It’s rustic, it’s original and it’s old…Esona Old Cellar with its underground fermentation tanks takes you back into the bygone years of wine making…
It is amazing to think that many years ago our ancestors used a very different technique to ferment wine and brandy. And it happened right here at Esona. In the early days of winemaking, before stainless steel and cooling they dug into the ground and built cement cisterns by using river stones found from the Breede River just 200 meters away from our Old Cellar. During those times they made use of donkey’s to carry these stones up the hill. The main reason for building Kuips was to provide darkness and constant temperature.
These Kuips would annually be rubbed with beeswax which would then be melted with a flame so each hole and crack would be filled to prevent the wine from coming into contact with the raw cement. Grape juices were then pumped through the holes in the cover lids and pumped out when the fermentation process was complete and ready to be bottled. Since then, these cisterns were virtually forgotten and now re-discovered and opened up for the public to experience and appreciate to the full. Today we can see stained marks on the walls left by red muscadel fermented here. Esona was one of the first farms in the area to harvest Muscadel grapes.
The building was built approximately 90 years ago and consisted of the underground ‘kuip’ (fermentation tanks), ground floor where the walls of these ‘kuip’ were largely demolished and the top floor which was used as a store. While renovating the original structure we have attempted to retain the walls and floors as we found them when we bought the farm in 2003. The addition – office, wine storage, toilets, kitchen, deli, veranda and deck – have been built with a view to not distract from the original construction which is why they appear rough.
It is interesting how each fermentation room holds its own unique character, in size and floor level as they were extended in different years. One room even has a different roofing structure which is believed to provide a air bubble where the necessary Co2 could be inoculated to assist in wine fermentation. These underground rooms have also become so much part of the earth that roots have over the decades grown through the walls. When we first opened these lids we
discovered there was still liquid in one of the rooms. Rowan dropped down a cup and after a taste with the hope of it being brandy, he found it was only water.
Water might have been used to fill these rooms when not in use to keep the walls moist and prevent the structure from crumbling away as in the case of the “high room”. Over the years we have improved on our fore-fathers methods to produce wine. The importance of correctly stored wine is not only to maintain, but to improve its quality, color, aroma, flavor, and complexity as they mature. But maybe our fore-fathers already knew this…