The Story of Wine

WORDS Richard Holmes PHOTOS Courtesy of Babylonstoren

Winelands wonder Babylonstoren has shaken up the concept of museums – and our thoughts on a glass of vino.

On a farm where tradition, history and culture are deeply ingrained and celebrated at every turn, it’s little wonder that Babylonstoren has at last added a wine museum to the estate. Doors opened in late 2021 – except, and perhaps in character for this ever-inventive estate, there are no actual doors at “The Story of Wine”.

Rather, in this gorgeous double-volume space adjoining the wine-tasting centre, an archway of farm packing crates frames the entrance. But look closer: in six of the crates, you’ll find mesmerising paper-cut dioramas by Cape-based artist Lyndi Sales, telling the story of Cape wine through the centuries. Next, visitors are transported underground into a remarkable sculpture of twisted vine cuttings woven together to form an oerwortel, a “primeval root” suggestive of the genesis of winemaking in the Cape.

Story of Wine
An innovative approach of visual and tactile storytelling ensures a multisensory journey through the world of wine.

Stepping back into the light of the main gallery space, the visual language of “The Story of Wine” is immediately obvious. “To successfully tell a story, you don’t always need words,” explains the museum’s interior designer Etienne Hanekom, whose design concept and choice of textures and tones – steel, wood and glass – were chosen “not to alienate [the museum] from the rest of the style of the farm. In the end, it’s a working farm, and we took all our design elements from the cellar and surrounding buildings.”

READ MORE: Exploring The Wine Cellar at Babylonstoren

“What makes this space so different from other examples of its kind is that it tries to engage with the subject in a way that is playful and interactive,” adds Babylonstoren museologist Elsa Vogts. “It’s not about dusty exhibits and small labels – the point is for visitors to be immersed, to really make the subject come alive.”

And alive it certainly is, from historic artefacts to cutting- edge technology. The 17th-century Persian wine bottle repaired by the kintsugi method speaks to the ancient history of wine production, while virtual-reality pods offer a distinctly 21st-century museum experience.

In cleverly designed video pods, each housed within a halved wine barrel suspended at head height, there are lived experiences to discover. In another barrel, you may find visual vignettes celebrating the world of wine.

Story of Wine
Staying true to the ethos of Babylonstoren, the museum is a rich celebration of winelands history, heritage and culture.

It’s expansive without being exhaustive. Or exhausting, as some museums can be. Exhibits have been carefully selected to make the space accessible for both casual visitors and wine connoisseurs, with an audio guide (in seven languages) replacing walls of printed text. That inherent playfulness
is evident again in the interactive Aroma installation that prompts visitors to sniff scents and handle a mystery object to identify the aromatics in each Babylonstoren wine.

READ MORE: Babylonstoren Fynbos Family Home

Upstairs, where displays embark on a visual journey through food and wine pairings, stemware and the minutiae of wine design, seek out the handmade ceramic vine leaves that show the diversity in leaf shape of Vitis vinifera. On another wall, bulbous glass balls offer a peek into the collectible muselet plaques that have long been a feature of Champagne bottles.

Laudably, the museum doesn’t shy away from the darker corners of the Cape’s winemaking history. In one display, a polished copper mug used by a Cape farm worker to receive their “wages” introduces a conversation around the egregious dop system.

What appears at first glance to be a compact gallery holds more than it appears, and “The Story of Wine” is a space that rewards exploration. As with so much on the estate, Cape Winelands folklore and immersive storytelling inform the museum experience, offering a tactile and visual journey from the earliest days of winemaking in the Cape to the ongoing evolution of modern-day Babylonstoren.

Entrance to the museum is included in the general admission fee (R20) for Babylonstoren.

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