Babylonstoren

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Surrounded by vineyards and orchards, Babylonstoren Farm is situated in the Drakenstein Valley, on the slopes of the Simonsberg, between Franschhoek and Paarl, in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Dating back to 1690, Babylonstoren is one of the best preserved werfs (farm yards) in the Cape Dutch tradition. Some of the buildings date back 300 years. Yet the outlook is decidedly modern. [1]

Today Babylonstoren is a working farm, an exclusive farm hotel, a farm-to-table restaurant, greenhouse, bakery, charcuterie, larder, spa and cellar. [2]

The Manor House at Babylonstoren

The Garden[edit]

A formal fruit and vegetable garden of botanical diversity supplies Babylonstoren's restaurant, Babel, with fruit and vegetables. The layout of this 8-acre (3.2 ha) kitchen garden can be viewed here, and a comprehensive list of the varieties of plants in the garden can be viewed here.

Chefs harvesting in the garden, with Simonsberg mountain in the background

The garden is very much the heart of Babylonstoren, and pays tribute to the history of the Cape.[3] It was designed by Italian architect, Patrice Taravella, from Prieuré d'Orsan - a medieval garden near Bourges, France. The fruit and vegetable garden was inspired by the Cape Company Gardens that was established by Jan van Riebeeck on the slopes of Table Mountain in 1652.

A formal, rectangular garden was laid out with over 300 different plants that are either edible, or of medicinal use.[4] The garden is laid out in a grid system, with two gravel walkways running east to west, and another north to south.[5] There are 15 blocks, or gardens within the garden, including a citrus block, subtropical block, stone fruit block, a prickly pear maze, an indigenous fragrance garden and an almond plantation with beehives.[6] 48 Wooden rose towers were erected throughout the garden, they are covered with antique roses like "Madame Alfred Carrière", "New Dawn", "Françoise Jouranville", "Kiffsgate" and "Albertine".[7]

Outside the garden, along the stream, are over 9000 clivias- a gift from the owner's brother, clivia breeder Dr Hans Roos.[8] Babylonstoren also has a clivia collection that is displayed every spring in a snake-like latticed timber tunnel called "The Puff Adder". "The Puff Adder" is named after an indigenous snake.

The water for the garden is pumped from the nearby Berg River to an irrigation dam, and is then distributed as needed. There's a four-meter drop from the top to the bottom of the garden that allows water to run from the stream, through canals and down the garden. This is system known as "leiwater".[9]

At the top of the garden is the 6 m high Greenhouse. It was designed from parts obtained from Europe, in combination with local materials and engineering. It houses indigenous succulents like kambro (Fockea edulis), elephant's foot (Dioscorea elephantipeas), ghaap (Hoodia currorii) and kremetart tree (Adansonia digitata), to protect them from the winter rains. It's also home to tropical plants like pineapples, vanilla, as well as different varieties of ginger. The gardeners also sow more delicate seeds in the greenhouse such as old-fashioned heirloom tomatoes, Amish salad and purple cherokee.[10]

The garden team makes an effort to source new or unusual seeds of lesser known plants like medlars, custard apples, tree tomatoes/tamarillos, kei apples and bananadellas.[11] The property is open to day visitors, and guests are encouraged to take cuttings from the easy to propagate spekboom, to taste seasonal fruit, and walk barefoot on the chamomile lawn.[12]

Babylonstoren greenhouse at night


Wine[edit]

Babylonstoren has a 300-ton state-of-the art winery and barrel maturation cellar.[13] The wine portfolio includes a Chenin Blanc, Mourvedre Rosé, Viognier, Babel (a Red Blend) and Shiraz. The two flagship wines are the 2012 Chardonnay and the 2012 Nebukadnesar, a Bordeaux blend. The first wines were made under the Babylonstoren label in 2011. [14] Thirteen grape varieties are grown on the farm, 9 red grape varieties and 4 white. Fruits from the garden are made into mampoer, a type of fruit brandy, in the cellar's distillery. [15]

Inside the wine cellar at Babylonstoren


Terroir[edit]

The Simonsberg mountain forms part of the Table Mountain sandstone complex, consisting of layers of sandstone in various stages of geological metamorphosis.

The foothills sport fertile red soils after years of weathering of parent materials, where clay intermingles with fine sand content. Along with organic matter, it provides an environment with good water retention capacity for vines to establish a deep root system.

Vineyard altitudes on the Simonberg range from 150 to 600 m (490 to 1,970 ft) above sea level, providing a range of different micro-climates. This variation results in vineyards producing fruit with distinct flavour differences, lending more blending options to the cellar master.

The Simonsberg area enjoys wet but moderate winters with an average annual rainfall of about 750 mm (30 in), and a warm, dry summer. Combining with vigorous wind, stress conditions may occur during the ripening stage of grapes. Inventive vineyard practises can turn these to advantage in grape berries with thicker skins, yielding higher flavour and tannin levels. Managed with flair, the Simonsberg terroir is excellent for producing exceptional wines.[16]

Vineyards at Babylonstoren

Food[edit]

There are two restaurants on the farm. Babel is the signature restaurant, housed in what was once a cowshed. The second restaurant is a more casual eatery, The Greenhouse, situated at the top of the garden. [17] Both restaurants have the same farm-to-table ethos. Most of the raw ingredients come from the all-season kitchen garden. The menu is directed by whatever is in season, and thus the menu changes four times a year. [18]

The old stable was turned into the farm shop that houses the bakery, charcuterie and tasting room. [19]

A dish served at Babel made from the garden produce


Hotel[edit]

The Farm Hotel at Babylonstoren comprises thirteen cottages, reflecting the Cape Dutch heritage of the farm. Hotel guests have access to the entire farm, as well as to spa and gym facilities. The hotel and restaurant offer top-class facilities within the comfortable atmosphere, amongst the simple daily rhythms of a working farm, which makes for quite a unique experience. [20]

History[edit]

The Drakenstein Valley was home to Khoisan for centuries. In 1692, when the borders of the Cape Colony expanded after the arrival of French Huguenots, the farm was granted by Governor Simon van der Stel to the burger Pieter van der Byl. It was named in Dutch Babilonische Tooren, later Babilonstoring or Babylonstoren, as they thought the shape of the conical hill on the farm resembled the Tower of Babel from the Bible.[21] Van der Byl laid out the first vineyards and altered water courses to provide irrigation. After his first wife died, he got married to a woman called Hester Terwinkel in 1702. After his death in 1723 she continued to own and manage Babylonstoren. Nine years later in 1732, she received an additional grant [22] at Babylonstoren and she used managers on her distant farms. At Babylonstoren her manager was Johannes Louw – the next purchaser.

After Terwinkel's death in 1743, Babylonstoren was sold by public auction to Johannes Louw, Terwinkel's manager of the farm. In 1752 there were 12,000 vines that yielded 12 leaguers of wine (enough to be carried by six ox wagons) a year.[23] In the next three years he almost tripled the amount of vine plantings to 30,000. There was also a lot of wheat and some livestock.[24]

In 1762 the farm changes hands when it is sold to Petrus Johannes de Villiers. The homestead's H-shape, as well as the bell tower, date from the De Villiers period. After De Villiers' death his widow, Johanna Barbara van Biljon manages Babylonstoren. In 1787 she remarries a man named Cornelis Ernestus Ponty, a medical docter, and he becomes the new owner of Babylonstoren. Ponty is thought to be responsible for the development of the forecourt, the false-perspective arms of the outbuildings, remodelling of the H-shaped house, and interior fittings such as the doors and fanlight. During this period Ponty increases the farm's vine plantings, and also exportes wine. He breeds horses as an additional source of income. In 1814 Ponty dies, and van Biljon is again in charge of managing the farm. An additional grant of land is added to Babylonstoren in 1819. By 1825 Van Biljon owns 9 saddle horses, 80 breeding mares, and 83 slaves. She dies in 1831 at the age of 92. In her will she specifies that her property could only be sold to her heirs, and it is bought on auction by her stepdaughters husband, Willem Adolph Marais. Marais in turn sells the farm to his brother-in-law, Jan Daniel de Villiers. At the time of her death the homestead is described as H-shaped. Outbuildings include a cellar, carpenter's workshop, blacksmith's workshop, dairy room and stables.[25]

De Villiers dies in 1836 and the farm is left to his widow Johanna Margaretha de Villiers who sells the farm to Jan Christoffel Bosman, the owner of Mooiplaas in Stellenbosch. Unable to sell the farm in a depressed property market of the time, Babylonstoren's curators subdivide the farm. GL Steyn buys a deduction called Klein Babylonstoren and Dirk Hamman becomes the new owner of the remainder of the farm. This latter portion includes the homestead and outbuildings. Johannes Wynand Louw buys Babylonstoren at a public auction and begins to improve the land and irrigation systems. In 1857 a portion of Bloemendal is added to Babylonstoren. Louw dies in 1873. An inventory of his possessions shows a farm that was producing less wheat and more wine. In 1873 Babylonstoren produced 140 leaguers of wine and 5 leaguers of brandy. Livestock included sheep, goats, pigs and milk cows.[26]

After his father's death, Adriaan Jacobus Louw becomes the sole owner of Babylonstoren in 1878. Babylonstoren remained in the Louw family for five generations before it was bought by the current owners in 2007.[27]


Location[edit]

Babylonstoren is about 60 km (37 mi) from the city of Cape Town in the Western Cape region of South Africa. It is approximately a 45-minute drive from Cape Town International Airport.

GPS co-ordinates are 33 49' 26.73" S 18 55' 39.08" E, and can be found on Google Maps

Directions to the farm can be downloaded here



See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Engelbrecht, Maranda.Babel. Babylonstoren, 2013, p.11
  2. ^ Engelbrecht, Maranda.Babel. Babylonstoren, 2013, p.195
  3. ^ The Gardener's Garden 2014, Phaidon, London
  4. ^ Bairnsfather Cloete, Nini.Remarkable Gardens of South Africa'Italic text', Quivertree, 2012, p.210
  5. ^ The Gardener's Garden 2014, Phaidon, London
  6. ^ The Gardener's Garden 2014, Phaidon, London
  7. ^ Bairnsfather Cloete, Nini.Remarkable Gardens of South Africa'Italic text', Quivertree, 2012, p.210
  8. ^ Bairnsfather Cloete, Nini.Remarkable Gardens of South Africa'Italic text', Quivertree, 2012, p.211
  9. ^ Bairnsfather Cloete, Nini.Remarkable Gardens of South Africa'Italic text', Quivertree, 2012, p.211
  10. ^ Engelbrecht, Maranda.Babel. Babylonstoren, 2013, p.195
  11. ^ Kirsten, Keith. Gardens to Inspire.Struik Lifestyle, 2013, p.15
  12. ^ Kirsten, Keith. Gardens to Inspire.Struik Lifestyle, 2013, p.15
  13. ^ De Villiers et al. Wine Visionaries. Edition Delius, 2012, p.11
  14. ^ De Villiers et al. Wine Visionaries. Edition Delius, 2012, p.13
  15. ^ De Villiers et al. Wine Visionaries. Edition Delius, 2012, p.11
  16. ^ Kirsten, Keith. Gardens to Inspire.Struik Lifestyle, 2013,p.14
  17. ^ De Villiers et al. Wine Visionaries. Edition Delius, 2012, p.11
  18. ^ Engelbrecht, Maranda.Babel. Babylonstoren, 2013, p.11
  19. ^ Engelbrecht, Maranda.Babel. Babylonstoren, 2013, p.11
  20. ^ Franschhoek South African Winelands. 2b Publishers, 2012, p161
  21. ^ Engelbrecht, Maranda.Babel. Babylonstoren, 2013, p.195
  22. ^ Harris, Stewart. The Story of a Drakenstein farm. 2007, p.31
  23. ^ Harris, Stewart. The Story of a Drakenstein farm. 2007,p33
  24. ^ Harris, Stewart. The Story of a Drakenstein farm. 2007
  25. ^ Harris, Stewart. The Story of a Drakenstein farm. 2007
  26. ^ Harris, Stewart. The Story of a Drakenstein farm. 2007
  27. ^ Bairnsfather Cloete, Nini.Remarkable Gardens of South Africa'Italic text', Quivertree, 2012, p.210

External links and other reading[edit]

Coordinates: 33°49′26″S 18°55′39″E / 33.82389°S 18.92750°E / -33.82389; 18.92750