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The Barossa Valley

At the end of March 1996, Fiona and I visited one of the world's great wine regions—the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Originally settled by German immigrants who tried to reproduce the Riesling wines of their homeland, the Barossa is now best known for its thick, dark, meaty red wines made from low yielding, dry-grown Grenache and Shiraz vines. Yum. As well as having some of Australia's top vineyards, many of the big names in Australian wine have wineries here and produce wine from grapes trucked in from all over Southeast Australia. Here you will find a report of our trip together with reviews of some of the wineries and their produce.

Background

The Barossa Valley is about an hour's drive from Adelaide. However, we got there rather indirectly by driving from Melbourne along the great ocean road (fine experience) and then up through Coonawarra and Padthaway. Despite being two of Australia's finest wine regions, neither of these offers much to the tourist mainly due to the fairly dull scenery on offer and lack of population. This is a view of one of the Penfolds Coonawarra vineyards.
coonawarra
In late March, when we visited, Autumn is beginning in the Southern hemisphere, and the harvest was well underway in the Barossa. By all accounts, 1996 should prove to be a bumper vintage here after a couple of difficult years.

The Krondorf Road

Along this road are located four superb wineries. In easy cycling distance of Tanunda (one of the three towns in the valley, the other two being Nuriootpa and Angaston), where we were staying, it was the obvious place to start our exploration. However, getting there turned out to be trickier than we had anticipated thanks to the combined effects of a puncture and our lack of saddle-fitness.

charles meltonCharles Melton was our first stop, and was one of the wineries at the top of our list of 'must sees'. The first thing that struck us was just how small it was—little more than a barn with some stainless steel tanks tucked on the end. Charles Melton produces only red wines, but these are exceptional. Sadly for us, the two most well known wines (Nine Popes and Shiraz) had sold out and were unavailable for tasting. Also, the tasting room was a little too warm. These minor niggles aside, it is a great experience to visit such an authentic and high quality winery. As we prepared to leave Fiona was almost overcome by heat exhaustion, an after-effect of the cycle ride; the assistant kindly hosed her down on the grass outside the winery. Below is Fiona after her dousing, fully recovered.

wet fiona

Rockford Just a minute or so further down the Krondorf road, Rockford is one of the most interesting wineries to visit in the Barossa. The winery is arranged around a rustic-looking courtyard, and when we arrived the famous basket press was in operation (left). Interestingly, we even got to sample some of the freshly pressed juice, bright purple coloured and dense. This winery produces a full range of quality wines from grapes grown in the Barossa and neighbouring Eden valleys, and all were available for tasting, including the famous Basket-Pressed Shiraz and the Bush Vine Grenache. Of the whites, the Semillon and Riesling are of note.

St HallettSt Hallett winery is larger and more commercial than its neighbours, but still produces some superb (and well-marketed) wines. The tasting room is modern and air-conditioned. As in almost all the wineries we visited, the staff were friendly and informed. We were allowed to wander round the back to where the freshly harvested grapes were being loaded onto the crusher. In the tasting room the full range was available, including the celebrity Old-Block Shiraz. Also impressive were the Semillon-Chardonnay, the Poacher's Blend, The Gamekeeper's Reserve and the Faith Shiraz. One general point worth noting is that the Australians have often to pay more for their premium wines (in this case the Old-Block) than we pay for the same wines in the UK, and cellar door customers are limited to just three bottles of this wine per visit. Is this a marketing gimmick to induce an air of scarcity?

Krondorf is the fourth winery, located right at the end of the Krondorf Road. A larger winery, it is not quite as interesting to visit as the previous three, but it does produce some fine wines, particularly its whites. The Show Reserve Chardonnay is the best-known of these.

Other Barossa Wineries

PenfoldsPenfolds has its main wine-making base on the main road just out of Nuriootpa. It is not pretty (left); although it is an industrial, factory-like installation, it produces some of Australia's finest wines. Until recently you could take a tour round parts of the winery, but this had just stopped by the time we visited. Visitors are able to taste from most of the excellent Penfolds range (excluding Bin 707 and Grange), although this has less appeal than tasting at some of the smaller Barossa-only wineries. However, it has to be said that for such a giant company, the wines are uniformly excellent. Visit the Penfolds web site.

Seppeltsfield is a similarly industrial winery. Seppelts is owned by Southcorp (who also own Penfolds, Lindemans, Wynns, etc.) and this site is mainly concerned with the production of fortified wines (Seppelt are also specialists at sparkling wines, but these are made at their other big site in Victoria). The tour round the site we took was a bit limp, but you get a chance to try all the Seppelt wines at the end. The Trafford tawny is well worth a try—good value too. The sparkling shiraz is incredible.

If you get a chance to visit the Barossa, don't miss the bistro at Saltram winery. The food is incredible, the prices fair and the wines, which you can try and then order by the glass, can be picked to perfectly complement your food. I enjoyed the Stonyfell Metala and the Cellar-Door Sauternes. One of the highlights of our trip.

Details of our trip

We visited in the last week of March, which is early Autumn in the Barossa an corresponds to harvest. This was quite a good time to visit as the weather isn't too hot and there aren't too many tourists, although some of the smaller wineries are very busy at this time. We had a hire car and stayed in an on-site caravan at the Tanunda caravan park, which was very reasonably priced (c. 20 per night) and centrally located. Cycle hire was from Zinfandels coffee shop on Tanunda high street, and there are quite a few wineries in easy cycling distance. If you aren't used to cycling (that's us) don't overestimate your range (we discovered that Seppeltsfield is a long [hilly] way from Tanunda) or you will end up very saddle sore (that's us again). If you have only a short time, I wouldn't bother visiting the larger wineries but stick to the smaller more authentically Barossan ones (e.g. Charles Melton, Rockfords, Saltram, Grant Burge, Bethany, Heritage, Peter Lehmann, St Hallett). And, yes, I'd love to go back again.