognized for Vin de Constance, historically and currently. And though their sweet wine naturally takes most of the limelight, their expertise and attention to detail applies across the board, with their red and white wines also being of excellent quality.