Bottling Constantia’s essence
Merchant gets top white winemakers to come up with a distinctive, evocative drink
WADE Bales is a négociant, the French word for a wine merchant who doesn’t own vineyards, and who has wine made and bottles it under his own label.
“It’s a term which has been around for 100, 200 years and what I’ve been doing for more than 20,” he says. A row of bottles on a shelf in his office shows the history and evolution of Bales’s brand; the latest addition is 2018’s The Constantia White, a classic blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon which embodies the signature style of the region.
To achieve this remarkable wine, Bales enlisted seven winemakers who collaborated on the project, with the goal of bottling the essence of Constantia.
“I’m really just the facilitator, the guy behind it. The heroes are the regions and the winemakers, and their spirit of alliance,” says Bales.
“Wine is a very complex, complicated and confusing product, and generally there’s too much choice, so people inevitably become overwhelmed. They need a guide; that’s what we do for our clients – select wines for them based on their preferences, their budget or for an occasion,” he adds.
“South Africa hasn’t really done a good job of branding and positioning its wine. We’re so good at making different styles of wine that a sense of confusion and choice comes through and people don’t know what we are good at.”
Looking to France as the benchmark for successful wine producing, where regions are well known for the varietals in which they specialise, Constantia – where Bales has been based for 25 years – was the logical, and manageable, choice.
After much lively discussion with the winemakers, it was decided the wine on which Constantia can hang its hat is a serious blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
This was only the first step.
Even “normal” winemaking is a lot more complicated than the average consumer thinks when they’re standing in front of the shelves in the bottle store or supermarket, so blending two varietals from seven farms – vineyards, tanks and barrels – was quite a task.
“We wanted something that’s not overly oaked, not overly green, harmonious and balanced,” says Bales.
The winemakers brought examples of their best Sauvignons and best Semillons to the table.
“They are all very passionate and at the top of their game,” says Bales. Once they had all agreed on what was going into this wine, JD Pretorius from Steenberg – who has a lot of solid experience with white blends, as well as the capacity in the cellar – was appointed to put it all together into three samples.
“And he put up his hand for says Bales with a laugh.
From these three wines, one was chosen and then Pretorius meticulously blended the various percentages which culminated in The Constantia White.
“The collaboration in crafting this blend is testament to the respect and
it,” friendships in the Constantia valley,” says Jacques du Plessis, winemaker at Constantia Uitsig.
Says Justin van Wyk from Constantia Glen: “This is a great harmonious blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, made from seven different Constantia properties by seven likeminded winemakers with the aim of producing a typical Constantia white. Its sure to be a collector’s item and certainly has the potential to age for a good few years in the cellar.”
The second in the Wade Bales Regional Series, The Stellenbosch
Red 2017, will be released in the second half of this year.
With the end-goal being to identify the style of wine which best expresses each of the Cape’s famous wine regions, this series is likely to strengthen South Africa’s local and international reputation for recognised regional styles – in Stellenbosch this is Cabernet Sauvignon.
THE CONSTANTIA WHITE WINEMAKERS Brad Paton has made wine at Buitenverwachting since 2004. One of the oldest wine farms in the valley, it’s renowned for its award-winning Sauvignon Blanc. Founded in 1796, Buitenverwachting was part of Governor Simon van der Stel’s original Constantia farm, the birthplace of wine in South Africa.
Justin van Wyk has worked at Constantia Glen since 2008, specialising in making coolclimate wine blends. He practises what he preaches: “Respect the terroir, and work with it as much as you can to enhance the quality of the wine, while maintaining the identity and sense of place”. He contributed the farm’s sought-after Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Jacques du Plessis, winemaker and viticulturist at Constantia Uitsig, comments: “The chance to gain confidence with cooler climate viticulture and wine-making in Constantia has been very valuable. I prefer working for smaller, vineyard-focused wineries that allow me to try new things”.
¡ He contributed
Boela Gerber has been winemaker since 2001 at Groot Constantia, the longest-standing winemaker in the valley at the oldest wine farm in the southern hemisphere which celebrated its 333rd anniversary in 2018. “I want to express a sense of place in all our wines, a taste of Constantia’s character,” he says. Gerber contributed Sauvignon Blanc.
Matthew Day has worked in the cellar at Klein Constantia since 2008. The cellar is renowned for its single vineyard and single bloc expressions of cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc – which went into The Constantia White – and for its recreation of Vin de Constance, the legendary dessert wine immortalised by the likes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Baudelaire.
Gregory Brink Louw, winemaker and viticulturist at Silvermist, has worked tirelessly for two decades to create the only organically certified wine estate in the Constantia Valley. Set high on Constantia Nek, it is famous for its organic, single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc – which added complexity to The Constantia White.
JD Pretorius has been winemaker at Steenberg since 2009. Another of the historic wine farms of the Constantia Wine Valley, it was founded in 1682. Its cellar is renowned for its signature Magna Carta blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon – both of which make up a key component of The Constantia White, defining the valley’s signature style.
The Constantia White 2018 is a classic blend of Sauvignon Blanc (67%) and Semillon (33%).
It shows fresh aromas of passion fruit, nettle and lime, following through on the palate with luscious flavours of citrus and winter melon from the Sauvignon Blanc component. An undertone of sweet spice is derived from the Semillon barrel-fermented in French oak, which adds complexity to this Constantia wine of origin.
Wade Bales is your personal wine adviser.