The Grape Escape

Higher View

9 November 2015

 

Rows and rows of vineyards, picturesque villages, charming shops – South Australia’s Barossa Valley ticks all the boxes for an idyllic weekend getaway, writes Tatyana Leonov.

Just over an hour’s drive north of Adelaide lies the Barossa Valley – a stunning region recognised as one of Australia’s most illustrious wine-producing districts and continuously acknowledged as a foodie’s paradise. The backdrop isn’t something to sneer at either – luscious valleys, verdant fields, vineyards aplenty, and even a few streets lined with Canary Island date palms. These distinctive trees are not native to Australia, but offer a spectacular driving experience and come with a heartwarming story: during the Great Depression, Seppeltsfield Winery put its nose to the grindstone and managed to avoid laying off its employees. As a thank you, the vineyard and cellar door workers decided to beautify the grounds and surrounding streets by planting thousands of palms. 

The history of Barossa goes further back, of course. The English and Germans were the first pioneers to settle in the valley in 1842, and the remnants of their lives remain scattered throughout. Wine production began soon after they discovered Barossa’s fertile soil was ideal for grape growing. The Germans brought their culinary customs too, and with not much to their name started afresh, building beautiful homes fit out with traditional wood ovens, planting crops of fruits and vegetables, and using their knowledge to build a new life for themselves.

The Barossa Valley became a food and wine hub pretty quickly thanks to these innovative settlers, and today visitors come from far and wide to experience the culinary culture and soak up the extraordinary Barossa vibe.

It’s not just about eating the produce and drinking the wine though. The Barossa food and wine experience is about doing, making and learning – so arrive Friday morning, leave Sunday afternoon and take your time to really get to know the Barossa.

FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE

Start the day by taking in your surrounds at Mengler Hill Lookout. Beautiful vistas are a big part of the Barossa experience and seeing the region from up high helps put the splendour in perspective. 

 Getting around the Barossa is most convenient by car, so regardless of whether you hire your own vehicle or get chauffeured around, there are plenty of opportunities to take in eye-level panoramas when travelling from point A to point B. Spend the morning taking it slow on the road to enjoy the landscape, stopping wherever you think there’s a photo opportunity (hint: you will need to be selective).

For lunch, enjoy a modern take on Vietnamese food at fermentAsian. Vietnamese chef-owner Tuoi Do has been wowing locals and visitors since she opened her modern Southeast Asian restaurant in 2011. Her husband, sommelier Grant Dickson of Rockford Wines, does a brilliant job selecting matching wines to go with the cuisine, so sit back and let the connoisseurs show you what they do best.

Every day you spend in the Barossa should be matched with at least one dedicated wine experience, so start your wine appreciation journey with a bang by learning to make your own at Penfolds. Launched in 2006, the Make Your Own Blend experience (be sure to book ahead) is a fascinating way to learn about one of Australia’s finest wine producers by experimenting with your own interpretation of what it is to craft quality wine.

During the interactive class guests formulate their own wine amalgamation using Shiraz, Mataro and Grenache (these three varieties have been grown in the Barossa for over 150 years and are the constituents used to create the Penfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro). “It’s an interactive and hands-on experience that offers our guests an opportunity to learn about the blending process – and the skill required by our winemakers to produce exceptional wine,” Amanda Scheiner, Penfolds cellar door manager, explains. “Guests love that they get to work in the winemakers’ laboratory and enjoy the challenge of creating a finished wine that they can take home in an individual bottle.”

After the best ‘lesson’ you’ve probably ever had, check in to The Louise, a luxurious property nestled among vineyards and offering sweeping vistas of the valley. Though it’s easy to stay in once you’ve arrived (classic music is played as you step into your accommodation, all rooms are elegantly appointed; everything is divine), finish the day on a high note with a lavish dinner at the on-site restaurant. Together with his team, executive chef Ryan Edwards designs gastronomic masterpieces utilising the best seasonal local produce and doing as much as possible by hand (they bake their own breads and butcher and cure their own meats). Book months ahead to secure a seat and select the tasting menu to indulge in what chef thinks is best. 

SATURDAY SPECIAL

Rise early and head straight to the Barossa Farmers Market for fresh farmgate produce. Held every Saturday morning in the historic Vintners Shed, a visit here is a chance to stock up on food grown and produced by the locals. Many offerings are organic, a lot of the fruits for sale have been picked that morning, and everything is delicious! Take your time to stroll through the premises, chatting to the producers and growers to gain an understanding of the dynamic foodie scene.

Pack a picnic basket while shopping at the markets and enjoy a scenic drive around the valley before stopping for lunch at the Whispering Wall. Built between 1899 and 1903, this preserved wall of the Barossa Reservoir is fascinating because of its unusual acoustic effects – anything whispered at one end of the wall can be heard on the other, over 100 metres away!

Dedicate the afternoon to Seppeltsfield. Established by the Seppelt family in the early 1850s, the historic winery grounds and gardens are classified as a historic village by the State Heritage Act. Touring the beautiful expanse is a charming (and educational) way to while away the afternoon.

Seppeltsfield is the only winery in the world to release a 100-year-old port every year, and the Taste Your Birth Year Tour (2:30pm daily, bookings required) offers a delightful way to learn about how this special custom was founded, as well as sample port created the year you were born. It’s the only place in the world where you can do this, and should most definitely be a must-do on any Barossa itinerary.

Continue your wine appreciation education with the 3:30pm Heritage Tour (11:30am and 3:30pm daily, bookings required), where you’ll join a wine guru on an expedition through the grounds (with stops at the distillery, barrel cellar and underground blending cellar) while learning about the Seppelt family and how they shaped Barossa’s wine trade. The tour fittingly ends in the old bottling hall – the place to sample Seppeltsfield drops and stock up on bottles to take home.

Then it’s onto Hentley Farm for more wine tasting before a beautiful dinner you’ll be talking about for years to come. When Keith Hentschke founded Hentley Farm his vision was to find land that would allow him to grow and forage produce in unique ways. Today the way the Hentley Farm team champions the soil is a key contributor of its success, and the boutique wines made on premises are certainly worth sampling.

Headed up by chef Lachlan Colwill, the restaurant, housed in the stylishly renovated stables, has won a plethora of awards since its foundation in 2012. Feasting here is one of the highlights of the Barossa.

Together with his team Lachlan focuses on sourcing fresh-as-possible produce. “We work on three boundaries,” he explains. “First we focus on produce farmed or growing wild on the Hentley Farm site; this supplies us with all our fruits and vegetables. Second we travel throughout the Barossa to find the best products available – often meats and game birds. Third we look to the rest of South Australia, which in my mind is one of the best locations in terms of quality and sustainability in produce in all of the world, particularly for its seafood.” Patrons can choose from two set menu options (the Discovery menu or the du Jour menu), with matching wines highly recommended for the ultimate epicurean experience. Remember to book ahead.

SUNDAY BEST

There aren’t many better ways to culminate the Barossa experience than with a scenic helicopter flight over the valley. Cherry-pick from Barossa Helicopters’ variety of flight-tour options, then sit back and enjoy the panoramic views as the helicopter soars over the picturesque expanse. Be sure to bring a camera to record the unforgettable flight, as this is one memory you’ll certainly want to share with family and friends.

If you’re feeling generous you’ll probably also purchase a variety of Barossa wines to take home. And if you’ve still got space in your luggage, Barossa-made produce makes for a good gift too – and Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop is the perfect place to stock up and grab lunch on your way out. The legendary cook, writer, television personality and founder of Maggie Beer products is one of Australia’s most respected foodie personalities, and her farm shop is so much more than a typical store.

The first point of difference is that visitors are encouraged to roam around the shop and taste all of Maggie Beer’s products – a rarity in Australia and probably anywhere in the world. This is ‘try before you buy’ in the truest sense of the phrase. Another point of difference is the free daily Verjuice demonstrations. Maggie was the first person in the world to manufacture the grape juice product commercially (Verjuice is a non-alcoholic product derived from the juice of unfermented grapes), and during the demonstration attendees are shown how to use Verjuice when cooking (more free tastings included).

Stock up on whatever you desire to take home, then order a Picnic Fare basket (think tasty, house-made pates, woodfire-oven-baked breads and sweets made from fruits grown on-site) and enjoy a casual al fresco lunch overlooking the pond. It’s a lovely spot to conclude the weekend – and perhaps start planning your next visit.