Lunch with Matthew Day of Klein Constantia
As the 2016 wine harvest comes to an end, one of the earliest on record, I track down Matthew Day, head winemaker of Klein Constantia, deep down in his recently upgraded cellar. Looking relaxed and very much in control, despite a tricky vintage, he gushes about how the significant improvements to the design and functionality of the revamped cellar made it on of the easiest vintages to handle. He very quickly follows this sentiment with, “easier doesn’t automatically translate into great quality.” Although positive, it’s still too early to tell.
Inspired by his grandfather who taught him so much of what he knows about farming, combined with being exposed to wine at a young age by his wine enthusiast parents, Matthew’s decision to study winemaking at Stellenbosch was an easy one. Fortunate enough to have worked all over the world, his career started with an internship at Meerlust in 2007 before moving on to work harvests in the Barossa, Napa Valley, as well as St Emilion and Sancerre in France. On return to south Africa, Matthew was taken on board as a cellar hand at Klein Constantia. Having made a barrel of his own Shiraz with Chris Williams at Meerlust, he walked into the office of Adam Mason, the incumbent winemaker at Klein Constantia at the time and boldly state, “if you like my wine then you need to hire me, failing which you don’t”. The rest is history, as they say, and soon thereafter in 2009, he was officially appointed, as Assistant Winemaker. Under new ownership, Matthew was handed complete responsibility of the cellar in 2012.
With the grapes from the 2016 harvest safely in the cellar, we decided to meet for lunch in the beautiful new private tasting room where we were surrounded by large and recently acquired Foudres. These will be used to mature future vintages of “iconic” Vin de Constance, with the clear vision being to make South Africa’s first 100 point wine. They certainly seem on the right track after Vin de Constance was recently selected in the Top 10 of the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of the World. Another highlight took lace in October 2015, when the 2008 Vin de Constance was chosen to be served at the State Banquet dinner by the Queen of England, in honour of the Chinese Prime Minister.
As one of the new wave of young winemakers energizing the Constantia Valley, Mat’s philosophy is to, “keep it simple and not to over complicate things, and let the wine express itself with as little intervention as possible. To focus on what we are good at and always aim for the best”.
Sipping on a Sauvignon Blanc, Matt’s favourite white wine to drink and the variety which he believes best expresses their terroir, it isn’t hard to see that this farm has its sights firmly set on crafting the perfect wines!
When and where did you qualify as a winemaker?
University of Stellenbosch, and I graduated in 2007.
What do you enjoy most about winemaking and why?
The challenge of making that perfect wine.
Previous winemaking experience?
I have been at Klein Constantia for most of my working Career, I love to think of it as my first and last job I will ever have.
What do you regard as the main secrets behind Klein Constantia’s success?
The amazing terroir that we have. Without great terroir you have nothing. We also have an amazing team and that plays a huge roll in striving for the best.
What makes Klein Constantia terroir special?
We believe that that our terroir is perfectly suited for making great Sauvignon Blanc as well as Vin de Constance. Everything from soil, slope, altitude, to proximity to the ocean just seems to work.
How do you feel about the SA wine industry’s present standing & future on the international market and why?
I think the South African wine industry is moving from strength to strength, there is a huge movement for exceptional wine at the moment and the export market is picking up on it very quickly. The Rand is also in our favour so it seems to make it slightly easier to compete as well.
How can we make wine more accessible to the SA population?
Awareness, but I think that it is becoming more and more popular in the SA market.
Your favourite pastimes/hobbies?
I play Canoe polo for Western Cape when I get time as well as mountain biking and now running.
Your goals and aspirations?
My goal is to be remembered one day as the person who made a difference at Klein Constantia and helped to evolve the wines into something truly world class.