While the rest of South Africa spent the larger part of the countrywide COVID-19 lockdown bunkered down and waiting for the penny to drop, the Babylon’s Peak team were hard at work tending the land and forging the way forward for this much-loved Swartland brand.
“Since we had permits to keep our staff on during the most intensive phases of lockdown, we reshuffled our yearly calendar to make good use of this time,” says fourth-generation farmer and vintner Stephan Basson, who takes great pride in standing at the helm of a winery that generates up to 400 000 bottles of wine per year.
For example, the work we would be doing in the vineyards in September but could feasibly be shifted to an early date was all done in April and May. This included planting poles and putting up wire for new vineyards and other things that aren’t tied to the seasons. Naturally, we couldn’t tell Mother Nature to change her plans, so we lived between the beats and found ways to make good use of our time.”
This included doing some of the most extensive plantings of Stephan’s career. “Our new plantings came to 20 ha that was populated with vines that we cultivated right here on the farm. Since we’re in the Swartland, we are always on the lookout for water, so we also did some drilling to make new water sources available for the coming dry season,” the proud vintner extols.
But that’s not all. Babylon’s Peak is also getting ready to roll out a brand-new wine that will be hitting South African shelves just as soon as lockdown restrictions permit – the Babylon’s Peak Cinsault 2018.
“Like all of our other wines, the Cinsault 2018 is made from grapes we produce ourselves right here on the farm. In my opinion, this vintage is an excellent example of what a Cinsault should be. It’s in a different style to what the rest of the winemakers in our region are doing with this varietal, but I believe it allows the varietal to express itself very nicely,” says Stephan.
Cinsault is one of the oldest cultivars in the country. When Stephan was growing up, they had some Cinsault on the farm, but back in those days there weren’t different vineyards dedicated to single cultivars. Farmers had a red vineyard, and a white vineyard, which essentially contained a field blend of various different varietals. That’s why the first wines that were made in the Babylon’s Peak cellar were simply called the red table wine, and the white table wine.
“Cinsault ripens rather late and it has big berries – it actually looks like a table grape and is very good to eat. So even though it results in a lighter style wine, it still brings a lot of structure to the table which is why it is a popular element in red blends,” says Stephan.
“The grapes we used in our new vintage were taken from 18-year-old dryland bush vines that grow in weathered granite soils, which means the vines yield a little less, but the grapes really come to the party with great minerality. Production on this particular block is low, but the concentration of flavour is truly beautiful. In the end, what you get is a lovely, soft, light red that is typical of a Swartland Cinsault.”
The wine was kept on older French oak for two years to age to perfection, and Stephan recently took it along on his annual hunting trip, which is apparently the highest honour one of his wines can get. “If I bring a wine along to a place where I go to relax and recharge, you can rest assured that the wine is up to snuff,” he chuckles.
International wine lovers can also look forward to a brand-new Babylon’s Peak range that has been developed in accordance with the preferences of their audience abroad. Called The Wedge, in homage to a much-loved surfing strip along the Cape Peninsula, this range includes two entry-level blends, as well as three premium standalone varietals.
“At the moment, this range consists of two entry-level blends – a Chenin Blanc/Roussanne, and a Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier. The white wine is fresh, fruity, and flirty, much in the same vein as our Babylon’s Peak Chenin; and the red is also light and approachable in character,” says Stephan. “We’re also releasing three premium wines under this label – a wooded Pinotage, a lightly wooded Chenin Blanc that spent some time on oak, as well as a fresh, yet beautifully structured Grenache.”