It’s hard and thirsty work choosing a winery itinerary, but here are a dozen essential stops …
1. Yalumba, Eden Valley Rd, Angaston
Set above the Barossa at Angaston, Yalumba is the only major winery still under family ownership, and a personal favourite. As you pull up in the lovely manicured grounds, there’s little sense of the grandeur around the corner – the blue-marble winery with its turreted clocktower.
Yalumba was established by the Hill-Smith family way back in 1849, and pride in tradition is everywhere – from the collection of colourful wagons to the on-site cooperage to the photo album at the tasting room. Although Yalumba does traditional high-end reds (like The Menzies and The Signature) and popular bubblies (Angus Brut), it’s also an innovator. It first planted Viognier in 1979 and now produces the best bottle of the stuff – mostly from its rolling Heggies Vineyard, arguably the prettiest in the region.
2. Seppelt, Seppeltsfield Rd, Seppeltsfield
This monumental bluestone winery, along the palm-lined Seppeltsfield Rd, encapsulates the vision and prodigious work ethic of the Germans who settled the Barossa, in this case Joseph Seppelt, the Silesian migrant who planted the first vines here in 1851.
It’s vast and impressive, with ancient wine barrels, displays of historical artefacts and expansive grounds with public barbeques. The Seppelt mausoleum up the road is just as imposing. Seppelt is famous for its fortified and sparkling wines but don’t overlook its very drinkable table wines, including the requisite Shiraz. Four tours are offered, ranging from a half-hour structured tasting of five wines for $6 to the 90-minute Experience Tour, including tastings of a 100-year-old drop, for $50. Or just roll up for free tastings at the cellar door. Don’t miss it.
3. Chateau Tanunda, 9 Basedow Rd, Tanunda
You gotta see this place! An imposing bluestone pile with a 20-metre central tower, a croquet lawn and a cricket oval, Chateau Tanunda is massive now. When constructed in 1890, it was the biggest winery in the southern hemisphere and the biggest building in South Australia, dwarfing even state parliament. It also housed the first cooperage in the Barossa (still going) and its own railway station (gifted to the state in 1911).
The Chateau rose from the valley floor when a group of local businessmen, including Johan Basedow, had the bright idea of pooling the grapes of 560 Barossa growers and shipping the wine to Europe, where phylloxera lice in the 1870s devastated the wine industry. A century later, Chateau Tanunda is still exporting to Europe labels including Kangaroo Ridge and Grand Barossa.
Owned by the Geber family since 1998, the Chateau was refurbished and reopened to the public in 2001. Its palatial Main Chateau Room is just the place for a medieval banquet with 400 of your nearest and dearest. The atmospheric cellar door, with its massive barrels, also houses the Barossa Small Winemakers Centre.
4. Peter Lehman, Off Para Rd, Tanunda
Lehmann was a fifth-generation Barossan and a wine legend, not for prodigious guzzling but for saving many Barossa vineyards in 1979 when the big players threatened to sell local growers down the river – the Murray Riverland to be exact – where vast, company-held vineyards produced bigger and cheaper yields. Lehmann, chief winemaker at Saltram at the time, bought the grapes from local growers himself and went out on his own. He chose for his logo the Queen of Clubs – the gambler’s card. It’s a gamble that paid off; Peter Lehmann has been a public company since 1992, and continues to produce all its wine from Barossa fruit. Priceless Barossa heritage was preserved – none of the Lehmann growers participated in the notorious vine pull of the mid-80s. The grounds are grassy rather than grand and the cellar door is warm and welcoming. It’s all about the wine and the people. Both are exceptional. You can try all 30 Peter Lehmann wines, as well as other cellar-door specials. Don’t hold back – they do freight.
5. Saltram, Nuriootpa Rd, Angaston
William Salter and his family settled in the Barossa in 1844, and the original homestead, Mamre Brook House, still proudly looks over the bluestone winery and is home to the chief winemaker.
Saltram wine comes in five labels and ranges from good to superb. A renovation of the cellar door and Salters restaurant in 2002 has added a light, contemporary interior to this venerable old player. But it’s still very welcoming and cosy. The day we were there, a fire crackled away in the grate.
You can taste the entire Saltram range at the cellar door, or pick a favourite for your lunch (seven days) or dinner (Thursday to Saturday). Fortifying breakfasts are served until 11.30am, and the Big Barossa brekkie will keep you going all day.
6. Grant Burge, Jacobs Creek, Barossa Valley Hwy
Although the label was established only in 1988, Grant Burge is a fifth-generation Barossa winemaker – 2005 marks 150 years since the Burge family settled in the Barossa. The flagship Grant Burge wine is the Meshach Shiraz, named for Grant’s great-grandfather, who began the family winemaking tradition. It’s produced from vines almost a century old, hence the $100 price tag. But the Barossa Vines label starts at a wallet-friendly $10. The tawny port is great too.
Every drop comes from the Barossa, where Grant Burge owns 16 vineyards and two wineries. Red wines are produced at the Illaparra Winery, overlooking Jacobs Creek, and whites are vinified at the Barossa Vines Winery across the highway. If you’re out this way on October 27, ask about lunch under the vines with Italian chef Antonio (“What you want more?”) Carluccio, who’ll be flogging his new book and cooking up a feast with all local produce.
7. Jacob’s Creek, Barossa Valley Way, Rowland Flat
This is no mere winery but “Australia’s most successful wine brand”; no humble cellar door but “a state of the art venue for the wine tourist” offering tastings, contemporary dining in a clattering restaurant, boxed sets to eliminate decision-making angst, and a gallery of reverential photos detailing the milestones of the company like sacred artworks.
Jacob’s Creek is the Barossa wine industry encapsulated. It all started on the banks of the eponymous, unremarkable creek where Johann Gramp planted the first commercial vines in 1846. Gramp’s original winery and cellar still stands, as does the restored stone cottage of the Jacob brothers, who first settled by the creek they named after themselves in 1842.
The original buildings and vineyard stand a few ks upstream from the all-angles, grey-ironback-and-glass visitors centre, opened in September 2002. Farther downstream is the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort. That’s progress. Australia’s “top drop” is consumed in 60 countries and plenty of folk want to see where it comes from.
8. Wolf Blass, Sturt Hwy, Nuriootpa
To step inside the ultramodern Wolf Blass visitor centre – opened in late 2004 – is to appreciate Blass’s genius for marketing as much as winemaking. A glassy construction set around a grassy courtyard, it features four bars of tasting space, a private tasting room, a museum, great acoustics for recitals and the jolliest staff in the Barossa. Wolf Blass merchandise abounds, in between the savvily boxed sets at all price points. It’s impossible to walk out without at least one.
East German-born Blass started his own label in 1973; in ten years, Wolf Blass was a publicly listed company; within 20 years Blass was the International Winemaker of the Year. Today Wolf Blass produces wine from nine vineyards across South Australia and exports to more than 30 countries.
9. Bethany Wines, Bethany Rd, Tanunda
This charming family-run winery, set in a tranquil hillside on the site of an old quarry, transports you to Bordeaux. The stone winery dates from 1981 but the winemakers, Rob and Geoff Schrapel, are fifth generation Barossans whose ancestors first planted vines here in 1852.
Today they have 30 hectares and devoted drinkers in at least ten countries. Recent gongs include Best Vintage Red for the 1998 GR6 Reserve Shiraz at the 2004 International Wine and Spirits competition in London. The 2002 Grenache was also a winner.
10. St Hallet, St Halletts Rd, Tanunda
St Hallett’s rustic, vine-covered yard is a great place to knock back a bottle with a light lunch.
Established by the Linder family in 1944, St Hallett focused on fortified wines in its early days – like most Australian wineries of the time – but since the 1970s and 80s has produced very well-regarded premium wines, especially the Old Block Shiraz, mostly under the direction of Stuart Blackwell, Barossa Winemaker of the Year in 2003.
Owned by Australian-based brewer Lion Nathan since 2001, St Hallett doesn’t have its own vineyards but sources every drop from Barossa growers and all its plonk is produced right here.
11. Yaldara, Gomersal Rd, Lyndoch
Another charmer with lavish grounds, Yaldara – an Aboriginal word meaning “sparkling” – was established by Barossa baron HT Thumm in 1947 in an old 19th Century flour mill. Its formal European air puts you in mind of the Moselle.
The seven Yaldara labels (including fortifieds) can be sampled at the cellar door, as well as on structured tours and tastings. It’s definitely worth a look, although the day we visited, it was a tad expensive – maybe only the premium wines were out. We left without buying a bottle and we weren’t the only ones. The redoubtable Thumm sold Yaldara in 1999 and established Chateau Barrosa around the corner, taking his Meissen collection with him.
12. Penfold’s, Tanunda Rd, Nuriootpa
It’s the most famous name in Australian wine but the visitor experience at Penfold’s is less than memorable. More drive-thru bottleshop than cellar-door sensation. You rock up in the car park, go inside and buy your wines. No meandering grounds, picnic spots or tantalising wafting aromas from in-house eateries – although to be fair, the home of Penfold’s and its award-winning restaurant is at Magill in Adelaide. And Penfold’s has never been a strictly Barossa operation – multi-regional blending has been the go, even before the visionary Max Schubert created the iconic Penfold’s Grange Hermitage in 1951.
The staff are terrific – when we visited they were enlightening and wining American, French and German as well as domestic visitors. No, you can’t just front up and guzzle the Grange, and no, Penfold’s does not buy back its vintage wines from the public. But it’s a must-do, if only to learn the fascinating story behind the Grange, especially the caustic reception on its release. “No-one in their right mind will buy it, let alone drink it” said one critic. Others couldn’t decide if it was an aphrodisiac or an anaesthetic. Another described the dominant flavour as “crushed ants.” Stung by the hostile reception (and the expense of producing it), Penfold’s gave up on Grange in 1957, although Schubert continued to make it on the sly until 1960, when production resumed. In 1962, the 1955 vintage won first prize at the Sydney Show; at the 1979 Wine Olympiad in Paris, the 1971 Grange shocked the local Rhone Valley heavyweights, and the accolades have been pouring in ever since. Australian wine has never been the same.
The Barossa Details
Best months to go:
Any time but January – too hot for quaffing reds.
Most under-rated aspect:
The architecture and grounds of the wineries – almost as big a lure as the wine.
Most over-rated aspect:
Penfold’s – not the wine but the visitor experience.
Be prepared for:
Iconic Barossa brands owned by monster multi-nationals.
Watch out for:
Exceptional staff who don’t make you feel like a Neanderthal for not knowing your Verdelho from your Viognier.
Best value encountered:
Unsold export labels that can’t be sold here purely for packaging reasons. Buy them by the box.
Barossa Visitor Information Centre (08) 8563 0600; go to www.barossaregion.org for profiles of all the wineries, with links to their websites, plus accommodation, eating and entertainment options.