Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Resurrection of Constantia

From Wine Mag:
This week Klein Constantia celebrated three decades of Vin de Constance with the launch of its 2016 vintage – and a taste of its maiden 1986.

First a disclaimer: it was the team at Klein Constantia who helped rekindle my interest in history a few years ago when they asked me to research the history of Constantia. It turned out (and continues) to be so much more interesting than I’d expected…
A few standout moments for me:
  • Discovering that the man who put Constantia on the international map in the 1720s, Johannes Colijn, was the son of a black woman, Maria Everts. His grandparents were the slaves Evert and Anna van Guinea, and their descendants owned and produced wine at Hoop op Constantia, the ‘original’ Klein Constantia, right up until the late 1850s.
  • Finding proof that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had more ‘vin du Cap de Constance’ than Burgundy in their cellar at Versailles in the early 1780s.
  • Hunting in vain for evidence that American founding father Thomas Jefferson was a fan of Constantia, only to discover with delight that his presidential predecessors, George Washington and John Adams, both drank it in the late 1770s.
There’s so very much more, but most of it had been forgotten over the course of the 20th century. After decades of KWV monopoly in an industry geared towards quantity rather than quality, with economic sanctions imposed and no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s truly remarkable that the ‘sweet, luscious and excellent wine of Constantia’ which had disappeared a century previously (years before the arrival of phylloxera, by the way) was resurrected at all in the mid-1980s.

Here’s how it happened…

Having bought Klein Constantia in a fairly rundown and overgrown state in 1980, Duggie Jooste was ahead of the curve in terms of clearing alien bush and planting virus-free material. Advised by SA’s top viticulturist, Ernst le Roux of Nederburg (who soon put himself forward for the position of general manager at Klein Constantia), he planted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling on the cooler, south-facing slopes high up on the Vlakkenberg, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz on the warmer north-facing slopes lower down.

A sweet wine was not on the agenda (not even for Jooste whose family had produced one of SA’s best-loved ‘sherries, Sedgwick’s Original Old Brown, for four generations). But one evening Chris Orffer, Professor of Viticulture at the University of Stellenbosch, came for dinner. Orffer suddenly said: ‘Do you realise that in the 18th and 19th centuries only one truly great wine was ever made in the Southern Hemisphere, and do you know where it was made? Right here in this valley, and this farm of yours was part of those vineyards.’

‘Without Orffer, I don’t think Vin de Constance would have happened,’ says Lowell Jooste, Duggie’s son, now living in La Jolla, California, where he runs LJ Crafted Wines. ‘Orffer was the visionary.’ The Joostes realised they had ‘an awesome opportunity to develop Klein Constantia as a great estate, fulfilling its winegrowing destiny’. Pouring over old ledgers, letters and diaries, as well as research by academics including AI Perold (1936) and Diko van Zyl (1974), they decided that the original (white) Constantia had been a natural sweet made from mostly Muscat de Frontignan. (Read more.)

No comments: