Vin de Constance: South Africa’s Legendary Wine

by Jared

Over the past years I’ve had the immense pleasure of introducing wine-lovers to the legendary Vin de Constance through the stories I’ve written, media events I’ve co-ordinated for the Constantia Wine Route and through my private tours of the Constantia Valley. Here’s a little more on this iconic South African wine and my particular connection with the 2016 vintage, which has been released for limited tasting at Klein Constantia in December and then again in March 2020.

Wine with a Serious History

We take a certain amount of pride in the fact that Constantia is the birthplace of New World. On the 2nd February 1659, there was much celebration and excitement in the burgeoning frontier community of Cape Town. Lifting a glass, Commander Jan Van Riebeeck proudly exclaimed: ‘Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape grapes.’ By all accounts the wine was dreadful, but the occasion did herald the start of winemaking in not only South Africa but also the Southern Hemisphere.

Although it was Van Riebeeck who began winemaking in the city center, it was the first governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, who rapidly expanded the wine industry. Trained in viticulture, and having been given the prestigious Groot Constantia wine estate in 1685, the man had a plan. After sending scouts to take soil samples along the Bishopscourt/Muizenberg corridor, he found the perfect place for his budding vines. The samples revealed the terroir (the set of environmental factors for growing vines) was nothing short of perfect around the Constantia hills. The decomposed granite soils, fresh ocean breezes, and Mediterranean climate would surely produce some of the finest wines in the world.

His enthusiasm to establish Constantia as a prominent wine region was demonstrated by his planting of around 100 000 vines, and within 50 years, the global reputation of Constantia wines had proven van der Stel correct. Royalty and nobility across Europe had fallen in love with the wine…most notably the Constantia sweet wines. The banished Napoleon had 30 bottles sent to him in St Helena Island, and it’s reported that Queen Victoria couldn’t fall asleep without her Constantia nightcap.

For several reasons wine production on the farms had ceased for most of the 1900s, and the famed wines of Constantia were no longer available around the world (that’s a story for another time). At the end of the century the farm was bought by the Jooste family, and after some consultation with a professor of viticulture from Stellenbosch, the decision was made to recreate the sweet wine that made the region so famous to begin with.

1983 saw the vines being planted and after a further four years in oak, the first bottle of Vin de Constance was produced as close to the 300-year-old method as possible. The 2007 vintage was awarded 97/100 points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, making it the best rated South African sweet wine in history!

The 2016 Vintage: My proud Moment

There’s a special reason why I’m rather excited about the 2016 vintage which is being released this week (December 2019). In early 2019 I was asked by the Westin Cape Town to curate their SPG Moment; hundreds of hotels around the world submit special experiences that their millions of members worldwide can bid for. We chose the top category that had to include an experience that is not usually open to the public.

I was astounded to hear that the experience I curated was the second-highest bid for in the world! Over three days I had the privilege of taking two wonderful VIP guests on an unforgettable ‘Gourmet Cape Town’ experience involving: helicopter & Rolls Royce transfers, 2 of SA’s 10 restaurants, premium wine tastings, a unique fynbos experience, peninsula drive and much more!

The feather in the cap, however, was that thanks to Klein Constantia my guests were able to both participate and partake in something very special. We were able to taste several older vintages of Vin De Constance, but more significantly, sample the six contenders for the 2016 blend and give feedback around the blends. This is an experience usually only open to the winemaker and his panel of advisors.

As if it couldn’t get better, the blend that I preferred most and chose as my favourite, was the blend that has landed up in the 2016 vintage. It’s not often that one gets to participate in the making of what is arguably the country’s most famous wine.

Vin de Constance’s Next Chapter

Klein Constantia is pleased to announce that Vin de Constance will be distributed in the international market by three of the most prestigious Bordeaux négociant houses, namely CVBG (Compagnie des Vins de Bordeaux et de la Gironde), DUCLOT Export and Maison JOANNE.

The 2016 vintage of Vin de Constance will be available through the négociant houses from 1 September 2019 – a significant milestone for the team at Klein Constantia who recognise it as an opportunity to strengthen the international visibility of their extraordinary wine. This is the first-ever South African wine in history to join the Bordeaux Négociant Market – proof that the VDC story may be an old one, but one that far from over.

Here’s a clip from a Vin de Constance tasting I facilitated for a group of media some time back. Video courtesy of Willie Brits:

* Note that tastings of Vin de Constance are available from the tasting room at Klein Constantia. Limited tastings of the 2016 vintage will be available over December, and then again in March 2020.

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south african travel journalist