I have toured Groot Constantia’s production cellar a number of times over the years, but on this particular day I found myself making my way into a part of the cellar that is not in the usual tour. I was there to chat to wine maker, Boela Gerber, about the award-winning Grand Constance.
My mental images of winemaking are rather romanticised and include sun soaked vineyards and aged wooden barrels. The reality of the production cellar reminds me that the process also involves huge stainless steel vats and an actual laboratory with beakers, test tubes and computers.
The journey to recreating the Grand Constance is quite scientific but Boela, in his comfortable blue jeans and scarf wound tightly against the cold, still manages to give it the cadence of a story.
Perhaps, because like any good story, it begins with ‘Once Upon a Time’.
Many years ago, a family by the name of Cloete lived and breathed Groot Constantia wine for five generations. During that time there would have been different wine makers and so the taste of ‘Constantia Wyn’ may have changed slightly from year to year, decade to decade.
Outside factors could also have contributed. The English were very influential in the European wine industry and wine made for export would be fortified. This would result in a difference in the taste of the sweet wine made for local consumption and the fortified wine exported to Europe.
So how did Groot Constantia decide which recipe to follow?
When Boela arrived at Groot Constantia, there had already been tests run on samples of the old Grand Constance and he ran more of his own. Armed with the information gathered from laboratories in the United States, Germany as well as back home in Cape Town, they were able to settle on a formula that would recreate a wine with a very similar chemical analysis to a Grand Constance from 200 years ago.
Boela also had the rare opportunity to taste ‘Constantia Wyn’ from 1790s and 1820s to get a basic idea of what the wines tasted and looked like. That being said, after 200 years the nose would have changed quite a bit and the taste would inevitably be different.
At that point, as Boela said, “you’ve got to go with your gut. We basically picked one recipe, one particular standard of wine making, and hoped it would bring out the best of the vineyard here in Constantia.” And so Grand Constance was recreated from a blend of red and white Muscat de Frontignan grapes from the block right next to the Manor house.
Did he think the result brought out the best of the vineyard as he had hoped?
“Yes. It’s working, hey. It’s working pretty good.”
Written by Kim van Zyl
Photography Heinrich Knoetze