When the walk to a factory takes you through grape-laden vineyards and the scent of lavender fills the air, you begin to suspect that this will be no ordinary factory. And it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. For this is Babylonstoren and the factory is a fragrance-filled, beautiful space.
This is a developmental space where many of Babylonstoren’s ideas are conceived and new products are created. The primary objective of establishing the Factory has been to allow guests to get a glimpse into the workings of certain projects on the farm. It is one of the latest additions to Babylonstoren – here you will now find the Scented Room, the Juicery and the Balsamic Vinegar Battery.
The Scented Room is an aromatic apothecary. It is a magical space filled with vintage pharmacy drawers and an impressive collection of antique glass pharmaceutical bottles that were found on the farm while it was being excavated, created and built. And while this Scented Room offers the same wonderful olfactory experience of scented soaps, candles and floral oils as it did in its equally beautiful previous home, this dedicated space offers guests a new interactive experience – a chance to truly engage with the garden’s fragrances. Visitors can blend their own bath salts, body scrubs and face masks, under the caring eyes and knowledgeable insights of Babylonstoren-trained assistants who will help them in choosing the correct formula. Bath soaks are displayed in laboratory beakers, filled with magnesium salt to combat fatigue, mustard to aid with the detoxification process, rooibos tea for its antioxidant properties and ginger for its anti-inflammatory characteristics. These are enhanced by the addition of rose petals, torn lemon verbena and rosemary leaves, or lime zest. An essential oil can be added at this stage; depending on what is available, guests may choose to add rose geranium, lavender, lavandin or rosemary essential oils. The making of these beauty products by hand – in a beautiful room surrounded by natural fragrances – is both meditative and indulgent. And once made, they are beautifully packaged for visitors to take home.
If you are lucky and you happen to chance upon the Factory during a period when the floral distillery is in operation, you will be surrounded by pure, sweet smells of lavender or rosemary. You’ll witness the process whereby the floral buds are distilled, capturing the steam and condensing it into a liquid which forms the essential oil. There are no harsh machinery noises, no ugly corners, only the scent of essential oils, and the sound of steam being released. The remains of the flowers are not thrown away but returned to the garden instead to serve as compost for the next floral harvest. There is beauty in everything.
Soon Babylonstoren will also be making their own soaps, according to the time-honoured traditions of the specialist artisans in France and visitors can look forward to soap-making and other workshops.
On the second floor, above the Scented Room, is where you’ll find the Juicery. Here the farm’s delicious fruit and vegetable juices are created, tasted and bottled in small batches. The signature red (think prickly pear or strawberry!), yellow (carrot or plum perhaps) and original garden green (apple, fennel and kale) juices change according to the season and what is available on the farm and surrounding area. The fresh fruit and vegetable juices are cold pressed and then cold preserved by means of high pressure processing (HPP).
No heat is required, which means that the fresh taste and vitamins are preserved and the product has a shelf life in the fridge of three weeks or more. This technology reduces the microbial count and enables Babylonstoren to process tree-ripened fruit and freshly harvested vegetables into flavour-bursting, nutrient-packed juice right here on the farm.
Once the sealed, filled (recycled plastic) bottles are placed into the state-of-the-art high-pressure machine, a metal chamber is filled with water and the bottles of juice are pressurised to 6000 bar. This is a huge amount of pressure considering that the average car tyre has a pressure of only 2 bar. Imagine 12 elephants standing on a single strawberry. That is the kind of pressure that this high pressure machine, one of only three in South Africa, is placing on a single bottle.
Guests arriving at the viewing window looking down into the juice factory can see HPP in action, as well as the water bottling plant. Unique signage on the glass window explains what happens in the space below. Both the sparkling and still water is sourced from Babylonstoren’s own aquifer and bottled in completely recycled and reclaimed plastic.
Across the way from the Juicery is the Balsamic Vinegar Battery. Having focused on preserving the freshness of juices, visitors can now appreciate the ageing process and what it takes to make balsamic vinegar the traditional way. Only 5% of the world’s balsamic vinegar can be labelled DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta or protected designation of origin), which means that it has been aged from between 12 and 25 years, is marked by annual decants and is bottled in small, round 100 ml bottles. Traditionally, DOP is made by small family producers and used sparingly and only for very special occasions and family celebrations. Three years ago, Babylonstoren sent a winemaker to study the method and traditions of making DOP balsamic vinegar. They also purchased well-aged DOP to bring back to Babylonstoren. These are now being aged in wooden vats in the cellar where it will be decanted annually and filled with shiraz must. This is the Babylonstoren way – a perfect marriage of Italian and South African farming traditions. Using the best of all worlds, but still being proudly South African.
What the Factory does is offer visitors the chance to immerse themselves in Babylonstoren’s creative excellence and to witness the constant drive for perfection and beauty that underscores everything that happens on the farm.