Constantia, South Africa
See Klein Constantia wines we sell
Klein Constantia estate, part of the farm that produced the Constantia wine prized by Europe's aristocracy in the 18th century, is considered one of South Africa's premier crus, its wines winning awards locally and internationally. The cradle of South African winemaking is the verdant valley of Constantia, where in 1685, Governor Simon van der Stel secured a land grant from the Dutch East India Company. He named it Constantia and planted some 100,000 vines. Van der Stel passed away in 1712 and the farm was sold and divided into three separate properties. Two of those properties are known today as Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia. After van der Stel, the farms went through several owners until they were purchased by the Cloete family in 1777, a successful farming family from Stellenbosch. Under the Cloetes, the sweet wines of Constantia reached their highest fame. At this point the farms of Groot and Klein Constantia were united under Hendrik Cloete Snr, but that was still smaller than the original Constantia farm owned by Simon van der Stel.
With the death of Hendrik Cloete Jr, the farm was divided once again into Groot and Klein Constantia for his two sons. The year was 1817 and Constantia wines had had their glory days. For almost 100 years, the sweet wines of Constantia were on the world stage, being drunk by Frederick the Great of Prussia, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette of France, they were written about by Jane Austen in Sense & Sensibility, and later by Charles Dickens. In 1814 and for several years after that, Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled on St Helena Island and he consumed copious amounts of sweet Constantia wine, even asking for it on his death-bed. Thanks to these events, the sweet wines of Constantia are locked in wine history for eternity.
With the two grandsons of the original Cloete, the fortunes of Groot and Klein Constantia began to turn. The grandsons inherited the farms in 1817 with the death of their father, then a series of events led to the insolvency of both farms. Among these events were the abolition of slavery in the Cape in 1834, the emergence of powdery mildew, a vine disease, and Britain entering a new trade agreement with France in 1860. Also, tastes had shifted from sweet to dry. In 1873 Klein Constantia was declared insolvent, thus ending a period of growth and prosperity. In 1898 the vine pest phylloxera was brought to the Cape and decimated vineyards across the country, bringing an era of decline for the nation’s wine industry that would last for almost 100 years.
Klein Constantia lies on the narrow Cape Peninsula that juts into the South Atlantic ocean, some 20 kilometers from Cape Town. Set amid trees and lush greenery on the slopes of the Constantia Mountain, with superb views across the valley and False Bay, it has frequently been described as one of the world's most beautiful vineyards. A Cape Dutch homestead graces the 146 hectare estate and the winery, with its vaulted barrel maturation cellars, was partially sunk below ground level to minimize its impact. The close proximity to the ocean on either side of the narrow Cape Peninsula creates a cool and gentle maritime climate. Rainfall is high and averages over 1200mm per year, most of which falls in the winter months from May to August. Soils are rich and deep and made up mainly of decomposed granite. No irrigation is necessary and with the vineyards being on slopes, drainage is excellent. 75 Hectares are under vines, the altitude ranging from 90 to 300 meters above sea-level. The estate has two distinct meso-climates. The low and warm North-facing slopes are ideal for red varieties; the cool higher South-facing slopes favor whites.
In 1980 the farm Klein Constantia was purchased by the Jooste family, who began the process of upgrading the whole property. Duggie Jooste and his son Lowell, who spent a year studying oenology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis, and worked a harvest at the Robert Mondavi winery in Napa Valley, handled the day to day running of the farm. Neither had an official title, as the family believed that labels belong on bottles. In 1989 Duggie stepped back and Lowell took over running of the farm. During this period, Lowell reintroduced the sweet wines of Constantia to the world with the Vin de Constance.
In May 2011 Klein Constantia was purchased by Zdenek Bakala and Charles Harman, bringing an international flair to the estate. Zdanek was educated in the US, resides in Switzerland, and has a long track record in finance and private investing. Charles Harman was born and educated in the UK, and resides in London, except for when he is in Cape Town. In 2012 they merged with Anwilka, a boutique property in Stellenbosch, which brought its French ownership with a strong wine background from Bordeaux. There may not be another Cape winery with so much history, and now the future of Klein Constantia looks to be secure as the new owners have completed upgrades and continue to strive for wines that will be world famous once again.