The vines on Babylonstoren are lush; the vineyards a rich tapestry of green. Summer has brought yet another new beginning in the vineyards, and this year it is matched by a welcome new addition to this remarkable Cape winelands estate.
Since the first grapes were pressed here in 2011, visitors to Babylonstoren have been introduced to the range of estate wines in a cosy tasting room in the old werf [homestead]. Now, with the estate’s sixth harvest on the horizon, visitors can enjoy a revitalised tasting experience in a new purpose-built wine-tasting centre.
This eye-catching steel-and-glass creation is a modern link between the two Cape Dutch-style wings of the wine cellar, and a perfect reflection of Babylonstoren’s philosophy of embracing both heritage and innovation.
Floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer breathtaking views over the vineyards towards the small rocky peak that gave the farm its name, while indoors the striking central bar bedecked in vivid green tiles mirrors the lush vineyards beyond.
“We wanted to complement the very light and transparent feeling of the space with an interior that played up the visual links to the vineyard,” explains Philippe van der Merwe from interior design agency Tonic. “The interior finishes and design were all chosen to complement this, with natural materials and a colour palette taken from its setting. We didn’t want to create an interior that tried to be too clever or grandiose, but rather one that celebrates the beautiful setting and the wines.”
The wine tasting experience has likewise been revamped to match the sleek new surrounds, and visitors can enjoy a range of tasting journeys.
A good introduction to the work of cellar master Charl Coetzee is a tasting of the five wines in the Babylonstoren range, including the popular Mourvedre Rosé, Chenin Blanc and Babel red blend. Wine-lovers are also able to experience the Flagship range with individual tastings of the Bordeaux-style Nebukadnesar, Chardonnay and the recently released Méthode Cap Classique, Sprankel.
A range of tantalising snack platters offering charcuterie, cheeses, pâté and fresh fruits and vegetables from the estate are also now available. The platters offer an ideal light bite before lunch at one of the estate’s two acclaimed restaurants, and include two glasses of Chenin Blanc or Babel red blend, or a tasting of the Babylonstoren range of wines.
Alongside the tasting room a revamped retail space has also been created, with original farm implements and packing crates creating a gentle farm motif in the triple-volume space.
For guests with a little more time to spare, informative tours offer visitors an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at how the estate’s wines are crafted. The tours begin, fittingly, in the vineyards that surround the tasting room and cellar where a range of vines have been planted to illustrate the variations in leaf and fruit between different grape varieties.
The tour then leads visitors through the olive processing plant, where olives are cured and a state-of-the-art Pieralisi olive press extracts the estate’s superb Extra Virgin olive oil. In 2015 Babylonstoren walked away with a gold medal at the SA Olive Awards. Visitors are also able to sample a selection of the olive oil varietals that make up the Babylonstoren blend, which are the Frantoio, Coratina, Don Carlo, Mission and FS17 oils that are blended together before bottling.
Then it’s on to the Babylonstoren production cellar, where technology meets tradition. Raised gantry walkways offer visitors a fascinating view of the cellar from above, as well-informed guides explain the winemaking process from sorting and crushing to fermenting and bottling. As the guides describe the journey from vineyard to glass, the cellar itself has a story to tell. Adorning the longest wall a striking metal art installation reflects the unique terroir of the estate, from the geology of the vineyards to the microbial process of fermentation and the skills of the winemaker.
The social history of the estate is celebrated in the cellar too: a podium pays tribute to the workers on the farm throughout history, while at the entrance to the barrel cellar an array of vintage farm implements forms a striking suspended artwork; a reminder of the human touch that has shaped the farm through the centuries.
A steep staircase leads visitors down into the atmospheric barrel cellar, where dozens of oak barriques mature quietly in the subterranean cool. Guides explain the impact of oak on the wine, before a remarkable glass-walled staircase takes visitors back up into the impressive new tasting room.
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. With only 10 guests accommodated on each tour, reservations are highly recommended.