It’s all about ‘Big’ in Australia. A big country with vast distances between cities and towns, the space in between filled with a big emptiness. People with big hearts and a huge capacity to enjoy themselves. And then there’s the wine. Though there are many wine regions in Australia, there is one that produces the biggest wine of them all. The Barossa Valley in South Australia. And that wine? Shiraz (Syrah). There is most definitely nothing shy and retiring about Barossa Shiraz. Big, bold, dark and jammy. Delicious.
The Barossa Valley is a little over an hour’s drive from Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city. Yes, Australia is so big that they talk in terms of hours rather than distance driven. The Barossa is a wide flat valley with vines as far as the eye can see. There are of course the big wineries such as Penfolds with their famous wine ‘Grange’ but there are also many smaller, family run wineries that you can visit and enjoy a more relaxed and authentic experience.
Yelland & Papps – like your cellar door a little bit funky and hip? Interested in trying some unusual wine styles? Keen to learn about alternative winemaking? Y&P is your go to in the Barossa. Y&P try new techniques and styles to see what suits both the grapes and themselves as oenologists. The approach is quirky and bold. Most wines are not filtered or fined using egg white, shells or fish bones so they’re vegan friendly. The Second Take Roussane is positively cloudy and on first take, appears to be a cider. On second take though, it’s a complex wine that’s savoury yet full of fruity aromas. Vines are tended using organic principles.
Must Taste: The Vin De Soif is a red wine for summer but that doesn’t mean it’s a lightweight. It starts with the berry aromas so typical of Barossa reds but then there are layers. The Second Take Shiraz is basket pressed the old fashioned way from 50% whole bunches that have been placed in open fermenters so the wild yeasts can join the party.
Top Tip: Arrive at lunchtime to taste and then buy a glass of whatever takes your fancy to match a local cheese and charcuterie platter. The kids can enjoy a ham and cheese toastie and have a go of the swing set on the lawn.
Flaxman Wines – on the edge of the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Flaxman is in a unique position to create warm and cool climate wines. Col and Fi Sheppard are another pair of first generation wine makers taking on the big guns. A little over a decade ago, Col and Fi lived a 9-5 life but had dreams of something different. Now they run a winery rated in Halliday, Australia’s definitive wine guide, as 5 red stars for ‘Outstanding and producing exemplary wines’. The vines are dry grown, hand pruned and picked. Not one to rest on his laurels, Col was also a top 12 finalist in MasterChef Australia in 2014. As you would imagine, the food and wine at this cellar door is wonderful.
Must taste: A zesty Estate Riesling from 60+ year old vines, full of citrus and without the minerality of some regions. Red fruits and soft tannins of the GMS (Grenache, Mouvedre, Shiraz) Blend and, The Stranger Shiraz Cabernet, which is a relatively low alcohol wine by Barossa standards.
Top Tip: Tasting is by appointment but they are more than willing to accommodate you. If it’s a nice day you will likely sit underneath the pergola, looking out of the vineyard. If the weather is inclement, tasting will be in the underground wine room. Either way, Gus the cellar door dog will be there to assist.
Rockford – From the outside, there’s not much to indicate that this is one of the Barossa’s premiere boutique vineyards. As famous for maintaining traditional small batch winemaking techniques as it is for its wine. Entering the courtyard, the wine making operation is right there, in an open shed. During vintage, you can watch as they shovel grapes through a wooden chute, directly into the original basket press for the creation of the premium Basket Press Barossa Shiraz. Wine stained bricks, the occasional grape seed and stalk underfoot adds a rustic charm to visit. The cellar door is located in a delightful tiny stone cottage with a doorway so low that you have to stoop to enter.
Must taste: Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon – very dark with cassis and dark chocolate with a powerful finish. Rod & Spur Shiraz Cabernet is medium full bodied with hints of vanilla in amongst the blackcurrant. Of course, you must sample the flagship wine, the Basket Press (if on taste)
Top Tip: Make this your first stop of the day, just after the cellar door opens so you can make the most of your tasting and beat the crowds. The cellar door really is small so at times, visitors will spill out the door and into the courtyard.
Bethany Wines – Established in 1981, Robert and Geoff Schrapel’s winemaking pedigree extends back 150 years in the Barossa. Perched on a hill with sweeping views out across the valley, this cellar door sits alongside an old quarry that is now used in the crush as part of a gravity flow into fermentation tanks. Bethany has a number of vineyards with specific micro climates on the surrounding slopes as well as vines in the neighbouring cooler climate Eden Valley. This allows them to produce a wide range of varieties in white in addition to reds and Shiraz.
Must taste: GR Reserve Shiraz taken from old, low yielding vines on one parcel of land, this wine is only made in outstanding years. Bethany Estate Riesling – floral, with a lingering crisp finish, this wine excels with food.
Top Tip: The cellar door usually has an assortment of bin ends and mislabelled for export bottles at bargain basement prices. It certainly worth poking through the selection whilst you are tasting.
The best place to start planning any trip to the Barossa is the site maintained by the Barossa Grape & Wine Growers Association. You’ll find information about the region, food, accommodation and of course, the wines of the area.