Aussie wine has become a ubiquitous part of many people’s dining experience and none more so than that produced in South Australia’s gorgeous Barossa Valley.
Only an hour from Adelaide, with a warm and dry climate, and heavy red-brown soils, the Barossa has been a happy home to lush fields of green and gold vines for 150 years.
Hundreds of families from the central European province of Silesia, fleeing persecution by the conquering Prussian and subsequently German empires, were offered sanctuary here in the 1840s.
The towns of Lyncoch and Tanunda have colonial architecture, German-style bakeries and trendy cafes. But it’s the wine and winemaking I’ve really come to see. Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, and that new boy in wine fashion – Shiraz.
One of the big showpieces of the Barossa Valley, and one that most reflects the pioneer days is Seppeltsfield. It is steeped in colonial-era tradition and has had a significant influence on Australia’s wine industry.
In the Seppeltsfield Village you can take a heritage tour, watch the traditional trade of barrel making, or just enjoy the acres of gardens and parkland. If it’s to your taste, their collection of rare fortified wines is second to none, reflecting the early focus of winemakers in the Barossa.
Then there are date palms, over 2,000 of them. During the Great Depression the Seppeltsfield family were determined not to lay off their workers as others were so they employed them to plant the date palms that now line the roads for miles around.
The green palms with their bright cascades of orange flowers, and the lovely old buildings are stunning but sadly the tasting room is a crowded souvenir shop.
It’s a whole different kettle of fish a few minutes away at Murray Street Vineyards. Here a scion of the Seppeltsfield family – Andrew – has set up his own winemaking operation, drawing on generations of family history but creating a true wine lovers environment.
I’m personally greeted and ushered to a table on the verandah beneath the scarlet Glory vine. A stoneware urn is filled with earthy tasting water, large bell-like glasses are brought out and a conversation about wine begins.
I could stay here all afternoon, sipping the generous portions of full-flavoured, highly distinctive Single Estate Shiraz wines from the Greenock and Gomersal vineyards.
A new taste for me is the artisan blend of Shiraz, Grenoche and Mourvedre (called Mataro in Australia). Nearby I can see the gnarled old trunks of vines that have been growing for over 100 years, and also new varieties such as Viognier and Marsanne.
By contrast, Chateau Yaldara is another Barossa set piece. You’d never guess the grand buildings were converted from an old flour mill. The original buildings date from 1867 but new immigrant Hermann Thumm transformed it in 1946 and named it for the local aboriginal word for “sparkling”.
McGuigan Wines took over after Hermann’s retirement and the recently developed Café Y now has a well-deserved reputation for food. I loved the tart, citrus taste of the Riesling, enjoyed a very creamy Chardonnay and a velvety Handmade Shiraz.
If you’ve managed to resist both the delights of Café Y and the bakeries of Lyndoch and Tanunda, you can’t go wrong with a tasting platter of local cheeses, chutneys and Mettwursts.
If that appeals head straight for a late lunch at the Peter Lehman vineyard, as the shadows of the tall red gums lengthen on the lawn beside the North Para River.
Just up the road, another established family vineyard Veritas is attracting attention with the enthusiasm and expertise of brother-sister team Rolf Binder and Christa Deans. Friendly and personal conversation in the tasting room only serves to enhance a selection of quality wines.
One final essential stop in the Barossa Valley has nothing to do with wine at all. What is affectionately known as the Whispering Wall was built in 1902 and it is a dam. But not just a dam; one with surprising acoustic qualities (and gorgeous views over the reservoir).
The curved, slender shape and quiet location of the dam encourages soundwaves to travel the 140 metres from end to end, reflecting obliquely so that the merest whisper can be clearly heard. I am whispering “Single Estate Shiraz”!
By Natasha von Geldern
Read more about Australian wine regions in the state of Victoria here.