The Barossa Valley, when compared to the age of the European wine regions is rather young. However if you look deeper you realize there is a lot of “history” here. These are some of the oldest soils on the planet – the mountain ranges have been so well weathered they are now just gentle rolling hills. The Barossa is one of Australia’s earliest wine regions – having been founded not by the British but by German settlers in the early 1840’s.
The region also boasts some of the oldest commercially producing vines on the planet – with records showing select vines dating back to 1847. This is a region that reveres and fiercely protects its older vines – unlike a number of wine regions in the world that pull their vines based on lower production or health related reasons after 20-30 years. The region has not been hit with Phylloxera which is one of the reasons wine regions around the world have had to replant. In fact, thirty percent of the commercially producing vines here are over 80 years old. And the region has a classification system based on age ranges of the vines – ranging up to over 150 years old.
Old timers will remember that Barossa had no stand alone restaurants as recently as 1970. How that has changed! Today there are a number of fine dining establishments throughout the region. Specialization of products are key here – boutique culinary shops such as bakeries, smokehouses and artisan cheese producers are well worth visiting in addition to the wineries.
Today there are about 130 wineries (both open to the public “cellar door” and appointment only).
Not many people know Barossa Valley as well as John Baldwin owner of Daimler Tours. He was the first tour guide in the region to offer private tours. With 20 years experience offering private tours and an engaging personality along with his twirly mustache trademark – John can give you an insiders perspective of the wineries, the people in the industry and the culinary aspects of this wine region. His love for this valley and its wineries is clearly evident but after spending some time with him you will see his love for people is equally as strong.
He knows the owners of both larger and smaller producers – and is a wealth of information about the local history, geology and wine making practices. More succinctly put; he is a walking encyclopedia about the Barossa! He is also a bit of a car enthusiast and if the weather is not to hot, you will be driven around in a classic 1962 Daimler. He is the proud owner of three of merely six cars of this type in all of Australia. If the weather is to hot to run these particular vehicles as it sometimes is in the summer – you will enjoy a ride in a modern Mercedes Viano.
Oh, and like many wine guides around the world he is also very well traveled and has a very good International perspective on a variety of topics. Tours are highly personalized and customized to your particular interests.
Another highly recommended guide service is Life is a Cabernet tour company. This was started by entrepreneur Ralf Hadjic; he now operates a small fleet of vehicles often ferrying VIPs to and from appointments. He formerly lived in Texas (is Australian) who has lived in Adelaide for many years and is well connected in the local and International music industry having worked with many high profile musicians over the years. He and his drivers know the area well – especially from a winery perspective. They offer custom wine tours in all the immediate surrounding wine regions and can also arrange your transportation in and around Adelaide.
Wineries (all below are cellar door and are open to the public)
Henschke Cellars released their first vintage in 1868 from vines originally planted in 1862. Founder Johann Christian Henschke, like other farmers of that generation planted a diversity of crops, with wine grapes being just one component of his farm. A common story, even today in wine regions is making wine for friends and family. If it is well received then the producer decides to make it commercially. Such was the case with Johann’s original vintage.
Today Henschke is still family owned. Fifth generation proprietors Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue continue their family’s legacy – the sixth generation is also actively involved. This husband and wife team are truly involved in the hand crafting of their wines. Prue is the Viticulturist and is responsible for the overall management and care of their vines. Stephen is the primary winemaker.
They produce a wide range of hand crafted wines focusing on single vineyards, including one of the finest Shiraz’s we have ever tried – the Hill of Grace. The 2008 vintage has two rare characteristics when combined – balance and intensity. This wine has power of fruit with deep layered flavors – great acidity and a finish that lasts for some time. Some of the fruit from the Shiraz vines used in this wine date back to the original planting in the 1860’s.
Being stewards of the land for so many generations the Henske’s strongly realize the importance of balanced and eco friendly farming practices. Organic material is recycled into their soils as compost and native plants are nurtured in the vineyards. Their efforts in the vineyards have certainly paid off; in 2009 they were certified organic pre-certification status. Today they also practice bio dynamic farming.
Wine tasting is available by walk-in seven days a week and is in an intimate setting. A wide variety of their wines from both the Barossa and Eden Valleys are available for tasting. VIP tours are also offered for more in-depth education including an on site visit to the historic Hill of Grace vineyard. Visit: www.hesnschke.com.au
Jacob’s Creek has had a storied history in the tales of Australian wine industry. Founded in 1847 as Orlando Wines by Johann Gramp a German immigrant – this was the Barossa Valley’s first commercial winery. Johann was not necessarily a winemaker, but rather a farmer and planted a variety of crops in this area as was common in the early days of farming in the Barossa. Being influenced by his heritage, the first vines he planted were Riesling.
The winery is named after a small creek which flows on the property and takes its original name from William Jacob a land surveyor who was one of the original settlers in this valley.
While the label Jacob’s Creek is widely distributed to more than 75 countries around the world – the winery makes many other wines including a number of premium labels and more limited production wines that you can only purchase with a visit to the visitor’s center. Aside from a walk-in tasting more serious wine enthusiasts can schedule a structured private tasting or a sensory workshop in which the nuances of wine tasting are carefully explained.
A demonstration vineyard is a valuable asset to their onsite educational experience. Fifteen rows are planted within site of the main tasting bar; each row is a different varietal. The best time to see these rows all full of fruit is in early February. For those who have never seen the actual grape plants that produce the wines they drink – a stop in this small vineyard is time well spent. Visit: www.jacobscreek.com.au
Penfolds is synonymous with the Barossa Valley although their original roots were only about 15 minutes out of the Adelaide City Center near the Adelaide Hills. Their Barossa Cellar Door has been at its current location since 1911. The original winery was founded by Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold who migrated to Australia from England. His first wines (first vintage was 1844) were actually produced as a tonic for anemic patients.
In the 1950’s a noted young winemaker, Max Schubert introduced a red wine to the Penfold’s program – the Grange. Today it is one of their more sought after wines. A one-hour tasting of this iconic wine and other premium wines can be arranged on site.
One highlight of a visit here is the “blend your own bottle” program. You will dress in a white lab coat and have a quick introduction to the nuances of blending. GSM wines in the Barossa are popular – incorporating three Rhone Varietals – Grenache, Shiraz and Movedre (or as called here, Mataro). These three varietals comprise Penfold’s Bin 138 wine. Each component of the GSM wine will be in its own bottle – it is then up to you to make three trial blends, then deciding which one you enjoy the most. That will be the wine you take home in a bottle. Visit: www.penfolds.com
Visionary, Peter Lehmann founded Peter Lehmann Winery in 1980. Peter was born locally in the small town of Angaston and was fifth generation Barossan (he passed on on 2013). He spent time working at two historic area wineries before branching out on his own – he didn’t found Peter Lehmann until he was almost 50 (starting wineries at an older age is not an uncommon story in the wine industry). While no longer majority owned by the Lehmanns’ (The Hess Family currently owns the winery and brand) they continue to be one of Barossa’s most respected wineries.
The winery itself is located on the edge of the North Para River in Tanunda. The grounds and lawns are inviting – so to are the picnic tables; enjoy locally sourced food sold on site with some of their wines. The cellar door is in an old stone winery that dates back to the 1880’s. A huge variety of wines are available for tasting – let the staff know what types of wines you are interested in and they can tailor the tasting for your palate. Peter Lehmann was one of the early Barossa wineries to offer locally sourced products at their cellar door – their onsite cafe serves local produce. Private tastings can be arranged by prior appointment.
Along with their standard productions, special limited production wines are only available at the Cellar Door. Visit: www.peterlehmannwines.com.au and or view our conversation with Margaret Lehmann here
Seppeltsfield Wines was founded by Joseph Ernst Seppelt and traces it history in the Barossa Valley back to 1851. At that time Joseph purchased 160 acres for about $1.5 per acre! At one point in their history they were Australia’s largest wine producer. This was their “home” winery for many years but eventually Joseph’s heirs became so successful that the family purchased and operated a number of other wineries throughout Australia. The family sold their holdings in the mid 1980’s, ownership changed several times, but now Seppeltsfield is again privately owned. Wine in general takes a lot of patience to age – a port styled wine and a spirits producer must truly be patient … as in decades.
A visit is a rare opportunity to taste some of these older vintages – as well as see their historic barrel room. There is nothing modern about the aging cellar – it smells and looks old. Barrels are labeled with their vintages back to 1878 and other than the barrels showing dates for the first several vintages, each barrel is aging the original port styled wine. Guided tours can be arranged of both the historic home on site and the cellar.
Taste your birthday! With vintages for sale dating all the way back to 1878 they have a vintage available for the birth year of every single person on the planet. And yes they have heard the story where one makes up an older age just to try an older port! Every year they also release a 100 year old port styled wine; they are the only winery in the world to do so. These ancient wines are thick, viscous and rich – with intense dark flavors including chicory and coffee grinds. They make for a very unique and rare tasting experience. Visit: www.seppeltsfield.com.au
TorBreck has been producing wines since 1994. Initially, founder David Powell started with small amounts of grapes from old dry farmed vineyards – after locating these particular vineyards he would introduce modern viticulture practices. He named the winery after a forest in Scotland where he spent some time as a lumberjack. While no longer involved with Torbrek, the winery continues his original commitment to quality, a philosophy that farming with organic practices leads to better wines and continuing to source fruit from old vines. Their wines have continued to earn high praise from both wine writers and consumers alike.
An entertaining story involving prominent wine writer, Robert Parker and a Torbreck vintage deserves to be mentioned. Mr. Parker had awarded a 99 to one of their wines – during a visit to the Great Wall of China he held a special tasting and black tie dinner (on the wall) with some of the world’s most premium wines represented…and one Australian wine, Torbreck. He had given their 2003 99 points when he first tried it. After several years of bottle age, at this dinner he tried it again. He then announced he had made a mistake and it should be given 100 points!
In 2008 they opened their own winery and cellar door. Today, they continue to produce a wide variety of both white and red wines. Delicious Roussane, Viognier and Marsanne with their red standouts GSM blends (Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro) and several varietal Shiraz and or Shiraz blends. Visit: www.torbreck.com
Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family owned winery. The history here runs deep; founder and brewer from England Samuel Smith began Yalumba in 1849 with the purchase of 30 acres. Today, the sixth generation is running the winery. Yalumba is a tribute to both the indigenous people of this area and the land; in the local Aboriginal language it means “all the land around”.
The winery itself is visually impressive – landscaped gardens and a clock tower (dating from 1906) are highlights. Huge concrete tanks have been converted into private tasting rooms. What a unique concept!
How many wineries have their own cooper? Yalumba maintains an impressive cooperage on site (since around 1900) which produces a number of barrels for their select wines. They are the only winery in Australia with their own cooper and certainly one of a select group of wineries in the world with this luxury. They purchase staves from select countries including France, the USA and Hungary and then craft them into their own barrels setting the toast level to their exacting specifications. Having a cooper on site also allows them to create special size barrels – case in point are the 100 liter octaves for their premium Old Vine Barossa Shiraz. Yalumba makes a wide range of wines from whites to reds to some tasty dessert wines. Visit: www.yalumba.com
Yellend & Paps is a small Cellar Door located in the heart of the Barossa Valley near the tiny community of Nuriootpa. Michael & Susan Papps started this winery in 2005. The Barossa certainly has its share of very historical wineries – a number of which are well over one hundred years. Yellend & Paps is not one of these. They have lived in the Barossa for over 20 years but are not from wine making families and had no prior wine making experience before starting this winery.
Their focus is on hand crafted wines available at reasonable prices. Already the market has taken notice with a number of awards and top reviews. A visit here is like visiting family – Michael or Susan are usually around and are often the ones pouring their own wines. A nice range of wines are available from the whites including Roussane, Vermentino to some bigger reds including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
While their focus is on wine, they are also farmers. Seasonal produce is also available for sale in their homey tasting room. Visit: www.yellandandpapps.com
With restrictions on growth in the Barossa Valley and size of hotels – Novotel Barossa is the only large hotel property in the valley. It is very centrally located with easy access to many nearby wineries and overlooks the nearby Jacob’s Creek. The hotel is located on the side of a hill with great views stretching out as far as the eye can see of the vineyards and the valley. The rooms are good sized and each has a small outside patio for more intimate views. Harry’s Restaurant is on site and serves fresh seasonal produce. Visit: www.novotelbarossa.com
Apex Bakery has been operating in the Barossa since 1924. Today three brothers, Brian, and twins David and Jonny run the operations. Their father who turned 100 years of age in 2014 purchased the bakery in 1936. The focus here is on hand made doughs, breads and pasties using recipes of which some date back to the 1800’s.
Once prepared, these items are hand fed on trays into a huge Scotch Oven – one of Australia’s oldest wood fired ovens. Visit: www.apexbakery.com.au
Casacarboni Enoteca & Culinary School is located in downtown Angaston and is operated by the husband wife team of Fiona and Matteo Carboni. The focus of their enoteca is on fine northern Italian Cuisine prepared on site by Matteo. Ingredients are sourced locally – from the Angaston Farmers market and friends who are small producers of a variety of fruits and vegetables and other artisan products.
Premium tea, coffee and a variety of pastry products are also available. Fiona has a background in wine export/import and the wines served here are primarily from France and Italy. Interested in cooking? Casacarboni also offers a number of culinary classes. Visit: www.casacarboni.com.au
Ferment Asian – The focus here is on Vietnamese and other inspired Asian cuisine. Chef Tuoi Do is originally from Vietnam and her partner Grant Dickson opened this restaurant several years ago. With plenty of locally influenced cuisine in the Barossa Valley, it is refreshing to find a diversity of cuisine that this restaurant brings to the region. While the cuisine is decidedly Asian influenced, they are in the heart of a prominent agricultural region and source fresh ingredients from many local agricultural producers. Visit: www.fermentasian.com.au
Harry’s Novotel – this on site restaurant offers inviting views overlooking the Barossa from anywhere inside and weather permitting more intimate outside dining is also available. The focus here is on fresh cuisine. The wine list is good – as expected Barossa wineries are well represented.
Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop – Maggie Beer is well known domestically for her culinary prowess – she is a cook, author and television personality. This is her culinary epicenter which focuses on home style specialty products. Come and enjoy a light lunch, espresso local wine or beer and or samples of various products. A number of her signed books are also available for purchase. Visit: www.maggiebeer.com.au
Miranda Restaurant is located at the Lou Miranda Estate and is family run. The immediate family are involved in both the restaurant and winery operations. They are open for lunch only and dining is a casual and relaxed experience in an large open style setting. The cuisine is Italian focused (based on the family’s heritage) – fresh produce is in part sourced from their garden on the property.
Vintner’s. In every wine region around the world there are always restaurants where Vintner’s tend to hang out, and like the name indicates, there are usually vintners or other wine industry people dining here. With a relaxed wine country setting and delicious cuisine – this is also a favorite with visitors. A lunch here with good wine and conversation can easily turn into a several hour stay! Visit: www.vintners.com.au
Lyndoch Valley Meats has been operating in the Barossa for many years – the original butcher shop on site was founded in 1858. This business is so old school there is no website or online presence. Here it has always been about the meat – a butcher providing quality products to the local community and to visitors. A variety of smoked and cured meats are available.
The store is an epicurean encyclopedia of meats; we were fortunate to have a tour of the behind the scenes operations. Large animals hang, waiting to be processed, a huge smokehouse with a variety of flavorful wood chips in buckets sit nearby and a cold storage keeps some of their finest meats. Location: 38 Barossa Hwy in the small town of Lyndoch.
www.barossa.com – the number one resource for all things Barossa
www.barossadaimlertours.com.au – memorable tours with local wine expert John Baldwin and a classic Daimler car
www.lifeisacabernet.com.au – Winery tours with founder Ralf or his associates
www.barossataxis.com.au – good folks here, a number of the drivers have grown up in the Barossa
#ad I have been commissioned by and will be working with Tourism Australia for this program and resulting content.