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This is probably one of Australia's best know wine growing areas and is about sixty kilometres northwest of Adelaide and about an hour's drive away. The region got its name from the famous founder of Adelaide city, Surveyor - General Colonel William Light. He named the area after a place where the English were victorious in battle in the Spanish Peninsular War but someone later misspelled this changing it to the Australian Barossa that we now know.
The Barossa Valley was originally settled by people of German origin around 1838 and a lot of the towns have German sounding names and it is the German influence that started the wine industry in this area. The town of Bethany was founded in 1842. English free settlers also moved into the area and it is the combined German agrarian roots and English country gentlemen that created the unusual Barossa culture which is quite different from other areas of Australia. The money from the English settlers started the commercial wine industry in the 1859 but it really began to take off in the 1880s so it has a very long history compared to other 'New World Wines'.
We stayed in the lovely Novetel in the Barossa Valley with views from our room overlooking the Jacob's Creek vineyard. The morning after we arrived we were up fairly early and watched the sun rise from our room. There were beautiful pink clouds that gradually lightened as the sun rose. After this we went for a walk nearby the golf course and saw four grey kangaroos but they hopped off before we could get too close. We also spotted crested doves and rainbow lorikeets. We came back for a coffee on our veranda and to sit in the sun before leaving at 10 o' clock for our wine tasting.
Our first stop was at Cockatoo Ridge vineyard where we were offered several wines to try but we choose the first two sparkling wines which were very nice. This vineyard is on the main road between the two main Barossa towns of Tanunda and Nuriootpa. It was formerly the site of the Hardy's Siegersdorf winery which was built in about 1930. This vineyard began making wines under this label in 1990 when the award winning wine maker Geoff Merrill decided to develop a range of easy to drink wines with this lovely label using the Australian sulphur crested cockatoo. He wanted a range of non-serious pleasant wines as he felt the wine industry took itself too seriously and he also realized that many non-expert people were enjoying drinking good quality but not expensive wines.
After this we drove to Angaston to a dried fruit shop where we bought some tasty dried apricots in yogurt/carob and rolled in coconut and a wonderful dried fruit cake. The Angas Park Fruit Company began operation as a humble dried fruit packing shed in 1911 and the shop we visited is on the very same site that the fruit packing shed stood. This was a very good place to buy really fresh dried fruit and the cake we bought was delicious, almost solid fruit and nuts.
The town is full of gourmet shops and other traditional crafts and it has a population of around 2000 and is considered to be more English than German in its settlement.
We then progressed to the Jacob's Creek vineyard where we had a very interesting talk about the vineyard and their wines and we were surprised by the fact that all their wines are bottles there and exported bottled. Outside we were shown the different vines which were all planted in display rows so that we could see all their different varieties. Then back inside we went for the all important tasting of several wines prior to our lunch.
We were booked into the Jacob's Creek restaurant for our lunch and we had a room just for our tour group. We were offered a glass of wine - choice of about 6 then they brought a huge plate of starters, olives, sundried tomatoes, feta, halloumi with bacon wrapped around it, stuffed mushrooms, pate, pumpkin dip, fried pita/wraps in small pieces , also mini filled arts. It was delicious and really tasty. My husband and I choose whiting fillets for our main course from the choice of lamb chicken or whiting. There were plenty of vegetables and also salad to go with it. It was a lovely meal in a very pleasant restaurant with a view of the vineyards.
This is a lovely part of Australia with rolling hills covered in vineyards as well as areas of native bush. The architecture is quite German with lovely stone Lutheran churches and small townships set in the Australian countryside. The area enjoys a very Mediterranean climate with sunny spring days, hot summers and cooler winter months but does not get the extremes that are experienced in other parts of Australia.
The area is proud of the fact that it is the only Australian destination to be listed in the New York Times list of "53 places to go in 2008". Also in 2008 it was named as one of the World's top ten wine destinations by TripAdvisor!
We thoroughly enjoyed our couple of days in the area and particularly enjoyed the Novotel with its views over the Jacob's Creek winery as a place to stay. We also appreciated the tour we had at the Jacob's Creek vine yard and compared to the rubbish visit we had of the Con Y Tora vineyard outside Santiago in Chile this was amazing. They were not only informative but also generous with the tastings and very friendly as well.
Thanks for reading and trust this has been of some interest to you. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
Adelaide, capital of South Australia, is a pleasant place, but, as so often with cities, some of the best places to visit locally are found outside the city itself.
To the east, Mount Lofty and the Cleland Wildlife Park offer good walking and spectacular views across Adelaide to the ocean beyond. To the south, long and almost deserted beaches stretch past the mouth of the Murray River towards Kangaroo Island. And to the north-east lies Australia's most important wine-growing area, centred on the Barossa Valley.
Under the guidance of our Australian friends, my wife and I saw - and enjoyed - all three during our short stay in Adelaide. Among them, though, I would without hesitation recommend the Barossa Valley as providing the best combination of cultural and scenic interest, as well as the tastiest refreshment along the way. With one proviso: if you don't like wine, you'll miss most of the point.
Personally, I like wine a lot, and was therefore delighted when our friends said that they needed to replenish their supplies (had we really drunk that much on the first night?) and suggested a tour of the Barossa wineries to stock up.
The Barossa Valley is about an hour's drive out of central Adelaide, plus or minus, depending on which route one takes. We took a circuitous route inland through hilly, wooded country which brought us out at the Barossa Reservoir, held in place by the Whispering Wall dam.
The dam is a local curiosity with the acoustic property, sometimes found in concave structures, of transmitting sounds. Standing close to the wall at one end you can hear clearly someone speak (or, in our case, sing "Waltzing Matilda") at conversational level 140m around the curve at the other. Coachloads of people travel up to the dam to converse with (or sing to) each other in this way. I suppose it is nearer to hand for Australians than the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, which has the same acoustic quirk. The reservoir is also a cool and shady picnic spot for a hot day, and has, I believe, an incidental function in storing water for the city.
From the reservoir we descended into the valley itself, and I began to understand the reason for the circuitous, cross-country approach. The Barossa Valley Way that connects the main villages of the valley, and along which many of the more famous vineyards are located, is a busy and not particularly scenic road. Wine-growing, when it comes down to it, is not a particularly scenic form of agriculture. The vines are subjected to almost military discipline: hard-pruned to uniform skeletal shape and marshalled into strict ranks for ease of picking. Many buildings seem to be required, ranging from human-scale storage sheds to vast structures festooned with stainless-steel vats and pipework that might as well be pumping out some petrochemical by-product.
The valley is a shallow one - not a deep cleft, but a mild indentation, little more than a thumbprint in the landscape. From a distance, from around the edges, the mosaic of dark woodland, parched pastures, grape-green vineyards and villages forms a tidy and pleasing pattern under the hot, hazy summer sun. Close to, the pattern is lost and the untidiness of large-scale wine-making and ribbon development along the road prevails.
Not that the visitor centres for the vineyards are untidy or unattractive places, rather the reverse. Jacob's Creek, the largest and biggest-selling brand among the sixty or so that are based in the Barossa Valley, has a spick-and-span new centre built amid vineyards beside the creek itself, but well away from the works where the product is processed.
Our visit here began rather inauspiciously. Having parked beside a historic mulberry tree in the grounds, before going in we availed ourselves of the doubtless historic mulberries that were literally dripping from its branches. They were as delicious as they were overripe, bursting with flavour and juice as we ate them, with the result that we all ended up red-handed. A quick wash-off seemed in order before we did anything else, so we made directly for the washrooms at the far end of the tasting room. Only on emerging did we see the trail of squashed mulberries that had been stuck to our shoes, betraying where we had walked across the polished white-wood and marble flooring.
This could have ended up in a "10 most embarrassing moments" review, but either no one else noticed or they politely pretended not to have done so. A practical and knowledgable young lady named Sally talked us through the tasting of half a dozen different varieties while we looked everywhere but at the floor. In particular, of course, we looked at the wine.
Jacob's Creek is best-known for its popular range of easy drinking mass market offerings - the vinous equivalent of Radio 2 - but there is in fact quite a bit more to the company's range than these. In ascending order they also produce premium wines under the "reserve", "limited release" and "heritage" labels. Understandably enough, not all of these were available for free tasting, but some were. From what I remember - and I have to confess that by the end of the day my memory was becoming a little blurred - they were rather good.
Professional wine-tasters don't swallow the wine. They have a ritual of twirling it around inside the glass to volatise the esters, sniffing the bouquet, taking a sip and swilling it around the mouth while they savour the flavour before spitting it out again. That way, the palate and head can be kept clear for further judgement.
Spittoons were on hand for those wanting to follow proper practice, but personally I don't go in for all that stuff. Neither my palate nor my self-discipline is up to it. I do take a sniff of the wine and then, unless it smells outright off, I take a good, hearty swig and see if I enjoy it or not. Usually I do, although it is true that my ability to distinguish one wine from another diminishes as time goes on. Fortunately, however, this is a review about the Barossa Valley as a place to visit, not about its wines.
It was interesting to observe how the visitor centres reflected the brand values of the vineyards in their architecture and ambience. The Jacob's Creek centre was big, bold and ultra-modern - lots of steel and glass - and clean, apart from our tell-tale footsteps across the floor. Our next visit, to Rockfords Wines down a side-road from the village of Tanunda, found us in a different world entirely.
Rockfords is a small, old-fashioned winery without (as I have just discovered) even a website of its own. You enter its forecourt - or is it a backyard? - surrounded by carts, barrels and other wine-making paraphernalia, but decorated with roses. Apparently many vineyards grow roses because their susceptibility to aphids and similar pests can give early warning to protect the vines. From the courtyard you pass through into a stone and wooden building like a small barn, with rafters overhead and dark shelves laden with bottles behind the lamp-lit bar.
Again, we are guided through the wine-list by a knowledgable and personable young lady, this one introducing herself as PJ. Apart from its interesting atmosphere, our friends have chosen this winery because it is one of their favourites and they definitely intend to buy. So we feel no embarrassment in tasting the range here comprehensively, especially since we have cleaned up our shoes before arrival. The reds - big Shirazes and Cabernet Sauvignons - are particularly good, but then these are what the region is noted for, although all sorts of other varieties, whites included, are grown in the Barossa Valley too.
Back on the busy main road in the village of Nuriootpa, we next visit Elderton Wines, another of the smaller producers, family-owned for over 100 years. Here, though, the interior is modern but informal, with pale green walls and wood-topped bar, and functional. Once again, full-bodied red wines predominate, especially the powerful though smooth Shiraz, but the enthusiastic Julia behind the bar also introduces us to a subtly sweet dessert wine, made from Semillon picked late after being concentrated by botrytis mould. Even my wife, who harbours an eccentric prejudice against Australian wines, likes this one. Still, on a car-borne expedition of this kind, it's as well to have someone along who doesn't want to do much tasting.
From Eldertons, it is not far to Penfolds for our final visit of the day. Penfolds is one of Australia's best-known wineries, and arguably, with its premium Grange range, the most prestigious. Externally, the visitor centre beside the main road is nothing to write home about, looking rather like any other factory building, but inside the décor of the tasting room has clearly been contrived with prestige in mind. The interior is elegantly themed for sophistication in red and black, the lighting low but not gloomy. Muted jazz plays softly in the background.
Yet another attractive young lady waits behind the bar. Perhaps we are already showing wear and tear from earlier tastings, since she seems slightly nervous. Not even my video camera catches her name clearly, but she has been thoroughly briefed and shows it as she runs through the different vintages, the grape varieties that have gone into them and the conditions under which they have been matured. They all go down extremely well.
By this time, the afternoon had unaccountably run on, and an attempted extra visit to the Barossa Settlers vineyard found it closed. In the event, although we have only been to four of the fifty or so wineries in the valley that offer free tastings and "cellar door" sales, I feel we have seen a good cross-section. We had enjoyed some fine wines, and bought some at below shop prices. And had a fun day out.
The Barossa Valley has been in the business of producing wine for some 170 years. Curiously, the original vineyards were planted by German settlers from eastern Prussia and Silesia, not regions usually associated with wine. But with truly Prussian practicality, they recognised that the climate and soil of their new homeland were ideally suited to viticulture and responded accordingly. Jacob's Creek, for example, was founded by one Johann Gramp in 1846, although it is now owned by the French-based multinational Pernod Ricard. So the world goes.
Many German family and place names survive in the area, although many were anglicised because of anti-German sentiment during the First World War. Lutheran churches and traditional cottages are found in the villages, although recent expansion has erased something of the individual character that apparently distinguished the region in the past. Certainly, many of the wineries themselves are essentially modern in appearance.
Presumably they need to be to cope with the volume of production for which the area now accounts - about a quarter of Australia's total output. This industrial-scale production is definitely detracting from the character and natural beauty of the valley, as are the facilities that tourism brings. There is controversy over planned fast food outlets and retail centres to be built on sites currently occupied by vineyards. Probably by visiting the Barossa Valley one helps to spoil it, as with everywhere else.
Nevertheless, if you are a wine-lover and find yourself in South Australia I would definitely recommend a visit. In addition to the vineyards themselves, there is a historical museum and a keg factory that I did not see but which are said to be interesting.
As an alternative to the do-it-yourself option we pursued, you could take one of numerous coach-trips available from Adelaide, many of which include full factory tours rather than just visitor centre tastings. There is even a "wine train", featuring vintage rolling stock and lunch on board, although I am told this is expensive.
If you wanted to see more than would be possible in a day-trip, or simply to sleep off a day's tasting, there are plenty of places to stay. A good base would be the town of Gawler that sits astride the main road entering the valley in much the same way as Sonoma sits at the approach to the Sonoma/Napa Valley wine-growing area of California, an area with which the Barossa has much in common.
When to go? Anytime would do, although most wine-growing areas are at their best in the early autumn when the grapes are gathered. In Australia, of course, this means March or the beginning of April, and at Easter in odd-numbered years the Barossa Valley holds a Vintage Festival, a week-long celebration with all kinds of entertainments and displays, as well as enjoyment of the region's staple product. So there's plenty of time to plan your trip for Easter 2007.
© First published under the name torr on Ciao UK, July 6th 2005
Please ignore apparent "No" recommendation below - the result of a technical glitch. A visit is definitely recommended.
Australia's most famous wine region. The region owes much of its appeal to the European peasant farmers and English free settlers who made the place home from the 1850s. You'll get a taste of their rich cultural legacy in superb Barossa specialty foods, dozens of festivals and events, historic architecture and inspiring arts and antique galleries. Take a winery tour in a limousine or vintage car, or float above the valley in a hot-air balloon. Wake up in the Barossa after spending the night in a restored settler's cottage, a resort suite, a luxurious country house or a shady caravan park. Sample German wursts and cakes in heritage bakeries and butcher stores as you follow the Barossa's Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail. And get right into the swing of things at one of the 100 events making up the biennial Barossa Vintage Festival.