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Thursday 24 April 2014

Vin de Constance to take on Sauternes

26th April, 2012 by Lucy Shaw

South African estate Klein Constantia’s new managing director is on a mission to pit its flagship sweet wine – Vin de Constance – against the best wines from Sauternes.

Vin de Constance

“We want to benchmark ourselves against the best sweet wines in the world and go up against the likes of Château d’Yquem in the quality stakes,” Hans Astrom told the drinks business during a visit to London this week.

Astrom plans to achieve this by focusing on strict selection: “We’re averaging around 15 hectolitres per hectare for Vin de Constance, which is incredibly low, so our prices will have to reflect this leap in quality,” he said.

“We’ve started picking the Muscat de Frontignan berry by berry, so no sub-standard grapes sneak into the wine. We want to separate the good eggs from the rotten eggs,” he added.

Astrom is unafraid of getting rid of wines from the estate’s portfolio if he doesn’t deem them good enough.

“We’re discontinuing our Riesling next year for exactly that reason. I’d rather have a few high quality wines that a load of mediocre ones,” he said.

To assist his quality quest, he’s enlisted the help of go-to viticulturalist Rosa Kruger, who has worked for the likes of Eben Sadie, Solms-Delta and Rupert and Rothschild.

2012 will be the estate’s latest harvest in 30 years. “All the Muscat for Vin de Constance is still hanging on the vines a month later than it should be, it’s a risk, but if it pays off we’ll have one of the most concentrated wines we’ve ever made.”

The company is expecting an abundant Muscat de Frontignan harvest this year, resulting in around 30,000 bottles of Vin de Constance compared to last year’s 10,000.

“Despite its name, the yields for Vin de Constance are very inconstant and vary hugely from year to year.”

Astrom was made managing director of the company in January by new owners Charles Harman and Zdenek Bakala. Once voted Sweden’s best sommelier, before joining Klein Constantia he was general manager for Hess Family Estates.

Now installed, he’s keen to shake thing up, believing the family-owned company had become complacent.

“It’s easy for family companies to relax and fall into routines. It’s better now it’s not South African-owned. The new owners wanted a cage-rattling renegade and I’m on a mission to wake up the sleeping beauty, blow the dust off and restore it to its former glory,” he said.

Artistic impression of Napoleon on his deathbed with a glass of Vin de Constance

One of his big aims is to steadily build up the Vin de Constance back catalogue by buying back old bottles at auction and from private collections.

“The farm didn’t save any wines so I’m having to buy back our liquid history. I’ve managed to get hold of a few bottles from the 1800s,” he revealed.

Astrom reports surprising levels of interest in Vin de Constance in France, given its own supply of Sauternes.

“I have people writing to me every day wanting to taste Napoleon’s favourite wine. The Napoleon connection is a great sales driver for us,” he admitted.

The French emperor was said to have drunk Vin de Constance every day in the week leading up to his death.

Klein Constantia lies in the Constantia valley – the oldest vineyard region in the Cape.

3 Responses to “Vin de Constance to take on Sauternes”

  1. Kwispedoor says:

    “We’re averaging around 15 hectolitres per hectare for Vin de Constance, which is incredibly low, so our prices will have to reflect this leap in quality,” – assuming the a link between lower yields and higher quality are made here (a reasonable one), when did this “leap” happen, I wonder, as it implies a leap down in quality of the vintages before that? Surely the yields for VdC has been low for quite a few years now. My guess is that they want to hike prices to (a) get increased publicity (b) make more money and (c) compete on a more similar level with great sweet wines around the world. Then again, they have the right to hike prices of their own products for whatever reason, I suppose…

  2. Steve Webb says:

    One of the new owners was kind enough to put up a bottle against my humble Ch Doisy Daene at a lunch last year. To my admittedly biased palate there was no contest with the Sauternes providing much more freshness and depth of flavour. It did strike me though that Vin de Constance, a bit like de Bortoli Noble One, has much to offer. It cannot seriously, however, be compared to Sauternes if only because of the different grapes used. For someone who is in lover with botrytised Semillon there can never be a true challenger to Yquem at the very highest level.

  3. Andre says:

    I have to say that “Kwispedoor” has valid points. I have been collecting Vin De Constance since the 2001 vintage, and the price has just been steadily increasing. It has doubled in price since then, and I feel that this has more to do with a perceived exclusivity than any actual increases in production costs. Possibly they are trying to support the entire farm financially based on just this one wine instead of concentrating on a range of quality wines that are fairly priced. I feel that soon this will be yet another bit of South African heritage that will be unavailable to the South African people.

    Steve Webb also makes very valid points. Sweet wines can not all just be lumped together for comparison, this is like comparing Shiraz and Merlot based on the fact that they are both red and dry. Are they (Klein Constantia) trying to imply that botrytis has no effect on the finished product? A bit naive I feel. As a life long supporter of South African wines and a personal fan of Vin De Constance, I feel my love affair with this farm and wine fading fast.

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