In my writing, I am extremely fortunate to be exposed to such interesting news. Last Thursday I attended the launch of the 2018 vintage of Constantia Royale, a blend of 85% Sauvignon Blanc and 15% Semillon, a blend of three and 14 year old vine grapes grown on 7 ha of the Nova Zonnestraal wine, olive and equestrian estate, hidden away, located near The Alphen Hotel in Constantia.
The launch was held on the Nova Zonnestraal wine estate, in its wine storage cellar underneath the M5 Highway, in Constantia. I was invited to attend via Divine Intervention, where I had experienced the Constantia Royale wine brand for the first time, when a group of us tasted wines blind for the new Cowboys & Cooks restaurant group winelists. I was taken under the wings of Georgina Ratcliffe, the daughter of Nova Zonnestraal owners Don and Lynn Rowand, and she showed me the cellar built in 1999 underneath the M5, and organised a glass of the 2017 Constantia Royale Sauvignon Blanc. The cellar is a storage one only, the wine being made in the Constantia Uitsig cellar. It is incredibly quiet inside the cellar, one not being able to hear the traffic noise from above. Inside the cellar I saw cases of French Jacquart and Montaudon champagnes, which are distributed locally by Constantia Royale.
I had missed the speeches, but winemaker Roger Burton and Lynn very kindly gave me their speech notes afterwards.
Lynn painted the history of the farm. Her father bought a substantial tract of land from the Bairnsfather Cloetes of Alphen, and he planted Hanepoot. In 1965 the highway connecting Newlands to Muizenberg was built. Her brother Dale persuaded the Council to allow a subway to be built so that they could carry on farming on the other side of the freeway. In 1967 the family built the tunnel underneath the highway. After the death of her brother, an olive grove was developed, a nursery school was built, and unused arable land was planted with cultivar vines. Winemaker icon Norma Ratcliffe connected them to winemaker Roger, and it was decided to only produce Sauvignon Blanc. Constantia Uitsig could only help them with space to make their wines, but did not have enough storage space, and this is when Don decided in 1999 that they should clean out the tunnel and turn it into a cellar, a unique wine storage and occasional wine tasting facility.
Roger previously worked at Buitenverwachting, and has been working at Nova Zonnestraal for the past five years. He added the Semillon into the Sauvignon Blanc in the 2918 vintage for the first time. He said that a section of the farm is west-facing, with rich soils. He accentuates the fruitier and juicier aspects of their wine. Their east side is more granite and clay dominant, giving a more ‘austere, flinty style Sauvignon’. They do not irrigate the vines, so they handled the drought easily. The grapes are vinified in steel tanks. Once matured, the wine is bottled, and then returned to Nova Zonnestraal, stored in its cellar. The wine is described as having tropical notes on the nose and palate, with citrus flavours. There is minerality on the palate and the aftertaste, a Constantia wine characteristic. Its softer and fruitier tones ‘keep the wine fun, and pleasurable’.
Roger showed me the Semillon vine block, closest to where we were celebrating the launch of the 2018 Constantia Royale Sauvignon Blanc, it containing 15% Semillon. The Nova Zonnestraal farm is 16 ha in size, with olives, horses, and vines (on 7 ha, of which 1,6 ha is planted to Semillon). The Sauvignon Blanc vines are 14 years old, and the Semillon was planted three years ago. The first vintage of Constantia Royale was the 2015. There is no tasting room for the wine, but it can be bought at leading wine retailers and ordered at top restaurants. Roger told me that they will expand their production from the current 22000 to 40000 bottles, but that they have no extra space to plant more vines. He does not plan to make a single variety Semillon wine. We spoke about climate change, it being a chilly evening on an October day, and that Constantia was once known as a cold climate area, before new wine areas like Elgin, Elim, and Piekenierskloof opened up in colder climate regions.
I met Michelle and her Gourmet Style team, who did the delectable canapés, designed to pair with the Constantia Royale. They included cucumber salmon ceviche, spinach and feta tartlets (left), Constantia Royale poached chicken chipolatas, baby pea and Parmesan risotto cakes, and Constantia Royale chocolate truffles. Caro de Waal and Georgina went to school and rode horses together in Johannesburg. Caro did a beautiful cheese and bread buffet. We chatted about her personal changes, and the physical ones too, she having lost weight and grown her hair longer since I had last seen her two years ago. Her company Food Art does sensory food installations. She has a studio in Observatory.
We were well looked after during the event, transported from and to the parking area, and I met industry friends, and made new ones. Just two days later I bumped into Georgina at Bootleggers in Muizenberg! It is the most unusual wine launch event I have attended.
Disclosure: I received a bottle of Constantia Royale Sauvignon Blanc 2018.
Constantia Royale, Nova Zonnestraal, Vineyard Avenue, Constantia, Cape Town. Tel (021) 794-4841. www.constantiaroyale.com Instagram: @rogerryanburton @lynnrowand
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein