Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Harvest Experience at Klein Constantia and lunch with the Constantia winemakers

This may well be our last post for a while. South Africa has shut down because of Covid-9 virus and all our upcoming events are postponed or cancelled. In addition to all the embargoes which have been decreed, a Dutch tourist who spent three weeks touring the wine country in a large group tested positive for the virus on his return home. He had been in close contact with many people who work on wine estates and all those estates are now quarantined. This has further compromised our activities

We were invited by the Constantia Wine Route to choose a wine farm and winemaker with whom we could spend two hours for a brief harvest experience on the farm. This was followed by a harvest lunch with all the winemakers and some other media people at Nova Zonnestraal, the newest kid on the country's oldest winemaking block. An offer like this was hard to refuse

We chose Klein Constantia, a farm with which we have had a long history, but had not visited for a long time. Arriving at 10 am, we were met by winemaker Matthew Day and had a superb hour with him in the cellar and then an hour with Viticulturist Craig Harris in the vineyards. It was a superb experience

New vines near the entrance as you drive in and, behind them, the hillside vineyards
Past the Kramat (shrine) of Shaykh Abdurahman Matebe Shah in the estate's grounds
The last of the Malaccan Sultans, he was taken prisoner and exiled to South Africa, where he died
The entrance to the Tasting room and the Bistro
The tasting room area with views of the production cellar through the windows
Current vintages
A magnum of Cuvée Anabel Rosé. It is is named after the owner’s daughter; she designed the packaging
A view through to the Bistro
Winemaker Matthew Day showing us an aerial view of the farm and its vineyards
Matt joined Klein Constantia in 2008 and has been the winemaker since 2009
He has invested in some rather exciting equipment which we had not seen before
This is a new design of destemmer which is very gentle to the grapes
He showed us how all these pieces of equipment link to the process of sending grapes into the tanks
It’s a rather large and impressive cellar, fully active at the moment with Harvest still taking place
One of their Bucher grape presses waiting for the arrival of freshly picked grapes
We then did some tasting from the tanks, in which all the wines are fermenting
First a taste of the Anabel Rosé. It’s a secret blend, very sweet and aromatic at this stage, before the sugars are fermented out
They have to replicate the same pink colour every year too; it's cloudy with lees at the moment,
fizzy with fermentation and great fun
Then some different tanks of Sauvignon Blanc from different vineyard blocks. The 341, which is the top vineyard on the farm, has nothing added to it. Very aromatic, dry already; it reminded us of Sancerre. Matt's favourite block is 152, which is fully organic. You could taste the potential, a classic Constantia Sauvignon Blanc. Other tanks we tasted were block 271 and 261, from the blocks at the top left of the farm, and 372, a single vineyard which has the best grapes this year. A bottle of this, from a previous vintage, would follow us to lunch
We were also fortunate enough to taste the 2020 Riesling, so impressive already. And the second vintage of the Chenin Blanc, showing all the expected characteristics. The just picked Chardonnay, from very small young vineyards, is a classic with beautiful fruit. We also tasted the 2019 with white peaches and complex fruit flavours, including marmalade. The Blanc de Blanc white blend has good fruit and we suspect that it will be a good food wine when ready
Pumping over a tank of Shiraz to extract colour from the skins
A happy winemaker enjoying a good harvest
Unlabelled magnums of Vin de Constance
Could be a superb end to a banquet
Into the barrel cellar to taste some samples there. There are some foudres as well as the normal barrels
all new French oak barrels
Why is Matt bringing us coffee in that glass? Well, it isn't coffee, it is Vin de Constance, fermenting in the tank 
He showed us the raisin grapes they use
No botrytis on these raisins, they don't want it
A small box shows what they have picked so far
Picking goes very slowly as the grapes stay on the vine
and dehydrate to the concentration required to make Vin de Constance
We left Matt in the cellar and joined viticulturist Craig Harris in his Land Rover, to examine the vineyards
Wallowing farm pigs, enjoying a nap
Driving up the hill. And up, and up, and up...
Sauvignon Blanc, just about to be picked
We tasted some of these grapes and they were intense 
just enough sugar with good minerality and fruit acids to produce the classic Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc
These might need a day or two more of sunshine, but look so healthy
The leaves have been removed to allow air circulation and contact with the sun
Almost at the top of the farm, you can see False Bay on a clear day
Good sea breezes, from both Hout Bay over the mountains to the right and from False Bay in front, cool the vineyards
Craig Harris, viticulturist
The Muscat grapes turning to raisins on the vine
We were allowed to pick some too; we managed just a few
It is a hard task, each berry having to be judged as ready and then picked, one by one
Now you know why the wine has to be so expensive
One of the very focused and patient expert pickers
Waving goodbye to the pickers
Carlo Prins, a farmer in his milieu
Former owner Dougie Jooste's beautifully restored early 50s Jeep Truck
A far cry from a modern car interior
Then we were off to Nova Zonnestraal to join winemakers from all the Constantia farms for lunch
and the media members who had been visiting the farms
No more hugs and kisses, just lots of elbow bumps and clinking glasses. We are all paying attention 
A very welcome glass of Steenberg MCC poured by Roger Burton, winemaker at Nova Zonnestraal 
The Nova Zonnestraal Cellar is actually a tunnel under the M3 Simon vd Stel Freeway
It was built in the 1960s for access when the farm was divided in two by the freeway
This is where a long table was set for lunch
Jared Ruttenberg organised the whole event. Behind him is Justin van Wyk, winemaker at Constantia Glen
Nova Zonnestraal's Constantia Royale Sauvignon Blanc was on offer
A group photo of the Constantia winemakers
Back row: Jean Nel (Klein Constantia), Justin van Wyk (Constantia Glen, Elunda Basson (Steenberg), Danna de Jongh (Constantia Uitsig), Gregory Brink Louw (Silvermist), Megan van der Merwe (Beau Constantia)
Front: Roger Burton (Nova Zonnestraal), Duran Cornhill (Eagle's Nest), Boela Gerber (Groot Constantia)
Brad Paton of Buitenverwachting arrived later
Constantia wines to taste and drink with lunch
We take our seats
Platter of cheese, meat and chicken liver pate, with many accompaniments were served for lunch
with French bread, tomatoes, artichoke and roasted nuts
Salami, grapes, nuts, watermelon konfyt and fresh figs
Broadcaster Guy McDonald and Winnie Bowman CWM had spent the morning at Groot Constantia with cellarmaster Boela Gerber
On Guard, looking at the beautiful view
As a special treat there was a taste of Vin de Constance when we returned to Klein Constantia after lunch
We first tasted the 2016. Pure honey on the nose with some floral notes
Toffee caramel on the palate with sharp limes and lemons, long flavours very satisfying
Cellar door price is R1095 per 500ml bottle
The 2015 has honey, beeswax and vanilla on the nose, more complex than the 2016
Soft and sweet with milk toffee, crisp citrus, mango and lime on the end
Danica Prout-Jones, who works in the tasting room, and assistant wine maker Jean Nel
The Jeep Truck on display near the tasting room
Thank you Matt, Craig, Jean and all at KC for a great morning at Klein Constantia

No comments: