Saturday, July 27, 2013

5 Unforgettable Experiences in the Barossa

“Are you okay, love? You’re going a little white there,” John asked, concerned.

His eyes never left the undulating road winding up into the Barossa Hills. Outside, the pale yellow leaves were slipping from the trees.

“Do you need me to pull over?”

“No, I’m fine. Really,” I insisted, stubborn but polite. Professional even. I rolled down my window a crack and let the crisp autumn air wash over me, providing momentary relief.

But it wasn’t until we stepped in Lyndoch butcher shop that I realized the true error of my ways. As I was led behind the counter (“Lutherns use everything but the oink—they’re very frugal people,” John explained, holding up various cuts of meat for my inspection), across a freshly washed floor (presumably from where the morning’s offal had been washed away) and into the back area (where the smoker showed me the lemon-scented and blue gum tree chips he uses in the smokehouse), the nausea came back with renewed ferocity.

It was going to be a long day.

In the Barossa, South Australia’s top food and wine destination, I learned my lesson early on—do not, under any circumstances, spend the night before a wine tour drinking whisky until the wee hours of the morning at Adelaide’s Exeter Hotel with two young filmmakers from Sydney and a man who spent a portion of his varied career inside the Fat Cat (think Polkaroo, but Australian) suit. It’s just a bad idea.

Instead, here’s five ways to truly enjoy what the Barossa has to offer:

1. Do what interests you—even if that doesn’t include wine.

Earlier that morning, John Baldwin of Barossa Daimler Wine Tours had picked me up from the Rendezvous Hotel in Adelaide. John’s tours aren’t just limited to wine—he creates itineraries based on client preferences, whether than means exploring the Barossa’s architecture and its cemeteries, or tasting wines.

“Nobody likes being pushed like a machine—I go where the eyes are smiling,” John explained to me over coffee at The Lord Lyndoch, a restaurant run by a local family. “I don’t want to just have bums in seats.”

It’s easy to see why his tours are successful; John has an easy, comfortable manner. And despite the speed at which he speaks—which, at times, is seemingly nonstop with only brief breaks allocated to adjust his moustache—he’s always listening and watching.

“What type of wine do you like?” he asked me.

“I’m not much of a white drinker, but I’m willing to try anything. Typically, I like Old World and full-bodied reds.”

“Well, we’ll see,” he said, thoughtfully twisting his moustache and watching me devour thick slices of buttered raisin bread, the ultimate hangover cure. “But you’re in luck—we’re in what they call ‘Red Heaven.’”

The Barossa, home to roughly 130 wineries, is perhaps best known for their shirazes, with heavy hitters Jacob’s Creek, Penfield and Wolfblass producing some of the most commercially successful wines in the region. It’s hardly a new business though—commercial wineries have existed in the region since 1847. (“Really, we’re in the Old World,” John pointed out.)

Today, the area’s 72 cellar door wineries see roughly 200,000 tourists a year. At Turkey Flat, the first winery we visited, I was faced with my second hangover challenge of the day. Unlike Niagara, where tastings are usually limited to two ounces of maybe four wines, tastings in the Barossa are not only often free—you’ll also find yourself trying up to 10 wines per vineyard, which are poured with a heavy hand. By noon, I had already tasted eight different kinds of wine.

As I finished up at Turkey Flat, purchasing a bottle of Pedro Ximénez, I found John outside making phone calls and arrangements for the rest of my tour.

“You’re right—your eyes were smiling when you drank full-bodied reds,” he explained. “So I’ve called ahead to some other vineyards for us. Does that sound good to you?”

2. Meet the winemakers.

Over the next two days, John toured me around the Barossa, taking me to six different vineyards that illustrated both the new and established labels in the area.

At Tscharke, I met with Damien Tscharke, whose family settled in Barossa in 1947. Although he’s a sixth-generation grape grower, he’s a first-generation winemaker. With a focus on creating wines that work in harmony with the environment, it’s a family affair. His wife Eva’s pottery is displayed upstairs and in order to access the wine cellar, you have to climb over his daughter’s kiddie gate.

“We really want to create memories for people,” Damien told me as he showed me their beautiful wine tasting room. “They may not remember the label—but we want them to remember the experience.” 

Young and engaging, Damien exemplified exactly the best of what the region had to offer—he was just as passionate about the land and the region as he was about his business.

3. Sample port from your birth year. 

Although I’m new to fortified wines, I knew immediately what a unique experience it was when Mal from Seppeltsfield led me up into their own “wine museum.”

As the only winery in the world that releases a 100-year-old wine every year, Seppeltsfield has 136 vintages of port in casks—one for every year since 1878.

But before I sampled the 1913, Mal invited me to choose a sample from any other cask in the room. 

“Most people try their birth year,” he suggested. And let me tell you—the 1984 was a very good year, a very good year indeed.

4. Eat until you’re uncomfortably full—and then eat some more.

The state of South Australia is known for being progressive—they were one of the first places in the world to allow women to vote, to legalize abortion and to outlaw racial discrimination. It’s not surprising then, that this mentality also applies to food, with gluten-free bread and grass-fed beef readily available. John told me that their relative physical isolation enables them to “do things differently,” and allows them to focus on producing local, fresh and delicious food.

“We’re not a monoculture of wine,” John told me early on. I quickly learned that this was an understatement, at best.

Here are all the things I ate on day one of my tour:

• Breakfast at the Rendezvous Adelaide. (I likely ate a pastry or 10, along with some fruit and eggs).

• A second breakfast of raisin bread and a latte at the Lord Lyndoch.

• Pistachio, silver beetroot and cranberry tart served with tomato relish; pizza fingers with tomato, basil and bocconcini; and homemade gnocchi with gorgonzola and walnut cream at Lou Miranda Estate.

• A raspberry brownie from Maggie Beer's Farm Shop. (Maggie Beer is the Australian equivalent of Martha Stewart, kind of).

• A five-course meal in the wine cellar at Kingsford Homestead (where I stayed the night) consisting of: mushroom, spinach and feta tartlet; pumpkin and ginger soup; composeé of heirloom beetroots with French goat’s curd and strawberry cured onions; zucchini flowers with scorched shallot and roast pepper salad, lemon and caper vinaigrette and fine herbs; baby vegetable medley; will stud selected Brillat Savarin with sour cherries, walnut and thyme toast and fine herbs; and brioche bread and butter pudding with local dried pears and peach, apricot coulis and vanilla bean ice-cream. (If you read that entire menu, I am impressed—but you should be even more impressed that I finished every last morsel on every last plate.)

And that was only day one. (Day two included visiting the Barossa Valley Cheese Company, eating lunch at Vintners, and touring the Apex Bakery, where the third-generation bakers use the same recipes they’ve been using at the community institution since 1924.)

Being a journalist is hard work, but I think I’m up for the job.

5. Take a bath in the bush.

On day two of the tour, John picked me up in one of his “old girls”—a 1962 Daimler limousine. It wasn’t just the same make and model that had carried the Princess Margaret through Australia in 1964—it was the very same car. 

Our first stop was Yalumba, where we were greeted by Steve Lindner, the wine room manager.

“Did you enjoy your bath this morning?” Steve asked me, a twinkle in his eye. The power of social media (Instagram, in this particular case), had revealed my morning activities before we had even met.

Earlier that morning, after a breakfast that I could barely even begin to tackle because I was still full from the day before, Steve Underwood, my host at Kingsford Homestead, drove me out past the house. With the resident collie Eddie at my side, we went over the hill, through a series of gates and off into the bush.

Then, armed with a basket of towels, bubble bath and robes, Steve dropped me off at the inn’s secluded “bush bath.”

“Condé Naste said that the bath is what turned Kingsford Homestead from 'likeable to lovable,'” their marketing manager Miranda Dixon told me proudly at dinner the night before.

Giggling, I slipped off my dress and gingerly slid beneath the water’s surface in the cool morning air.

As I watched parrots swoop over the creek bed running alongside the bath, I couldn’t help but think about how romantic an early morning outdoor bath was—even if, as was my case, it was romance for one.


  1. Amazing the starting phrase of the post is very good and through your entire journey you taste's many type's wine and hope you have enjoyed it a lot.


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