Babylonstoren’s Sprankel: The Monarch of Cap Classique
27th April 2023
The monarch butterfly is part of the natural life of the Simonsberg-Paarl region of South Africa. So, it’s a good image for Sprankel, the Cap Classique wine from Babylonstoren.
Babylonstoren creates only one Cap Classique wine, one that represents the highest expression of this historic land.
I had the pleasure of sharing a conversation with Charl Coetzee, Cellar Master, and I shared a bottle of Sprankel with a few friends. Here’s what I learned.
The monarch butterfly perfectly embodies the brand. With time and the right conditions, and after a messy transformation, the regal monarch takes flight from its cocoon.
Sprankel takes flight from the transformation of still wine into wine of light and bubbles. The beautiful packaging brings the two together.
The Afrikaans word, sprankel, means ‘sparkling’ and, for Babylonstoren, it symbolizes celebration, transformation, and beauty. A bottle of Sprankel elevates any occasion.
Sprankel bloomed as an idea in 2010 when Charl arrived at the estate. The 12 varieties of wine grapes already planted included four plots of chardonnay and four rows of pinot noir near the entrance to the estate.
The decision to produce a sparkling wine was easy, but the advice he received from Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck wasn’t. A master of his craft, Pieter’s advice was to age the wine for four years before releasing it to the market. At the time, the required minimum time to age a wine before release was only 9 months. This was increased to 12 months as of 2023.
Like any winemaker, Charl wanted to show off the wine (and make money, of course) but he was committed to producing a high-quality wine, so he learned to be patient. His first Sprankel, the 2011, was released after four years of aging, in 2015 and was well-received.
Sprankel’s memorable launch coincided with the opening of the tasting room in 2015. When preparing the bottles, the staff discovered the labels were too big and the box was too small. That evening, each lucky attendee received a free ‘collectors’ bottle.
Like Champagne, Sprankel is made in the traditional style with the second fermentation in the bottle. Unlike Champagne, it is always a vintage wine. The long lees aging adds complexity and texture and low intervention winemaking results in an authentic wine of place.
There is less than 1.5 g/L residual sugar in this brut blanc de blanc style wine made from chardonnay. Sometimes, a small percentage of pinot noir is added for balance.
Charl won’t expand the label to include a rosé or blanc de noir style wine. Nor will he plant more chardonnay. He wants to keep a singular focus on perfecting this one wine.
Babylonstoren devotes the time and effort necessary to support quality at a level competitive with the global market. Sprankel isn’t marketed as a luxury product, but rather as an aspirational brand of humble origins. Exporting is essential to the business and top markets include the UK, the US, and Scandinavia.
Charl says: “It’s a good sparkling wine that can stand up to international standards. We’re trying to show that we can make brilliant wines here; wines that can stand up on an international forum.”
One fan from the US described Babylonstoren wines as Middle-earth wines, wines that bridge the Old World with the New World. Sprankel is the emissary of this unique space.
The Cap Classique category has grown from its creation in 1992 when France took exclusive control of the term ‘Champagne’. At the time, South Africa created its own proprietary classification, MCC, or Method Cap Classique. Recently, the term ‘Method’ was dropped. The labels for premium sparkling wine must now read ‘Cap Classique’. There are 85 members as of March 2023.
The South African Cap Classique Producers Association works to ensure high standards for this class of wine, honoring those wineries committed to making a premium sparkling wine. A sparkling wine not labeled Cap Classique is not the same. Sprankel, like other Cap Classique wines, benefits from longer aging.
My friends were enchanted with the wine, calling it refreshing, vibrant, and tasty. The fine bubbles and lemongrass color made it beautiful in the glass. They noted the creamy texture, and light to medium body.
The nose was soft, almost muted, with scents of yeast, apple cider, and citrus. In the glass, it tasted of lemon, green apple, pear, and fresh bread. It was a pleasure to drink, had zingy acidity, and was well-balanced.
It would be perfect as an apéritif, with hors d’oeuvres, light dishes, and seafood, and with any celebration.
After a long career as a corporate finance executive, she is now a wine writer and a life/retirement/transformation guide.