PICS: A look inside Babylonstoren's new home for fine wines

2016-04-03 16:30 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - Most farms in the winelands come with history and lots of it - and Babylonstoren is no different.

The land, originally inhabited by nomadic Khoisan communities, was named Babylonstoren after a kopje close by that served as a landmark for anyone heading to the farm.

It also pays beautiful homage to its winelands roots – from the well-preserved old Cape Dutch and French Huguenot structures, including the manor house, the Koornhuis, an ornate fowl house and old cellar – it is impossible to miss. Added to this there is a distinct panache and style weaved into even the banal but essential spots, such its water filtration room with its decorative murals to make it more aesthetically appealing.

However, it is not just the architecture that has been preserved or enhanced, but also the rich human heritage. The people of Babylonstoren have been given pride of place for their contribution in various ways, but most dramatically is the specially designed epitaph of sorts in the farm's new retail space that leads on to the new wine tasting room.

Constructed from old tools, implements and items found across the Babylonstoren farm, dating back to 1692, interspersed with the names of those who have actually lived, worked and contributed to the farm. It makes quite a statement.

Babylonstoren’s vineyards, although young with its first grapes only being pressed in 2011 and its sixth harvest on offer, stretches out between Paarl and Franschhoek, offering up not only a fine wine-tasting experience but a holistic look at slow living, that seems purposed-filled with the rhythms of nature.  

Invited to take a look at the newly built wine-tasting centre - it is impossible not to be drawn into the sprawling gardens and clusters of wine farm homesteads that offer up delightful artisan goodies and crafts. 

They even have a 'rice paddy'going as a solid testament to the farm’s garden to table philosophy.

In just over an hour we were given a rather in-depth look at how the estate’s wines are crafted – from an living illustration of the variations of vine planting for different grape varieties, through to a look at the olive processing plant. I couldn't resist taking a handful to enjoy as we toured the rest of the estate - tasting exactly what has earned Babylonstoren a gold medal at the SA Olive Awards in 2015.

Then it was on to the Babylonstoren production cellar, where technology meets tradition and innovation.

Raised gantry walkways offered up a holistic view of the cellar from above as our well-informed guide explained the winemaking process from sorting and crushing to fermenting and bottling.

A journey from vineyard to glass

Back to the aesthetics mentioned earlier, adorning the longest wall in the cellar are striking metal art installations reflecting the unique terroir of the estate, from the geology of the vineyards to the microbial process of fermentation and the skills of the winemaker.

From there a steep staircase descent leads into the oak-infused barrel cellar, where dozens of oak barriques, at an estimated R10k each brand new, the rich heritage of fine wines maturing at subterranean cool is quite something to see. We’re told that each barrel is used two to three times before being sold on to brandy distillers. The oak-infused scent in the air is quite heady and makes you inhale deeply - just perfect as the tasting with our Babylonstoren host for the day, Anelle van Tonder awaited.

The new tasting room is a modern steel-and-glass creation, acting as a fluid link between the two Cape Dutch-style wings of the wine cellar.

And with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls offering up breathtaking views over the vineyards, the sell-out summer season since the tasting room opened in December makes complete sense.

Wine collectors with any good sense will make an investment in their Bordeaux-style Nebukadnesar - it makes you yearn for the winter delights of a fire place and an old-fashioned pot of hearty goodness. We also tasted the recently released Méthode Cap Classique, Sprankel – from the lightness of the label to the pleasant brut flavours, it’s easy to see this becoming a firm favourite for any winelands wedding wanting to add a special touch of sparkle to the occasion. Although it must be noted production is limited.  

The tastings are enhanced with an offering of delicious snack platters offering charcuterie, cheeses, pâté and fresh fruits and vegetables from the estate ranging between R150-R200.  

But if you want something more substantial then head to Babel or the Green House. But you’d be wise to book in advance for any of these experiences.  

Key Winelands Events to plan around:

- 13 to 15 May - Franschhoek Literary Festival

16 July - Franschhoek Bastille Day

- 30 April to 2 May - SA Cheese Festival

What you need to know:

The Babylonstoren wine-tasting centre is open daily from 10am until 6pm (5pm in winter). The hour-long cellar tours (R50 per person, including tasting) take place on the hour between 11am and 3pm daily. Only 10 guests accommodated on each tour.

The Gardens are open seven days a week from 09:00 to 17:00. There is a daily Garden Tour that starts at 10:00.  It's good to note that it is also wheelchairs friendly with chairs alos available on request.

Getting there: Babylonstoren is located on the R45 off the N1. It takes about 45min to get there from Cape Town and a mere 20mins (max) from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.

More info: Check out the Babylonstoren website