A Weekend Escape to the Barossa

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Jan 21, 2016

by JO MCKAY

Renowned for its world-class shiraz and culinary gems, South Australia’s Barossa is brimming with memorable wine and food experiences. On an indulgent weekend getaway, Jo McKay finds there’s just not enough time to taste it all...

SEE OUR GALLERY: A Weekend Escape to the Barossa in Pictures

Friday

The Barossa has long held a certain sway. The picturesque region is a cinch to get to – just 75 kilometres from Adelaide’s CBD – and, thanks to the vine-planting legacy of the German Lutherans who fled Prussia and settled here in the 1840s, the area is also home to some of the oldest vines in the world.

But the much-loved wine region has a new energy these days. Cool cellar doors are popping up across the valley, new restaurants are winning accolades for their emphasis on local fare and the region has evolved into a playground for wine and food enthusiasts.

Such pedigree, proximity and buzz add up to one thing: the ultimate weekend escape. Which is why I’m in the car, heading north out of Adelaide, on a sunny Friday morning, keen to experience the fun for myself.

A little less than an hour after leaving the city, I turn onto Gomersal Road and it’s here that pastures turn to vines – rows and rows of glorious vines. There’s something pleasing about a vineyard: the ordered nature of it, the repetition, the rhythm. It’s meditative in a way – or maybe that’s hunger? The first order of the day is most definitely lunch.

Fino is a relative newcomer to the Barossa but its name is already well known in South Australia. In 2014, owners Sharon Romeo and David Swain were wooed from their lauded McLaren Vale restaurant by the multimillion-dollar makeover of the Seppeltsfield complex. The success of this, their second Fino restaurant, has even eclipsed that of the first, winning a coveted spot on The Australian’s list of Hot 50 Restaurants 2015.

The airy dining space, which encompasses the Seppeltsfield tasting room, is smart and lively, while the menu is contemporary and regionally driven. The SchuAm Berkshire pork chop came from just over the hill at Freeling and is one of the best chops I’ve gnawed to the bone.

With my belly full, it’s time to try some wine on Seppeltsfield’s Taste Your Birth Year tour, which runs daily and costs $60 a head. Our guide, Nigel Thiele, gives us a snapshot of the history of the Seppelt family, the winery and its remarkable legacy of aged tawny: a collection of vintages laid down annually since 1878.

“There are older wineries and older wines but as an unbroken lineage this is unique in the world,” he points out as we wander through the 140-odd years of tawny barrels. It’s certainly impressive.

In accordance with the title of the tour, I taste my birth year (don’t ask) and it’s like liquid sunshine – smooth, warming and delectable. Tradition is to be applauded. But so, too, is pioneering. Keeping that in mind, I take Seppeltsfield’s palm-lined route (with a pit stop at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop to pick up some of her tasty treats) to the Yelland & Papps cellar door. Susan and Michael Papps are riffing with varietals such as roussanne, vermentino, grenache and carignan. They also make shiraz (that’s what the area is known for, after all) but it’s a very modern execution.

Asked to describe the Yelland & Papps offering overall, Papps laughs and declares it to be “easy-drinking and smash-able”. Lazing on a beanbag on their cellar-door lawn, glass in hand, I could easily lose the afternoon. But duty calls – and by duty I mean a massage at The Green Room Salon & Day Spa in Angaston...

Suitably de-stressed, I head to Tanunda via the vineyards (the Barossa region has more than 13,000 hectares planted with grapevines). That lunchtime pork chop feels like an age ago but, fortunately, the Barossa is a haven for the hungry. Its long-held reputation as a food hotspot (helped along by Maggie Beer and her Pheasant Farm Restaurant in the 1980s) is now bolstered by a profusion of new eateries. From pubs and cafés to award-winning restaurants, there are more options in the region than I can possibly sample.

Tonight I dine at one of the stand-outs, fermentAsian, the brainchild of local Vietnamese chef Tuoi Do. Once seated, I ask Grant Dickson, Tuoi Do’s partner and overseer of the wine list, for a glass of something local to complement the food. He pours a slightly cloudy, crazy-cool vino by Smallfry Wines, called Tangerine Dream. It’s a blend of riesling, semillon, Pedro Ximénez, roussanne and muscat – the perfect match for the spicy nen ha noi (Hanoi pork spring rolls with herb salad and dipping sauce) and the more-ish ga nuong va dua (grilled spiced chicken with coconut salad). Sated, there’s nothing left to do except drift back to base and melt into bed.

Saturday

The perfect farmers’ market should have a cornucopia of fresh goodies to peruse, plus a comical mix of the “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” and those shaking off last night’s haze. Barossa Farmers Market, just outside Angaston, fits the bill.

For food buffs it’s worth the trip. You’ll find genuine hand-in-earth farmers (the vegies are likely to have dirt on them), myriad local provedores and a buzzing community, all under a large barn roof. I grab a flat white (Barossa Coffee Roasters, naturally) and stroll among the mouth-watering stalls.

Soon it’s time to wend my way east along the eucalypt-lined roads of the Eden Valley to Henschke, one of the longest-standing family-owned establishments in the Barossa. For connoisseurs and name-droppers alike, the Henschke VIP Tour and Tasting experience delves into the history and incorporates a trip to the vines, where you can stand amid these 155-year-old gnarled beauties. The two-and-a-half-hour tour ($220) includes tastings of Henschke’s most sought-after wines: Mount Edelstone, Cyril Henschke, Hill of Roses and the pinnacle, the elegant and illustrious Hill of Grace.

Back in Angaston, the cellar-door sign for Smallfry Wines catches my eye. Inside the grand 1880s former bank building, winemaker Wayne Ahrens is surrounded by his “fresh, food-friendly” array of organic and biodynamic wines. So impressed with last night’s Tangerine Dream, I pick up a bottle, along with two blends: a cinsault shiraz and tempranillo grenache. Ahrens offers visitors vineyard tours and, if you book in advance, he’ll cook. “I make a mean paella,” he promises.

The predicament of a weekend getaway like this? There’s just so much to taste that you can’t possibly have it all. But don’t worry – a nifty solution is a cellar door that showcases several wine labels. At Artisans of Barossa, a five-minute drive from Angaston, I sample the labours of seven winemakers – including Schwarz Wine Co. grenache, Sons of Eden GSM (grenache shiraz mourvedre) and Spinifex shiraz – and grab a bite to eat at the adjoining restaurant.

Then it’s on to Taste Eden Valley, where no less than 15 labels are on show and available to taste. I discover Irvine Wines’ lovely zinfandel and merlot, a Dandelion Vineyards shiraz and a few snappy, summery rieslings by Chaffey Bros Wine Co. Winemaker Daniel Chaffey Hartwig tells me later that both Taste Eden Valley and Artisans of Barossa are real drawcards for the time-poor: “You see many producers in the one stop.”

As daylight fades I embark on my next adventure: dinner at Appellation at The Louise, where I’m staying. I sip an apéritif on the terrace and watch the sun set before moving inside to enjoy a four-course masterpiece of local produce. The highlight is the citrus-cured kingfish with avocado, blood lime and puffed wild rice, washed down with a TeAro Estate sauvignon-blanc semillon delightfully named Miss Savvy.

Sunday

Most wineries don’t open their cellar doors until mid- or late morning so I use the early hours to window-shop in the main street of Tanunda, where there are literary sensations and bestsellers at The Raven’s Parlour Bookstore, cool threads at Alabaster Barossa and covetable homewares at Living By Design.

Back on the wine and food trail there’s plenty to choose from, including the cellar doors of established big-hitters Château Tanunda, Rockford and Peter Lehmann, as well as relatively newer individualists such as Joe Evans of Ballycroft Vineyard and Cellars and Trevor Harch of Brockenchack.

I cram in a few stops before lunch at the award-winning Hentley Farm, which is generally regarded as the height of Barossa dining. Lunch is no less than a seven-course regionally focused dégustation that blows my mind. Dry-ice theatrics?

Got it. Locally foraged produce? Check. Flavour combinations that sound weird yet taste like a dream? Yes and yes. And who would’ve thought shaved cured egg yolk could be a thing of brilliance?

My final stop is the cellar door of sixth-generation vigneron and first-generation winemaker Damien Tscharke, who is passionate about wine, applying a think-outside-the-square mentality and an emphasis on sustainability.

“It’s about being able to produce world-class wines that have been derived in harmony with the environment,” he says.

A tasting at his picturesque European-style cellar door, Tscharke’s Place, includes some superb shiraz alongside emerging varietals such as savagnin, touriga, tempranillo and montepulciano, which, Tscharke says, grow amazingly well in the Barossa climate. Describing his drops as “drinkable and palatable”, he adds: “I don’t want my wines to be collecting dust in a cellar. I want them to enrich lives on a more frequent basis.”

As I drive home, listening to the symphonic sound of bottles clanking in the boot, I’d say his work here is done.