The Barossa Valley is a magical place where wine obsessions are formed, nurtured and cherished. Mine was anyway.
I look back on this story fondly, as it was the destination for my first ever wine-centric holiday back in early 2012 and after countless tastings and unforgettable experiences, it will forever hold a special place in my heart.
I was an absolute nobody (still am) who did little more than reach out to a collection of wineries/winemakers (some big, some small) and express an interest in a little more than simply holding out a glass at the cellar door and guzzling free booze. I asked if it would be possible to hear the stories, meet the characters, understand the history and get a brief insight into plans for the future.
What followed was completely unexpected, totally blew my mind and is testament to the generosity of the people who make the Barossa such a beautiful place.
I learnt very quickly that the Barossa’s wine community is extraordinarily warm towards newcomers (and subsequently most other regions too). There is very little (if any) pomp or ceremony, just a friendly collective of glorified grape farmers battling away as the current custodians of their own piece of dirt, hoping to stay true to the history and traditions of the labels they represent. It’s welcoming and collaborative, a place to share ideas and to help a mate out. The landscape is absolutely beautiful too, but it’s the people who make the place in my humble opinion.
It would be hard to describe all of the wonderful gestures that were extended to me during my four days in South Australia. But the absolute highlights were being offered the Elderton private cottage to stay in which is normally reserved for travelling critics/journos, Todd Rowett (of Te Aro fame) and his lovely wife putting on a picnic on the porch of their family home. Having all the wine I’d purchased sent home in one bulk lot at the end of the trip by Vanessa Seppelt at Murray St Vineyards, cracking open cold beers at the end of a long day with tired winery staff at Kellermeister and being driven out into the vines to sample the wines from specific rows/blocks and seeing exactly where the fruit was grown and cared for with the boys from Chateau Tanunda.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the museum release, back vintage, award winning and hard to find wines that were opened specifically for me to try in their company.
It is the characters behind these experiences who shaped my love for the Barossa and the wine industry in general. I will remain forever grateful to them for taking time (in some instances many hours) out of their very busy days to show an interested punter around.
Not one of the wineries I visited put any pressure on me to buy their wines. At some I did and others I didn’t. I have, however, made purchases from every single one of them since I returned – both out of respect for the people and the generosity they extended to me, but also because the wines were so bloody good! And every time I open one the experiences come flooding back.
It is these memories which also cemented in my mind that no matter how much you decide to, or can afford to, spend on wine (the good, bad or indifferent stuff), it is the people you choose to share it with, the location or occasion, the laughs and good times and the memories that make wine special. It is after all a drink made from fruit. Nothing more, nothing less.
But there is, however, so much more to the Barossa than simply the wine. Any stretch of time spent in the valley must include a visit to the Farmers Market at Angaston on a Saturday morning to sample the world famous Bacon & Egg rolls, The Barossa Valley Cheese Co at Angaston, Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop in Nurioopta (Nuri to the locals) and one of the finest evening meals I’ve ever had at FermentAsian in Tanunda that was the equal of any of Melbourne’s ‘on trend’ restaurants.
I will never forget my first Barossa experience. Next time you are at a cellar door, anywhere in Australia, be sure to ask questions, take an interest in their wine and the story behind it. You might be surprised how willing the teams are to share their wisdom and you never know what you might find out…