Graham Knox

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Small is beautiful

There are several wines, made separately, then combined, in every bottle of the great Constantia sweet wines. Blended together just before bottling, each adds a precious dimension.

Kelsey Shungking is giving the very sweet Grand Constance juice contact with oxygen, to boost the rate of fermentation. This portion will make up the majority of the blend.

After the crush, all that’s left are the skins of the raisins, which is what the grapes look like after months in the vineyard. These are still moist with a minute amount of retained juice. This will be the smallest fraction and is known as the esztancia.

It would seem that the sweetest juice is found just under the skins. It is from this that the esztancia is made. This residue is a sticky mess of fibrous skin and a touch of juice. At Groot Constantia the skins are stored in barrels for a day or two before pressing.

Chad Gaika and Jake Smit moving Muscat de Frontignan raisin skins from barrels to the small press 

Gentle pressure in a basket press delivers a few cupfulls of absurdly sweet nectar. You could call this liquid but it contains about three times as much sugar as water. Even more important, there is an unmeasurable concentration of the fruit flavours of the Muscat grape, which is its real contribution to the final blend.

Many of the wild yeast cells that originally were on the skin surface now find themselves trapped in the heavenly nectar of the esztancia, floating, drunk in a prison of sugar, their normal favourite food.

Even over many years, these yeasts are only able to convert a minute portion of the sugar into alcohol. Their real contribution is in the intensity of fruit flavours and aromas that can overpower a room when the container is opened. The esztancia for Groot Constantia’s Grand Constance develops in demi-johns for several years. This year, Grand Constance from the 2016 vintage will be bottled, but the esztancia in the blend will have come from the 2012 vintage, 6 years old.

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