I clearly remember asking wine industry legend, the late Tony Mossop whether he thought South Africa had any truly iconic wines. Without hesitation he answered, “Only one: Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance.”
Over lunch in the private manor house, I recently got to catch up with Klein Constantia’s Managing Director, Hans Aström. Whilst sampling the celebrated fruits of their centuries-old labour, we chatted about Klein’s history, the philosophy of the current owners, and their vision for the future.
To properly appreciate just how much of a viticultural treasure Klein Constantia is, you need to dig a little into her history. In the late 1600’s the 10th Commander of the Cape, Simon Van der Stel was granted his own farm. After extensive searching for a prime location to plant vineyards, he settled into the sheltered valley facing False Bay – claiming almost the entire valley and naming it Constantia.
Van der Stel died here in 1712 and because he had no family in the Cape, an auction was held and the property, divided into three. The largest portion, Bergvliet, was used for livestock farming and the rest was split into Klein Constantia and Groot Constantia.
The first wines produced in the 1700's quickly found a receptive market in Europe, where they stocked the cellars of the noble class, including Prussian Emperor Frederick the Great. Legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte requested a glass on his deathbed, refusing all other food and drink offered to him. And Jane Austin wrote about "the finest old Constantia wine that was ever tasted” in her book Sense and Sensibility.
Fast forward to today, after having passed through the hands of numerous owners over its 330 year history. Existing owners, Zdenek Bakala and Charles Harman are rumoured to have discovered over lunch at Buitenverwachting that Klein Constantia, the neighbouring farm, was up for sale. They popped over and made the decision to buy it then and there. That was back in 2011 - and what a fortuitous moment for the property that swift decision proved to be. With a deep appreciation of the estate’s historical significance as well as the resources to invest in its future, the new owners have helped to restore the property back to the lofty heights it once enjoyed in the 1700's.
Key was the decision to appoint Hans Aström as Managing Director shortly after purchasing the property. With 26 years of experience in the international wine business, Aström set about building a team of specialists to solidify Klein Constantia’s position as the iconic South African wine estate and re-establish the brand on the world stage. With typical Swedish precision, and the backing of the owners, Aström priority was ensuring he had the right people in the critical winemaking and viticultural positions. Then together with the team, he assessed the strengths of this property, which he describes as, “Defined by the maritime influence of the two oceans, which create extreme climatic conditions unique to this valley.”
With his eye firmly focused on world-class Vin de Constance and the terroir perfectly suited to Sauvignon Blanc, Aström and the team clearly see their role as custodians of a treasure – one they hope will still be flourishing for the next 330 years.