A New World winery that's not short on history

Babylonstoren is a South African winery and a working farm with a past that goes back centuries, says Chris Carter.

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Babylonstoren is a "New World" winery, located close to the premier South African wine region of Stellenbosch. But there's nothing "new" about it in the historic sense. The working farm (as it still is) dates to 1692 just 40 years after the Dutch East India Company set up the Cape Colony as a supply stop for its vessels heading east to Asia.

It was out of this settlement, overlooked by the majestic Table Mountain, that Cape Town grew into a city less than an hour's drive to the west. So, the estate is old. Rather, it's in the design sense that the word "new" can be best applied to this historic Cape Dutch farm.

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A couple of months ago, I caught up with Babylonstoren's Lize Grobbelaar, who was in London to attend a design show. She filled me in on some of the estate's history. In 2007, Karen Roos, the former editor-in-chief of South African magazine Elle Decoration, bought Babylonstoren and blended in contemporary design elements during the farm's three-year restoration.

The Manor House, for example, was built in 1777 to the traditional Cape Dutch style. But almost 250 years on, the rooms' decor has been given a distinctly modern twist. And in the estate's Babel restaurant, which was once a cowshed, transparent glass walls now give out onto eight-acres of beautifully laid-out gardens.

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These gardens were designed by French architect Patrice Taravella, who had reconstructed the formal gardens of the former monastery at Prieur d'Orsan in central France. He took as his inspiration the Dutch East India Company's garden in Cape Town that was used to grow the fresh fruit and vegetables for the Company's sailors. (There is also a nod to the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon the clue's in the name.)

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Babylonstoren's gardens are used to feed hungry travellers as well, albeit of a more modern kind, who can find its organic produce in the restaurant, as well as its medicinal plants in the spa. But if that's beginning to sound all a little too rustic, Babylonstoren has its own stylist and food consultant in cookbook-writer Maranda Engelbrecht, whose job it is to bring together the gardeners, farmers, chefs, and, of course, winemakers.

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That brings me back to the original purpose of my wanting to catch up with Lize wine. Babylonstoren produces a whole range of its own wines, from its "flagship" chardonnay to a full-bodied "Nebukadnesar", and its most recent addition a salmon-pink, strawberry-scented ros made from 100% mourvedre. If you can't wait for summer to roll around before you try it, you could always opt to drink it there, where the sun is out and the temperature is currently in the 30s. Ideal ros weather in other words.

(From around R7,200 for a farmhouse suite, see babylonstoren.com for details and shop.babylonstoren.com for more on the estate's wine and other products.)

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