Australia’s best-known wine region
60 km north east of Adelaide. The Barossa Valley is the best-known wine-growing district in Australia, with well over two dozen wineries. They produce wines ranging from humble but very drinkable plonk to Penfold’s Grange Hermitage, which can claim to be one of Australia’s finest. These days, Barossa has to compete with world-class wines produced in McLaren Vale, also in South Australia, and in the Margaret River area, Western Australia.
The region was originally settled by farmers who had fled religious persecution in Prussia (Germany) and Silesia (Poland). These people gave the region its distinctive Lutheran churches and many other German touches which have since been cultivated to enhance the tourist trade. Though curiously, neither Prussia nor Silesia are renowned for their wine.
This entire area was originally known as Neuschlesien (New Silesia), but trying to pronounce this and drink wine evidently proved too much for locals and visitors alike.
You can tour the wineries by car (they’re mostly within a 25-km radius): there are useful suggestions for guided and self-guided winery tours on the Barossa Valley official website, www.barossa.com. There also has a link to the Barossa Visitor Information Centre. Or you can stay overnight in one of the wine villages, or you can hire a moped – try www.barossabikehire.com.
In general, the best wineries to visit are the smaller ones. These have a friendlier atmosphere, which enable you to air your vast vinicultural wisdom with the minimum of public embarrassment. Every winery has its tasting cellar, and there are usually at least half a dozen wines for you to sample. Spittoons are provided for the professionals, who like to demonstrate that they know what they’re doing by spitting out what they’ve tasted. The rest of us, who are also well aware of what we are doing, prefer to complete the process as it was meant to be completed, and then move on to the next one. Always try the white ones first, as they tend to mask your palate less. It’s worth going through all the rigmarole of rolling the wine on your tongue and gurgling (before gulping it down) if you want to savour the flavours and taste the differences. And in case you forget, the prime purpose of these tastings is to get you to buy a few bottles of the product. Don’t be bashful, you won’t be disappointed.
Of the towns in the Barossa Valley, Tanunda is the most German, with its oompa-pa music and original German cottages. Lyndoch has the interesting South Australian Museum of Mechanical Music (www.radiomuseum.org). Nearby is the Barossa Reservoir, with its famous whispering wall; what’s said 150 m away reaches your ears as a so-called ‘ghostly whisper’. Lyndoch is also the home of the Chateau Yaldara Estate, on Gomersal Road. Its old mill has been turned into a neo-rococo chateau but the wine made here is the real thing.
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