The Constantia region is one of the most well-known of all wine-producing areas in South Africa, and one with the longest traditions. Founded by Van Riebeeck in the middle of the 17th century, Constantia flourished first in the hands of Simon Van der Stel, and then Hendrik Cloete, who re-founded the farm in the late 18th century. Cloete was already an established wine farmer, growing his grapes in the Stellenbosch. He planted grapes on the Constantia land, and was producing wine from the stock until his death in 1818. Fungal disease virtually wiped out the farm in the nineteenth century, but shortly before the First World War, Constantia was bought again, and the historic tradition of wine production on the site gradually dwindled to only a few bottles a year.
It is only in the past two decades that Constantia has started to produce notable wines again, and perhaps one of the most notable is the Vin de Constance. This wine was developed by Adam Mason, and designed to be in the tradition of Constantia wine production. Although the farm’s fame as a producer of sweet and delicious wine had faded, the new owners, together with Adam Mason, have worked to try and recreate that historic wine based upon the grapes which would have been grown during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The biggest problems were trying to create the wine without introducing more modern flavours into the mix. So one of the most important developments, the Botrytis culture, had to be discarded. This culture is usually used to remove water from grapes in order to increase the amount of sugars and fruit acids in the berries. Makers of wine often prefer to have around 5% Botrytis rot within their grapes, but this sophisticated method of adding flavour to the grapes was not around in the days of Vin de Constance. Instead, the wine had to be produced from a harvest of Muscat Blanc.
The grapes are harvested late in the year, allowing them to increase the amount of sugars and flavours in the berries without having to use the Botrytis fungus. A small amount of the grapes are picked before they are ready in order to form the base wine, while the others are left until they are completely ripe. Small amounts of raisined grapes are also used, as their skins increase the tannins in the wine.
More recent vintages of the Vin de Constance are noted for their enjoyable fruity notes, particularly the 2001, which has lemon and apricot, and the 2004 which has pear, peach and apricot notes. The 2005, which is one of the more recent to be released, has a heavy flavour of citrus fruits, along with the traditional apricot and pair flavours. These fruits add a touch of modernity to an otherwise completely traditional sweet wine, making it perfect for romantic dinners, Sunday lunches, or other meals where a light, sweet dessert wine can be used as the final bottle during the serving of the final course.