By Sue Style
Sipping a glass of Riesling in the famous Steingarten vineyard at 9 o’clock on a chilly April morning is a great way to beat jetlag – and a fine introduction to what the Barossa has to offer. Of course the bulk of visitors to this stunning area are Australians, most of them weekenders from Adelaide which is only about an hour distant. But South Australia’s energetic tourist body (our hosts for a few days at the recent bi-annual Tasting Australia festival) are keen to promote the area with visitors from farther afield. It’s a bit of a stretch to do a weekend in the Barossa from Europe, but if you’re in Australia and anywhere within reach, the famous valley is a must.
Getting around this beautiful region is simple, but you do need a car – one solution is to hire one in Adelaide, plan your own trip and set off in a northerly direction from the city. Another is to enlist the services of Barossa Taste Sensations based in Angaston. Owner Jonathan Milne does custom-built tours featuring some lesser-known ‘boutique’ wineries. Best of all he provides a driver.
The Barossa – a term which embraces the neighbouring Eden Valley – does wine travel supremely well. Almost all wineries offer cellar door sales and there’s something for every taste, from the large, relatively anonymous places like Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre (though scorn JC at your peril – Steingarten is just one of their many fine vineyards) or Peter Lehmann Wines to the more intimate experience of wineries like the family-owned Hutton Vale or Rusden where an appointment to visit is preferred.
There’s a distinctly European feel to the area – not surprising, given its strongly German heritage which dates back to the early 1800s when the first German settlers arrived here, fleeing religious persecution in Silesia. A line-up of some celebrated Barossa wine names – Lehmann, Franz, Henschke, Tscharke – tells a story. And coming from Alsace, I felt quite at home on the food front, with the main streets of Barossa’s small towns lined with butcher’s shops majoring in Würst and cake shops selling mile-high Küchen.
We stayed in the large and otherwise undistinguished Novotel Barossa Valley, whose great merit is its position in the heart of the valley – Lyndoch is one way, Tanunda the other. Here you’re poised to visit Bethany, one of the oldest established wineries in the valley settled by the Schrapel family in 1852, or the iconic Seppeltsfield Winery, with a stay at the nearby award-winning Seppeltsfield Vineyard Cottage. Top of the range, accommodation-wise, is The Louise, created by Jim and Helen Carreker, a well-travelled, well-heeled American couple who fell in love with the Barossa, bought the place in 2005 and created a superb vineyard retreat (and member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World). There are just 15 suites, each with long views out across the adjoining vineyards, and total peace and privacy. In the in-house restaurant, Appellation, chef Mark McNamara does Mod Oz food while his sommelier son Matt finds the right match for each dish in the Wine Flight Tasting Menu.
When travelling in a wine area, it’s always worth checking out the best places to eat with the local winegrowers. My table neighbour at one of the many superb Tasting Australia events was David Franz (www.david-franz.com), one of the Young Guns of the Barossa, whose fine, aromatic Riesling (a mere 11.8%) and a funky, explosively fruity SCGM blend (Shiraz, Cabernet, Grenache, Mataro) gave huge pleasure. His recommendations included the much-lauded 1918 in Tanunda for Mod Oz/fusion, the 40s Café (great pizza) or the Vintners Bar & Grill (chargrilled meat and fish, local produce, great wine list), both in Angaston.
If you’re in the region on a Saturday, don’t miss the Barossa Farmer’s Market held on the outskirts of Angaston, a great place to stock up on picnic preserves, local cheeses, home-made chocolates and some drop-dead gorgeous cupcakes, like miniature wedding cakes, and almost too beautiful to eat.
Final thought for the day on Barossa wines: reds – principally Shiraz of course – are what spring to mind in connection with the famous valley and there are some thundering examples (though I confess that sparkling Shiraz is an Aussie taste I’ve yet to acquire). But don’t neglect the region’s whites. ‘’In the late 1960s with the red wine boom”, says Rick (‘don’t take me for Grant-ed’) Burge of Burge Family Winemakers, “we killed off our white wines. Now we’re getting our second wind with Rieslings, Chardonnays – hopefully even Semillon.”
For me, coming from Alsace, the nervy, minerally Eden Valley Rieslings (such as Steingarten or Poonawatta) were an especial pleasure and made me feel quite homesick.