The Barossa Valley, only an hour’s drive from Adelaide, produces internationally acclaimed wines and is the largest premium wine producer in Australia. Small stone Lutheran churches dot the valley, which was settled in the 1840s by German Lutherans fleeing from religious persecution: by 1847 over 2500 German immigrants had arrived and after the 1848 revolution more poured in. German continued to be spoken in the area until World War I, when the language was frowned upon and German place names were changed by an act of parliament. The towns, however – most notably Tanunda – still remain German in character, and the valley is well worth visiting for the vineyards, wineries, bakeries and butcher’s shops, where old German recipes have been handed down through generations. With around eight hundred thousand visitors each year, the valley can seem thoroughly touristy and traffic-laden if you whizz through it quickly, but the peaceful back roads are more interesting, with a number of small, family-owned wineries to explore.
The first vines were planted in 1847 at the Orlando vineyards, an estate that is still a big producer. There are now over sixty wineries with cellar doors, from multinationals to tiny specialists. Because of the variety of soil and climate, the Barossa seems able to produce a wide range of wine types of consistently high quality; the white Rieslings are among the best. The region has a typically Mediterranean climate, with dry summers and mild winters; the best time to visit is autumn (March–May), when the vines turn russet and golden and the harvest has begun in earnest. Much of the grape-picking is still done by hand and work is available from February. This is also the time of the week-long Vintage Festival (the oldest wine festival in Australia), held in odd-numbered years starting on Easter Saturday.