Barossa Valley: Old and New and Koalas, Too

Old grape vines in the Barossa Valley township of Tanunda

South Australia’s most famous wine region, the peaceful Barossa Valley, is ideal for a gastronomic lost weekend…one that could easily last the rest of your lives.

Frolic in fields full of flowers…and tawny marsupials. Swim in Shiraz and wade in Riesling. Nibble grapes in bed, beside Grecian statues and a big ol’ gilt mirror. Luxuriate in epic meals that will go on for days and leave you in puddles of joyful tears.

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The Barossa, considered a New World home to Old World varietals, has never been hit with phylloxera, the grapevine pest that tore through much of Europe in the 19th century; as a result, the valley has some of the world’s oldest grape vines. These gnarled knobs, trunks and branches are the region’s most distinctive icons. It’s exciting to see grapevines so strong they can stand on their own without support, like the fruitful orchard of a Hobbit shire.

The valley’s other symbolic plant is Salvation Jane, a bright purple wildflower introduced here from Britain in the early 1800s to save drought-ravaged, starving livestock. Sadly, this toxic blossom (initially dubbed Paterson’s Curse) killed horses and cows in record numbers; mysteriously, though, it was the “salvation” of the Barossa’s sheep. Since lambs, rams and ewes remain big business in these parts (and South Australia in general), thumbs up for pretty fields of plum-colored weeds.

Face-to-face with Salvation Jane

It was Ralf Hadzic of Life is a Cabernet Tours who taught me about Salvation Jane, along with about 150 other fascinating things: how to play Australian Rules Football, the Barossa’s Prussian history, the name of that tree over there, Frank Sinatra’s scandalous 1974 visit Down Under, and a whole lot more. If you want to simultaneously immerse yourself in Australia and avoid drunk driving, this warm, half-Texan, half-Aussie human computer is your man.

It’s advisable to begin your day of wine tasting with a little caffeine. Just outside of North Adelaide, Ralf introduced us to Café Va Bene, an Italian pastry heaven in a mini-mall. (Be sure to try a Melting Moment, the Aussie version of a shortbread cookie.) Since South Australians don’t favor a strong brew of coffee, be sure to say if that’s how you like your java; click here for a complete guide to ordering coffee in ‘Stralia.

Halfway to the Barossa (which is a gorgeous, winding 45 minutes from Adelaide), we stopped at the Gorge Wildlife Park in Cuddlee Creekto hug a koala. Yeah, that’s right: for a precious few minutes, you can both get your cuddle on with one of the orphaned koala toddlers at the Park. 18 month-old Mia felt warm and substantial, like a furry human baby with a lot of soft, tufty ear hair. Koalas are way more excited about eucalyptus leaves than they are about people, but it’s good to know that as long as there’s food, there’s a snuggle to be had. I can respect that.

(A very happy) yours truly and Mia the koala

Oh, by the way, there are other animals at this fantastic 14-acre zoo. Besides the spectacular array of birds and small mammals, there are huge enclosures of wallabies and kangaroos. Ralf showed us how to make a mob of new friends: buy a bag of the park’s peanuts, stroll out amongst the ‘roos, and bam, you’re popular. There are Tammars, greys, reds, and even off-white albinos, all healthy and, shall we say, food-motivated. These delightful creatures, which range from 3 to 7 feet in height, are soft, sweet and (as long as it’s not mating season) entirely gentle.

Kangaroos and wallabies aplenty at the Gorge Wildlife Park

Still on a marsupial high, it was time to get our wine on. Charles Melton Wines, known for its full-bodied, Rhône-style reds, is the kind of place I want to simultaneously live, work and vacation. A rustic barn-like space with wooden ceilings, brick floors and a deck with a grapevine view, the tasting room features a long wood table, a small library and gorgeous Grenache. Nine Popes is their star, but I fell into a glass of elegant, low-oak ’08 Grains of Paradise from which I still (happily) haven’t fully returned.

The tasting room of my dreams at Charles Melton Winery

At nearby St. Hallett Wines, we met the Barossa in full. With winemaker Toby Barlow, we studied a regional map, strolled through the vines, and were treated to a vertical tasting of the region’s predominate cool-climate varietal, Shiraz (pronounced “Shih-raaz.”). St. Hallett’s uses Shiraz in about six of its vintages, but it was fascinating to visit the barrel room and taste the lone grape in varying stages of aging; it kinda stoked my old desire to study as a sommelier.

Winemaker Toby Barlow, a spot of lunch, old vines...and consequences at St Hallett Winery

Full-fruit but dry Rieslings are also popular in the Barossa, and St. Hallett’s went beautifully with a lunch of local duck rillette, crusty bread and salad. That particular wine tied for my affections with the cellar door’s amazing wood sculpture of a guy on a bender.

Drifting into Peter Lehmann Wines, around for ages and famous in these parts, I was initially more struck by its manicured lawns, meandering flower garden, enormous tasting room, wide array of gifts for sale and swanky art collection than say, its wines. But oh boy, does this place have wines. Grouped into 11 series, there’s truly something for everyone here; if you want a sense of absolutely everything Barossa soil can offer, you might want to start a day here rather than end it. Pair a groaning Weighbridge Platter with a uniquely dark South Australian rosé, and enjoy a picnic outside amongst the gum trees.

Wine meets art at Peter Lehmann

Then you might want to move into – I mean, um, stay at – Moorooroo Park. One of the Barossa’s first settlements, the former Jacob’s Creek Estate (no relation to the winery of the same name) is now an elegant B&B with small, stand-alone stone houses full of European antiques and Bacchanalian romance ($300-$695/night). Take them up on a glass of their sparkling Shiraz and go for a wander through the gobsmacking rose garden or beside the babble of Jacob’s Creek. The Park’s perks include a friendly manager; some calm and quiet; and whirlpool baths for two fed by the stony head of a lion.

My own Retreat Suite featured a king-size bed beside the statue of a half-dressed goddess, a velvety chaise longue, and a big framed mirror. If you’re looking to get your groove back, know that Moorooroo isn’t messing around.

Romance spilleth over at Moorooroo Park

They’re not shy about food, either. Indulge in a multi-course degustation menu at their onsite restaurant, and you’ll enjoy a different Barossa wine paired with each little celebration of local cuisine. Entirely seasonal and based on what’s available at market, you’ll never have the same dinner twice.

You’ll want to rest up, as there’s another day of Barossa exploration yet to come…

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My trip was sponsored by the South Australia Tourism Commission and Qantas Airlines, but all opinions are my own.

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See also

Adelaide Hills: Day(s) of Wine and Chocolate
Adelaide: From City to Bay
Discovering Down Under: South Australia
Flying High Above South Australia
TWT Travel Binder: Australia

Comments

  1. Wow nice with lovely photo.

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