Klein Constantia winemaker Matthew Day. Image: Supplied
Klein Constantia Wine Estate is steeped in a legacy that goes back to 1685. Fast-forward 336 years and what keeps the estate’s wine award-winning is a young winemaker, Matthew Day, who’s more Pink Floyd in his winemaking than he is Purcell.
Klein Constantia winemaker Matthew Day. Image: Supplied
Qualified beyond, Matthew Day’s BSc. in viticulture and oenology set the stage for the now 35-year-old to respectfully compose and add to what is now a nine-year, ongoing opus made up of some of the world’s most revered Sauvignon Blanc and signature Vin de Constance vintages.
The award-winning wine writer and Master of Wine, Tim Atkins drank enough of Day’s delicious nectar to convince the British journalist that the young maverick’s commitment to the art of fine winemaking was worthy by bestowing him with the highly coveted accolade of Young Winemaker of the Year in 2016.
Before and since, Day’s thirst for perfection sees him out, between the vines at 4am during harvest, picking alongside his team, before returning to the cellar to wrestle and rock out the fruit held within each varietal and extract the very best each brings.
With the benefit of hindsight and learnings from an extraordinary international shareholder base, made up of the likes of Bruno Prats and Hubert de Boüard, Day’s access to some of the most respected masters in their field of expertise is enviable.
“As much as I continue to learn from them, they, in turn, come to the farm and leave richer for the experience,” Day adds. “A lot of what we do here has landed up being implemented internationally, which is amazing.”
“Jean-Luc Sauté, from Pascal Jolivet – one of our joint ventures, came out in 2013, and after his time with us, he went back and quit his job after 27 years!” Day continues.
“His motivation being life’s too short to work for one property. There is so much more out there to explore.”
The ultimate unintended compliment if ever there was one.
Klein Constantia’s name gives a lot away, with regards to its geographic restrictions, and yet off of its 65ha under vine, clearly less equals more when it comes to quality versus quantity.
“We don’t want to make heap-loads of wine,” Day agrees.
“Selling out a vintage within the year it’s labelled is the sweet-spot, and that’s what we aspire to achieve with each. Six tons per hectare is our average yield, where the outside average is anything between 10 and 30. Fewer grapes on the vine, better balance of the vine, better balance of the soil, it all comes into what defines the outcome.
Completely organic, wholly biodynamic, as far as they can, Klein Constantia prides itself on its ever-reducing environmental impact, despite its commercial intent.
“With a small footprint it’s possible to clear and manage our vineyard without chemical intervention,” Matt explains. “Attention to detail to get your vineyards into a happy place, you take away all of the inorganic nutrients, sprays and all the rest, you can create a vine that’s happy in its environment. One that will reward you when the time comes.”
With that job done well, Day’s work gets a whole lot easier.
“My role becomes one of guide, not influencer,” he adds. More a conductor than a composer, blending then becomes critical to the mix.
“If you’ve got the good components, then together you can make something amazing.”
With a hunger to learn more and grow, Day’s ambition is to foster something unique to the estate.
“If you make wine by recipe, we all make the same thing,” he explains. “When you’re making wine from the heart you can make something unique.”
With access to grapes beyond the farm, Klein Constantia is invested in and partners with a farm in Stellenbosch called Anwilka, as a red wine estate. This collaboration informs the broader Klein Constantia intent of delivering appropriate quality wine across two very different terroirs.
“There is so much out there to explore,” Day attests.
Glendirk Estate, managed, run and which Klein Constantia farms, is a second inclusion to the broader Klein Constantia partnership mix, devoid of applicational control.
“We do buy in some stuff,” Day points out. “We don’t own it, but we get to use the grapes for our collective purposes. Why buy in grapes when you can get something that’s farmed perfectly and it just means our second label can be top, top-notch?”
Reeling it back, six registered single vineyards of Sauvignon Blanc can be found at Klein Constantia.
The estate is also famous for Metis, a Sauvignon Blanc that forms part of their French partnership with Pascal Jolivet. The marriage of French winemaking influence, coupled with the unique terroir found at Klein Constantia delivers a wine that ticks all the right boxes of vibrant colour, citrus and nettle verses, balanced middle-eight tannic acids and a mineral, flint-infused crescendo.
Day is all about going back to basics and letting the vine express itself in the bottle.
“With these seven wines, we push the boundaries as far as we can,” he explains. “We want to produce wine that’s made following the barebone fundamentals that appreciates where it comes from, all without too much intervention.”
Wild fermentation, no sulphur at crush, Day adds precious little more and then hopes for the best.
The set-up is highly technical, where Matt’s role as the conductor is to ensure that throughout the winemaking process, fermentation temperatures are kept spot-on, and nutrients added at just the right time.
“My role is to make sure that the fermentation is as happy as it can be, without having stress points,” he explains. “That way the yeast can grow and express those flavours, so it starts off being super-funky, your yeast takes over and then convention kicks in – putting it all together and finishing it off by making sure that the wine is as technically correct as it possibly could be.”
That said, however, with all of that meticulously done, success is never assured.
Unconventional upfront, technically accurate in the middle, and then either magic happens or simply does not.
“Some vintages simply never express themselves as I intended,” Day confesses. “Others are truly amazing. Each one is a gamble, where intuition is key.”
A bit like a songwriter, Matt makes it up as he goes along.
“I can never do the same vintage twice,” he clarifies.
“There are certain wines where I never write anything down. Vin de Constance is one example of it all being my head, if only because I don’t want anyone to copy what we do. The way we make that wine is unique to Klein Constantia and so we are obligated to keep it safe.”
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As a young winemaker who, like his many vintages, continues to evolve and feed off the land, Day is very aware of the collective vulnerabilities and foibles both bring.
“It will never be perfect,” he says. “It will never be exactly as I want it, but more often than not it rewards in ways I could not have ever imagined.”
With the work done, Klein Constantia’s growing fanbase decide whether or not any one vintage is an instant classic or merely a one-hit-wonder.
The trick is to make sure you’ve got a ticket to the gig. The bottle open, the reward of 750ml of personal pleasure awaits – an all-access palate pleaser that’ll either have you singing in the isles or calling for an encore once the bottle runs dry.
In the case of Klein Constantia, Day is a consummate, consistent hitmaker whose growing body of work travels the world on sold-out tours, so best get your liquid ticket before more of his best vintages have vaulted.
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