Babylonstoren’s cellar tour goes underground

October 16th, 2020

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It’s not only bulbs and the roots of crops and fruit orchards that flourish in Babylonstoren’s soil – an underground wine tunnel is a welcome new addition to the farm’s winery.

While the vineyards on this historic Cape Dutch working farm in the heart of South Africa’s winelands have enjoyed a well-deserved rest these last few months, a team has been hard at work underground. They have been putting the final touches on a brand-new treasure chest waiting to be discovered underneath Babylonstoren’s soil.

An atmospheric, subterranean wine tunnel connects the wine production cellar with the underground barrel cellar. It features a design that seeks to marry a number of requirements, including additional wine processing space for the rapidly growing Babylonstoren wine offering, as well as the opportunity to present a unique and more immersive experience to anyone visiting the facility.

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The interior employs a palette of materials chosen to accentuate the smells and sights associated with winemaking.

An undulating roof creates an attractive visual axis down the tunnel – an aesthetically pleasing solution that allows the partially underground tunnel to support a heavy load, accommodating the vineyard that will be planted above.

Skylights direct pools of natural daylight into the otherwise moody interior. Exposed brickwork and cabling, wooden furniture and concrete floors reinforce an unpretentious tone that adds to the charm of this appealing space.

The same structural steel frames used in the original underground barrel cellar have been employed for the new stepped tunnel. These frames are reminiscent of the steel-framed English station structures of the Victorian era, and promise to transport visitors on a journey through winemaking history.

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Historic significance

As with all aspects of the farm, this innovative addition to Babylonstoren’s winery honours the farm’s connection to the past as well as the rich heritage of winemaking history.

This unique area forms part of the newly updated cellar tours, connecting the visits to the barrel maturation cellar and wine production cellar. Visitors follow the route of the grapes through the complete facility, from the off-loading area where the grapes from the vineyard are sorted before being pressed, through the many large stainless steel, oak and square concrete tanks where the grape juice is fermented.

Historical influences are woven into each layer of the experience, giving visitors a taste of winemaking traditions through the ages as they are introduced to various traditional fermentation and storage vessels on each descending level. The journey in the novel area commences at the top of the tunnel, inviting visitors to step through a glass partition and onto the first platform, where wine is completed in much the same way as the Romans did 6000 years ago in terracotta clay pots called amphorae. Engraved on the back of each amphora is the name of the person who crafted the clay pot by hand in Tuscany, Italy.

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One platform down finds visitors among the modern, egg-shaped Nomblot vessels made in southern Burgundy, France, from special concrete. Lower down, we find large, oval wooden vats called foudres, each containing more than 4000 litres of wine taking its time to reach maturity for bottling. The foudres are made from aged French oak trees grown in four different forests.

Each of the vessels in these platforms represents a specific moment in winemaking history, but they also form part of the sequence of building blocks starting in the Babylonstoren vineyards to produce the latest vintages of unique Babylonstoren wines.

A unique wine tasting experience

After a glimpse into the quiet area at the bottom of the tunnel where, in the cool underground air, wine is matured in smaller 500 litre French oak barrels for many months, visitors retrace their steps to the middle of the stepped tunnel. Here, the journey culminates in a brand-new immersive tasting experience.

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Surrounded by a vinoteque of thousands of fine bottled wines, guests gather around a long wooden table – illuminated by one of the skylights – for a unique tasting experience. With wine fermenting in stainless steel tanks at the entrance to the tunnel and the air filled with the aroma of wine maturing in wooden barrels at the other end, guests find themselves in the heart of the winemaking process.

Babylonstoren’s complete wine offering is served with accompaniments that complement each wine to perfection. Here, visitors are invited to delight in our award-winning wines and centuries of winemaking heritage.

Four cellar tours are offered daily at 11h00, 13h00, 15h00 or 17h00.
Cost R275 per person (includes tasting)
Group size 14 guests max
Booking is advisable – please email enquiries@baylonstoren.com or phone 021 863 3852. Visit our website if you prefer to book your spot online.

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