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.Read More
The smaller wineries tend to have more charm and intrinsic interest than the larger commercial operators and it’s here you’ll often get to talk personally to the winemaker or snare some wines not generally available in wine shops. Groups are welcomed by most wineries but are encouraged to book, although some places are too small to accommodate them. You’re under no obligation to buy wine, but coming away with a few of your favourites of the day and some fruity adjectives to describe them is part of the fun.
For a novice, wine tasting can be an intimidating experience. On entering the tasting area (or cellar door) you’ll be shown a list of wines that may be tasted, divided into whites through to reds, all printed in the order that the winemaker considers best on the palate. This is fine, but if you are visiting several wineries and are only interested in reds, by all means concentrate on the reds. Always look at the colour and clarity of the wine first, then give it a swirl and a sniff. Then take a deeper sniff with your nose inside the rim of the glass to try to appreciate the aroma or bouquets you can pick up. Then take a sip, rolling it around on your tongue before swallowing; there’s always a spittoon if you don’t want to swallow. A great way to learn more is to think about what you can pick up on your palate and then check it against the winemaker’s notes. Don’t be shy about discussing the wines with the person serving – that’s what they’re there for, and even wine snobs are down-to-earth Australians at heart.