Photography C&D Heierl
By Shannon Latimer
Sidebar: A New Home for the Wines
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. Now, with the estate’s sixth harvest on the horizon, you can enjoy the tasting experience in the new wine-tasting centre.
Floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer views over the vineyards towards the small rocky peak that gave the farm its name, while indoors the central bar is dressed in vivid green tiles that mirror the vineyards beyond.
The wine tasting experience has likewise been revamped and you can enjoy a range of tasting journeys. Try five of the wines in the Babylonstoren range (R25), or the Flagship range with individual tastings of the Bordeaux-style Nebukadnesar (R15 per tasting), Chardonnay (R10) and the recently released Méthode Cap Classique, Sprankel (R25).
A range of snack platters—offering charcuterie, cheeses, pâté and fresh fruits and vegetables from the estate—are also now available (R150-R200).
If you have a little more time to spare, informative hour-long tours will take you on a behind-the-scenes look at how the estate’s wines are crafted.
Open daily from 10am-5pm (in winter). The cellar tours (R50 per person, including tasting) take place on the hour between 11am and 3pm daily, reservations are recommended.
I remember walking through my grandfather’s vegetable garden when I was little. Balancing along the little brick paths one foot in front of the other, singing and holding his hand. He’d stop and tell me how all the vegetables were doing, what was new and what he would be serving with dinner. I would always choose my own carrot, wash it off at the mint tap, and we’d sit under his canopy of table grape vines and he’d tell me stories about far off places that didn’t exist. I’d pop the small, round grapes into my mouth, while he sat trying to convince me his stories were true.
I haven’t been to many places since then, not where I could walk along a path picking and choosing which fresh fruit or veg to snack on—until last month, that is. If this is something that appeals to you—if you have a love of fresh fruit, plants and nature, and you happen to be in the Cape—then you have to put aside a day to visit the gardens at Babylonstoren. It’s a must.
The gardens are beautiful and vast, and you are encouraged to walk along, admire their beautiful plantings and eat while you look. This is what is so unique and appealing about Babylonstoren.
We joined the morning garden tour and weren’t surprised at the many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ we heard—along with a lot of crunching into fresh fruit. Head gardener, Liesl van der Walt, told us to pick as we wish. “We encourage guests to pick and eat in the garden,” she said. “We want them to. They must go harvest themselves. Some of the rooms have space for them to cook, and we want them to use the fresh fruit and veg.” What could be better? Well, perhaps dinner at Babel—and it will be just as fresh. All the fruit and veg from the garden is harvested for the farm’s two restaurants. “And when our guests get down to the restaurant,” she continued, “We want them to be able to recognise their food. This is important to us.”
We spent the morning walking with Liesl, taking photos and trying out the produce. Set within eight acres of cultivated fruit and vegetables, the garden is the heart of the farm. What inspired these gardens? The historic Company’s Garden in Cape Town—the very ones that supplied the Dutch East India Company’s ships with fresh vegetables and fruit during the days when the Cape was a halfway station between Europe and Asia. How romantic.
One of the group stopped to ask what the little buckets, sitting at the base of some trees, along the route were. It’s a contraption to catch fruit flies. When the gardeners open the bucket and see more than two fruit flies, they know there is the possibility the fruit may have been infected. “Then we will react. We will only spray when it’s needed and usually we use an organic spray—Ludwig’s insecticides, which is very nice, or the Margaret Roberts brand. There are quite a few products you can get that are organic,” Liesl informed us. All the plants are grown as organically as possible and in a biologically sustainable manner.
We stopped to try purple runner beans, saw peanut plants flowering above ground while sending their shoots below ground to grow the peanuts, and tasted the deliciously sweet carob pod. I got side tracked in the veg patch and made my own mini salad with two types of basil and a fresh tomato. Next time, I’ll be bringing some Mozzarella along.
We continued our snacking and chatting while Liesl explained how the garden comprises 15 clusters spanning vegetable areas, stone and pome fruits, nuts, citrus, berries, bees, herbs, ducks, chickens as well as a prickly pear maze. Every one of the 300 varieties of plants in the garden is edible.
“And children just love our gardens. They weren’t designed with children in mind, but they seem to just love it and have the most fun here. And in summer you’ll find them running happily in the many waterways.”
An interesting planting on the go is of risotto rice, in one small paddy. “The birds have also just discovered the risotto,” Liesl said, “and now we have to have someone banging a drum to scare them away, all day long. We have to come up with another solution, but so far the drumming is working.”
Why rice? No one else in South Africa is doing it. “Just plainly out of a curiosity of wanting to see our food grow. We also have Italian evenings on the farm every now and then, so why not serve our own rice?” Liesl added.
We spent some time with Alta, chef at The Greenhouse, and she shared how much she enjoyed the prickly pears this season. They have three types they’re using at the moment, Gymno Carpo, Meyers and Algerian, all with their own unique flavour—you’ve got to give them a try. Once you get past being spiked, she assured us, they’re a fruit worth bleeding for. Alta’s tip for cleaning a prickly pair: “Throw the prickly pears into ice water for a few minutes. Then, with rubber gloves on, remove them from the water and rub the spikes off. It’s a bit of an effort, but well worth it.”
The Greenhouse, at the rear of the garden, offers a great place to sit under the oak trees and enjoy an informal, picnic-style snack or a meal of breads with cheeses and meats served with homemade herb oils, chutneys, preserves and relishes. And, of course, fresh, unique garden salads.
And, more importantly, The Greenhouse is where plants or varietals are brought when they struggle to make it in the formal garden. You’ll find exotic granadillas, ginger, cardamom, pineapples, dragonfruit, vanilla, guavadellas and even a baobab tree, are all growing happily here.
My grandfather’s garden certainly didn’t look as grand as this one, but the love and passion for them are the same. They are made and cared for, with the intention of being shared with others. If there’s one new thing you do this year, make it a trip to Babylonstoren.
For information on the garden tour and workshops offered, go to www.babylonstoren.com.