The Barossa you never knew


First published in Barossa Wine Traveller

There’s a lot more to the world of the Barossa than it first seems. Turning off the highway, lines of ancient date palms stand as sentinels to guard the road to Seppeltsfield. The spires of fairytale churches stretch heavenward, competing with grand old gum trees on every side. Ancient bluestone cottages watch over lines of primordial vines, their twisted trunks bearing the laughter lines of a century and a half of life in the Barossa.

Century-old barrel halls dot the countryside, ripe with the heady perfume of vintage. The main street of Nuriootpa is filled with the exotic aromas of redgum burning in the smokehouse at Linke’s butcher. Around every corner, the delicate scent of rose gardens lingers; the Barossa truly lives up to its name, ‘Hill of Roses.’ As night falls, the fragrance of the day dissolves into the crystalline purity of breezes that bring in the twilight from the cool of the ranges.

A local passes by in a 1950s Bedford truck, returning home from a day in the vineyards. On another day he’ll polish it up, don his traditional German ‘lederhosen’ outfit and wave at the children from the vintage festival parade.

It’s a different world in the Barossa. At a glance, it would be easy to presuppose that these fairytale appearances are little more than a façade to lure the tourists to Australia’s most famous wine destination; an Aussie attempt to replicate kitsch German traditions in a half-hearted fashion. But there’s a lot more to the Barossa than it might seem.

This book is about folding back the layers and experiencing what really lies below the surface. It’s the Barossa you never knew.

As a child growing up in Adelaide, I (Tyson) first visited the Barossa when I was younger than I can remember, and I’ve returned in most years since. For me (Grant) it’s been my wine pilgrimage destination for more than a decade. We’ve always felt at home in the Barossa, but between the pages of this book, in digging below the surface, we have been astounded by the Barossa that has been unearthed.

There is an authenticity to the culture of this place that runs as deep as the roots of its archaic vines. It is a surprising truth that the Barossa’s grand festivals, its traditional produce and its quirky idiosyncrasies are upheld not for the tourists at all, but for the locals themselves. That visitors are welcome to join in is a bonus for the Barossa and a windfall for the rest of us.

Since its settlement in 1842, the Barossa has treasured its German and English heritage, while at the same time infusing its own unique Australian flavour. “It’s very unusual anywhere in Australia to find a community with such strong links to its European origins,” says Philip Laffer, Chief Winemaker at Jacob’s Creek. “This is because the Barossa was one of the poorest rural communities in Australia, most people just had a few vines and a cow, and this explains why so many people stayed here – they simply couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.”

And then there is the wine. That potent, deep purple glue that binds this community together. “There are very few communities that are driven around one thing,” says Wolf Blass Chief Winemaker, Chris Hatcher. “In the Barossa, wine is at the core of everything.”

More than any other Australian wine region, the Barossa is its own. There is no other precedent to which it aspires, and there is no Old World wine to which it pins its allegiances. In its own inimitable way, the Barossa marches to the beat of the drum of its own Oom-pah band.

It is a beat that sets the pace for the wine industry across the country. The winemaking landscape of the Barossa is rich with iconic names who have carved out the directions of some of Australia’s most influential companies. Many of its most celebrated boutique wineries have their home here, as do most of the big names. In the words of Penfolds’ Chief Winemaker, Peter Gago, “The Barossa is our engine room.”

If anything is new in the Barossa today it is a renewed recognition of the old. Winemakers have recently launched their ‘Barossa Old Vine Charter’ to recognise and protect the oldest Shiraz and Cabernet vines in Australia, and most likely the oldest Grenache and Mourvèdre, too. These rank among the oldest vines in the world. At the same time, there has been a resurgence in the food heritage of the Barossa. ‘Food Barossa’ was established in the mid-1990s “to first identify the food culture of the Barossa, and then to conserve it,” says founding chair, Margaret Lehmann.

Wrapped in these many layers of heritage is a unique Barossa that is today one of the most remarkable communities to visit anywhere in this country.

In its places, faces and never-before-told stories, this book will take you to the Barossa wherever in the world you happen to be enjoying its fruits. For the first time, the inside stories of each of its 150 wineries are told, leading you through a behind-the-scenes tour of the Barossa like you’ve never known it. Along the way you’ll discover all the favourite haunts of the Barossa and Eden Valleys, according to those who know
them best, the wine folk who call the Barossa home.

If you had all the time in the world to plan the ultimate trip anywhere, you might look up a few locals and find out about the most authentic places to visit, to stay, to eat and to drink. You’d get the local tips on the best shops, the best golf courses, the best walks, the best coffee, the best places to take your kids and, of course, the best wines. In these pages, we’ve done all the hard work for you and put together the inside secrets, not just from a few people ‘in the know,’ but from every winery worth visiting and every wine personality worth talking to across the length and breadth of the Barossa.

You’ll find a lot of fun around every corner and plenty of good old yarns to make you smile.

We wish you an exciting journey. We guarantee you will discover a Barossa you never knew.

Barossa highlights