Australia’s food bowl: The Barossa
The Barossa is a place of extraordinary natural beauty – its manicured vineyards fringed by rolling wheat fields, tall gum trees and an impressive line of ancient hills.
When British television personality Sir Tony Robinson visited the weekly Barossa Farmers’ Market in Angaston he spotted a familiar face – Tetsuya Wakuda, Australia’s most celebrated Japanese chef.
The two naturally got chatting about, what else, the local fruit and veg, but also the region’s tangible sense of community.
“We were both blown away by the quality of the produce and the commitment and drive of the people here,” recalls Robinson, who played Baldrick in the 1980s UK comedy Blackadder.
“For example, Tets wanted to buy all the lettuces off one particular stallholder and the guy said ‘No, I can’t do that. These lettuces are for other people in the Barossa to enjoy’.”
This theme of regional identity loomed large in the Barossa episode of Tony Robinson’s Time Walks, which the effervescent presenter argues has much to do with the Barossa’s first European settlers and their passion for self-sufficiency, and thrift.
“Even people who no longer attend church on Sunday still adhere to the whole Lutheran morality – a particular attitude towards land, animals and produce,” he explains.
“France is the only country which shares this attitude to land – a combination of sophistication and almost childlike absorption.”
Before the large-scale planting of vineyards, the Barossa and surrounding farmland was the food bowl of South Australia, exporting large quantities of apples and pears and high quality grain to the eastern states and Great Britain.
While wine-production remains at the core of life in the Barossa, the region is quickly reclaiming its long-established food heritage.
Alongside some of the country’s most impressive cellar doors, think Jacob’s Creek, Seppeltsfield, Yalumba and Wolf Blass, the Barossa also offers traditional German smokehouses, artisan cheese makers, herb gardens, organic grain mills and a number of small-scale farming operations, such as Maggie Beer’s pheasant farm in Nuriootpa, free range SchuAm pork and grass fed Hutton Vale lamb.
A special self-guided touring route, the Butcher, Baker and Winemaker Trail, showcases many of these signature Barossa gourmet experiences, but the visitor will discover many other incredible food ventures along the way.
You just need to slow down, chat to the locals and learn to savour everything that makes the Barossa so special.
For Maggie Beer it is not just the great produce, excellent wines, Mediterranean climate, ancient ranges or wide open skies that make the Barossa so special, but its strong, resourceful personalities.
“The first settlers from Silesia and England brought their traditions with them and melded with the climate,” says the cook and entrepreneur who first moved to the region in 1979.
“It was the true peasant culture, in all the strength that brings – that tradition is about making the most of the produce to hand, wasting nothing, following the seasons and respecting every plant or animal.”
This combination of passion and resilience is evident wherever you travel in the Barossa today, whether visiting one of the Valley’s famous wine chateaus or dropping into one of its newer food enterprises, such as the Casa Carboni Italian Cooking School and Enoteca in Angaston, the Four Leaf organic flour mill in Tarlee or the celebrated Hentley Farm dining room in Seppeltsfield Road.
Indeed, behind every taste sensation in the Barossa usually lies an interesting tale.
Take Linke’s Meat Store in Nuriootpa. Established in 1928, the family still uses the original recipes for ham, bacon, mettwurst and lachschinken brought to Australia by their Silesian ancestors, using a traditional smokehouse behind the shop.
Like many other small producers they have weathered difficult economic times and changing food fashions to establish themselves as a must-do experience for visitors to the Barossa – the Linke’s Christmas hams are now something of a legend.
“After 85 years, we’re starting to get the hang of it,” says Graham Linke, the current proprietor, who still gets up in the night to tend the smokehouse.
While intensely proud of its rural traditions, the people of the Barossa are also highly adaptable – and keen to share their good fortune with others.
The Angas family, which has been farming the rolling countryside between the Barossa and the Mount Lofty Ranges for over 170 years, is now offering visitors a rare opportunity to experience life on their historic rural property, Hutton Vale Farm.
John and Jan Angas, sixth-generation farmers, are opening the doors to Hutton Vale Farm, their magnificent 2000-acre property, providing guests with a hands-on experience of life on the land; activities include hill walking, a structured wine tasting, fruit picking and lunching with the family.
“Hutton Vale is a very special place. When people come here we like them to be part of what we’re doing and take them on the journey with us,” she says.
“It’s a very normal life for us but it’s probably very different for the majority of people living in cities. When people have been here for a few hours they are really part of the family.”
With over 170 wine companies of all sizes currently operating within the Barossa, devising the perfect wine-tasting itinerary is no easy task.
The issue is further complicated because the region incorporates both the Barossa and Eden valleys, plus the Marananga, Bethany, Rowland Flat, Moppa, Greenock, Lyndoch, Ebenezer, Kalimna, Tanunda and Seppeltsfield sub-regions.
Given that the Barossa is home to both small, family-run outfits and global wine brands, it’s not surprising that the cellar door experience varies considerably from winery to winery.
If possible try to mix up your cellar door styles – combine some large, established players, such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacob’s Creek, with boutique operators such as Two Hands, Pindarie, Gibson, Tscharke and Whistler Wines.
While many of the Barossa’s larger wineries offer structured wine tastings, fresh regional fare, private tours and, in some cases, vineyard accommodation, there are a number of signature Barossa experiences which should not be missed.
At the historic Seppeltsfield Winery, which now contains an excellent restaurant, Fino, and a contemporary arts space, visitors can choose from a number of guided tours, including Taste Your Birth Year where you can try vintage tawny directly from the barrel of your birth year.
Those looking for a more hands-on winemaking experience should book into a Blend Your Own masterclass at Penfolds in Nuriootpa.
Get creative with varieties of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre to make a blend just like Penfolds own Bin 138.
Wolf Blass also offer experimental sessions at their Visitor Centre where you can create your own blend of wine.
These sessions are by appointment only, for a minimum of six people.
For something completely different relax on the lawns of Whistler Wines, a delightful Seppeltsfield winery which has a resident mob of child-friendly kangaroos, or tuck into a wood fired pizza on the back deck of Two Hands Wines in Marananga.
The Great Outdoors
While outdoor pursuits often take second billing to wine tasting and eating, more and more people are coming to the Barossa to cycle, hike, bird watch or simply drink in the silence.
Despite the intensive cultivation of vineyards which stretches back over 170 years, the region offers a surprising number of conservation parks and recreational areas.
Some of the best known are the Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park, Mount Crawford Forest and the Para Wirra Recreation Park – all of which offer short rambles, wild life spotting and relaxed family picnics.
The Barossa is also crisscrossed by a number of long-distance hiking and bike paths, such as the 1,200km Heysen Trail, Australia’s longest dedicated walking path, and the 900km Mawson Trail, which appeals to mountain bikers.
A newly completed cycle path, the Jack Bobridge Track, now runs down the entire length of the Barossa linking the townships of Tanunda, Lyndoch and Gawler.
The beautifully graded track passes several cellar doors, including Jacob’s Creek, Kellermeister, Creed Wines and St Hallett, with side trips to the Rockford, Charles Melton and Peter Lehmann wineries.
For much of its route, the 27km trail, which is also used by walkers and joggers, runs parallel to the North Para River.
This watercourse attracts large numbers of galahs, sulphur-crested cockatoos, rosellas and other native species; kangaroos come to drink in the late afternoon.
Dedicated cyclists can extend their two-wheel odyssey by joining an existing 13km cycle way, from Tanunda to Angaston.
The Jack Bobridge Track offers plenty of excellent lunch stops along the way, such as Lou Miranda, Lyndoch Hill and Jacob’s Creek.
Thirsty cyclists can reward themselves at the end of their two-wheel adventure with a cold beer at Barossa Valley Brewing in Tanunda.
The microbrewery produces European-style ales, porters and saisons, plus a special brew called Bee Sting made with locally harvested orange blossom honey.