In partnership with Babylonstoren 

It’s officially rosé season and we’re seeing in the summer with our favourite bottle, Babylonstoren Mourvèdre Rosé. 

Babylonstoren is a working farm in the Franschhoek Valley with luxury accommodation, spa, farm-to-fork restaurants, fine wine, and a magnificent fruit and vegetable garden at its core. As the only RHS partner garden in Africa, their garden on the sunny slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in South Africa’s world-renowned Cape Winelands has a rich and vibrant history. Seasonal produce, harvested daily from the garden, is used in Babylonstoren’s remarkable restaurants, as well as available for visitors to purchase from the Farm Shop or Lekker Kamer.  Situated at the heart of the wine country, with the Simonsberg Mountain as backdrop, Babylonstoren also boasts a state-of-the-art winery and Tasting Room. The range of award-winning wines consists of four whites, a rosé, three elegant reds and an MCC.

As long time fans of Babylonstoren, we sat down with their cellarmaster Charl Coetzee talk all things wine, from the best dishes to pair with the rosé to what it’s been like building Babylonstoren’s wine brand from the ground up.

Where does your love of wine stem from?

I’m originally from Namibia, which is the country on top of South Africa and it’s not a wine country at all. I grew up there so I didn’t grow up in a wine making family; I grew up in a wine drinking family. So after school I went to study at the University of Stellenbosch, which is the only university in South Africa that offers the course to become a winemaker. 

I actually went there to study geology and during my first year while I was there, I became part of the University of Stellenbosch Wine Club because when you’re a first year student except for studying, the other thing you’d be doing is drinking wine. I became interested in it and so I decided I’m not really someone who is going to sit in the middle of nowhere to study rocks and I’m more of a social person so I thought I’d give this whole wine making thing a try and that’s how it started.

How did you become a cellarmaster? Is there a lot of training that goes into becoming one?

Well, at the University of Stellenbosch, it’s a four-year science degree that you do, so I studied a Bachelor of Science in viticulture and oenology, and then typically your first position would be to become a cellar intern or, if you’re lucky, you’d become an assistant winemaker. After that you’d become a winemaker and then depending on where you work, you get different titles. 

In my case, I started at Babylonstoren when they set up and built the cellar about 12 years ago. So I was the first person to make the wine and I was a winemaker there on my own. Before this, at Babylonstoren there was never wine made there before. There wasn’t a brand, but in 2010, they built the cellar and I made the first wines. One year later we started selling the wines and then I became involved selling the wines domestically and internationally. My position changed as I needed someone to help make the wine so we got a winemaker and nowadays I actually look after the business and sign off on the wines. Another winemaker may have a different path but that’s how mine played out. 

What does a day in the life of a cellarmaster look like?

It depends where you work, but at Babylonstoren, my typical day would involve a lot of wine tastings with my team as we need to make a lot of different blends and I’d discuss with our winemaker, giving advice on what we need to do. And then the rest of the day I’ll be managing, so I look after the financials and make decisions on where we need to sell.  

At Babylonstoren, I’m also involved in our online business and I actually ended up writing my thesis on how to sell wine online, so I’ve become involved in the process. I helped develop the first website and online business which I’ve helped grow, as well as the marketing and campaigns. 

Simplicity and keeping the wines as natural as possible are a big part of Babylonstoren. How does your process of wine producing differ from other regions/brands?

I wouldn’t say we differ that much. If you speak to any winemaker, wine is a natural product so obviously you’d like to try and keep it as natural as possible. You get the grapes and you don’t want to add too much stuff, so that’s what we also try to do. The biggest thing that we do that doesn’t necessarily differ – every winery has its own terroir, so how high the altitude, the weather, the temperature, and every terroir produces a different style of wine – but we try to use what we get and turn it into a wine with minimal intervention. Most wineries try to do it these days but we try to do it in the best way we can. 

There’s a lot of emphasis on sustainability in viticulture today; how does Babylonstoren achieve this?

If you look at our bottle, there’s a seal on there – similar to every bottle in South Africa, I think it’s the only country to have this system – but we are not allowed to sell a bottle of wine without a ‘seal of approval’. This approval means this wine was tasted by a panel of their wine experience board and it’s approved on taste and analysis, as well as viticultural practices. It means we’ve tried to produce this wine in the least way possible to impact the environment. We try to farm as biologically as possible.

Which is your favourite wine from the Babylonstoren range and why?

When I think about a wine, I think about occasions so I think about the bottle of wine when I asked my wife to marry me or something like that so I go through different stages. Right now I love white Chardonnay for its full bodied, earthiness as we’re going into our winter in South Africa. While in the summer, I’d prefer a Chenin Blanc as it’s lighter. But if I had to choose a favourite, I’d have to say the rosé in terms of drinkability and our red Shiraz is magnificent. 

What’s your favourite dish to pair with the rosé?

Smoked trout or salmon on a salad. At Babylonstoren we do this salad tour and it’s in our underground tunnel where you taste all ten of our wines, and typically the accompinent that we pair it with is a strawberry that’s covered with smoked trout. The creaminess of the fish and savouriness of the trout works really well with the acidity of the Mourvèdre. 

Babylonstoren is one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms – a unique Cape Winelands destination with luxury accommodation, fine food and wine, and a magnificent fruit and veg garden at its core. Every aspect of the farm is led by the ever-changing tapestry and botanical diversity of the garden. For those wanting an overnight stay, Babylonstoren offers an authentic farm stay that’s in tune with nature, whilst every inch a luxury hotel.

Learn more here

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