Babylonstoren, one of the Cape’s oldest wine farms, restored in recent years by media mogul Koos Bekker and wife Karen, has launched its flagship red.
Babylonstoren Nebukadnesar 2012 combines five Bordeaux varieties: cabernet sauvignon (32%), cabernet franc (27%), merlot, (19%), malbec (17%) and petit verdot (5%). This will be a fairly standard “recipe”, says cellarmaster Charl Coetzee, to achieve a recognisable house style more or less based on the farm’s plantings, while still taking into account vintage variations.
“Winemakers reckon it takes at least five years to get to know one’s vineyards and cellar; we’re still learning as we go.” Coetzee became the rejuvenated property’s first winemaker when he joined at the end of 2010.
Maturation in 100% new French oak barrels for 24 months took place in the subterranean barrel maturation cellar. Each of the 6,299 bottles made is numbered and the wine is now available from the farm (at R270) and for ordering on-line while awaiting uptake by select wine merchants.
Coetzee handled the 2011 harvest and first bottling of wine under the Babylonstoren label in a brand-new winery designed by renowned Cape cellar architect Gerard de Villiers.
Echoing the late 17th-century Cape Dutch homestead architectural vernacular on the exterior, the hi-tech winery includes custom-made processing equipment catering for gravity-fed production on a single level. This includes three types of red-wine fermenters - stainless steel, raised concrete and 7,500-litre French oak vats – used in the making of Nebukadnesar.
Nebukadnesar joins the Babylonstoren Chardonnay, the farm’s premium white. The currently available 2012 (the second vintage), soon to be followed by the 2013, is a wine Coetzee says is made with classic Burgundy in mind; despite having spent 12 months in new French oak barrels, it shows freshness and restraint. “A good chardonnay is one that can take a lot of new wood.”
The two flagships head a range also comprising the Babel red blend (a combination of Bordeaux varieties with shiraz); a varietal shiraz (which was earmarked as the flagship red before the Bordeaux varieties started showing their pedigree); a chenin blanc, a viognier and a dry rosé made from mourvèdre. A méthode cap classique sparkling will be released in 2015.
The 400-ha farm, which also produces plums and citrus, has 62 ha under vine, producing 13 different grape varieties. These include vines planted by the previous owners, the Louw family, as well as plantings established from 2008/9 under stewardship of viticulturist Hennie Aucamp. The highest vines – pinot noir and chardonnay – lie against the Simonsberg at some 800 m above sea level.
The Louws, ensconced for generations on Babylonstoren as grape growers and winemakers for the former Simondium co-operative winery, briefly had their own-label Ziggurat and latterly supplied Nederburg. They sold their last corner of vineyard to Bekker in 2013.
Bekker, non-executive CEO of multinational media company Naspers, and wife Karen (Roos), a former magazine editor with the group, have combined their love of South African history, heritage, farm life and stylish decor to reinvent the farm.
Originally a supplier of fresh goods to ships plying the trade route between Europe and Asia, Babylonstoren’s new lease on life, besides the winery, includes a world-recognised boutique hotel and day spa, restaurant and informal eatery, farm shop incorporating bakery and deli, olive processing plant and formally laid-out organic fruit and vegetable garden.
All this is stylishly and sympathetically set around what is now regarded as one of the country’s best-preserved traditional farmyards. The commitment to history and the natural environment is also reflected in the wine labels: the premium wines sport labels of textured paper with a drawing of a traditional smoker’s pipe, bird and flower; the rest of the range comes with emblem, farm name, wine type and vintage simply sandblasted onto the bottle.
A one-hour walking tour provides more detailed insights into the farm’s colourful backstory, including the centuries-old name which refers to the biblical Tower of Babel and inspired the name of the new flagship.