Wine Travels in Australia -- The Barossa Valley --- More than Shiraz
Wine Travels in Australia -- The Barossa Valley, South Australia -- To visit the Barossa is to taste the good life in all its forms. This, according to the Barossa Tourism office. And theyre right!
When a wine thinker hears the word Barossa, taste memories travel at the speed of light to beefy, robust, peppery Shiraz. In the 1840s, South Australia opened up to settlement. And the Barossa was born. Originally named Barrosa, after the site of an English victory in the Spanish Peninsula War, a slight error in penmanship at the land registry office gave us the Barossa. The story is quaint and appropriate, because the Barossa it is unique among wine production, and deserves a unique name.
But the Barossa is famous for more than that grand Shiraz. Barossa is also great Riesling (from the Eden Valley), and when that Riesling is allowed to be matured with noble rot, the resulting Botrytis Riesling is liquid gold. Semillon and Chardonnay are well suited to the Barossa, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cabernet are well established, and the Barossa is engaging in production of Viognier, following the example of neighbouring Clare Valley, who have been blending a small share of Viognier with Shiraz in recent years to produce a new cult phenomenon for wine-drinkers.
This is not a young industry by any sense of the word. Wine from the Barossa has been exported to England by the 1890s, and many winemakers have vines that are 80, 90 even 100 years old far older than many European vines. As we were driving down smaller unpaved farm roads between vineyards, we came upon a privately held vineyard, and the owner was inspecting his vines. These were at least 80 years old Shiraz (and the owner was not much younger than that!). What a find. There is nothing like seeing such an ancient, well cared for vineyard. Its like the first time you see a 200 or 300 year old olive tree. The gentleman had a half acre of these very stately vines, and it was hard to imagine the quality of shiraz that would come from such a magnificent vineyard. A humble, country gentleman, he did not even seem to appreciate what a great treasure this was for us, but was flattered nonetheless.
Where is Barossa? Less than an hours drive north of Adelaide, the neighbourhood south of the Clare Valley. Between Clare, Barossa and the Eden Valley, a four or five day holiday in the region would be a great compliment to a trip to Adelaide.
If you want to explore the Barossa, you need a car with a designated driver! Why? Because, frankly, the cellars are so generous with the tastings, that after the third winery, you should not be driving at all. So, make a deal with the second or third driver, and somebody stick with water! Or you can take a slower pace, with a cycle, or truly appreciate the countryside, walking the many trails. Sounds like wandering through the wine valleys of France, Germany or Italy, doesnt it? Festivals throughout Aussie Summer (Dec to Mar) and harvest festivals (in March and April) celebrate the vine. As they should. Australias largest and longest running wine festival (The Barossa Vintage Festival) takes place in early April. Concerts and theatre in vineyards happen throughout the year, in February and October, there is the Barossa Under the Stars Concert, Carols by Candlelight at Grant Burge wineries, festivals linked to Horseracing and various racing Cups throughout the Valley (and throughout Australia, by the way).
So, the winemakers in the Barossa? There are many, and yes, I will likely overlook one that is on someones list of favourites. But my own experiences are what I write on, and this is the list of the cellars that we visited in our journeys to Barossa
Penfolds (a well appointed and generous cellar door -- just about everything but the Grange was freely on offer, and if you have time and book in advance, for 50 dollars or so you can try your hand at blending Penfolds, and take away the bottle that you create with their single varietals), Two Hands Wines, a new style winery, great hosts, fantastic atmosphere. Excellent wines that would age well. Grant Burges Winery. No trip to Barossa would be complete without a visit to this fine winemakers cellar. Great fortified ports, exceptional reds. Still a private production facility. The grounds were being used for a wedding when we visited, and what a wonderful place for the ceremony. Peter Lehmann Wines. Jacobs Creek (ultra modern, lots of busses, but still a great cellar visit), Seppelt Wines (famous in Barossa for a Sherry style. Lovely grounds, picnic areas, old family of Barossa). Wolf Blass wines. Again, an ultra modern facility, lots on offer, an information centre. A nice visit, but not small. They cater to the masses. Yalumba Wine Company. This one, and Grant Burge and Penfolds were my own favourites. History, charm and quality of the cellar door experience made these the three on the top of the list. And Yalumba, family owned, operated and managed, is full of Barossa history --- Viognier has been grown there for many years, and although I am ready to be corrected, it is Yalumba who made that Shiraz/Viognier combination work with such success. Lots of the wineries also have restaurants, Saltram, in particular, is highly recommended. So you have that option as well. But, if you want local produce from the best in the region..
if you dont visit Maggie Beers Farm Shop, youve made a mistake. Maggie is a legend in Australia, a practical and highly regarded self described cook. What an understatement. She is an industry unto herself, has a wonderful food show on Aussie TV, easy going, and remains rooted in the Barossa. She is the greatest food ambassador for the Barossa, if not all of South Australia and beyond. The day we were there was a Saturday, and Maggie was sitting at one of the tables, quietly doing some paperwork. If you didnt know it was her, you would think that it was one of the administrators. When the place got busy, and in the later lunch hours it was very very busy, she was clearing tables, and answering questions, and signing autographs, chatting with her clients, and making everyone feel like guests in her home. I could not imagine that being the case with the great food gurus from other parts of the world that I have visited. Visit Maggies Farm Shop. If you are lucky, shell be there. And Maggies makes wine as well, under the name Pheasant Farm. (The only winemaker that we visited that offered a tasting of non alcoholic bubbles -- which was welcome for our designated driver who had had just about enough water that day!) Visit [url="http://www.maggiebeer.com.au/"]www.maggiebeer.com.au[/email]
So with some great places to stay, festivals throughout the year, wine, food, art, horseracing with winery tents at the races, concerts in vineyards and great walking or cycling trails, its a perfect holiday. Best source of travel advice? [url="http://www.barossa.com/"]www.barossa.com[/email] or email the information centre directly at [email protected] . They have free comprehensive travel brochures / books, with all the details and websites and contact numbers that you need to enjoy yourself in the Barossa. Theyll send them along to you if ask.