South Australia’s Barossa Valley becomes a tapestry of colours in autumn – green, yellow, gold and rich red/ brown – stitched to a quilt of rolling vineyards, scattered with old-world colonial homesteads.
It is a magic rural carpet, a chequered landscape of tranquil beauty.
Looking out from a balcony at the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, one can see two armies, their knights and foot soldiers locked in battle overseen by kings, queens and opposing castles. The clash is on the giant chess board set in the front lawns between a father and his young son. The boy king was victorious, a win he did not let his father soon forget. It is the only war game that has ever taken place in this valley, and on this sunny morning in the Barossa, peace reigns supreme.
The resort, next to the 18-hole Tanunda Pines Golf Course, overlooks the Jacob’s Creek Vineyards and the hamlet of Rowland Flat, first settled in 1850. The Barossa is a magnet for wine lovers from around the world, with its sprawling 13,256 hectares of vineyards nurturing annual harvests of grapes, including big-bodied Australian Shiraz, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, Riesling and Semillon.
This rural ritual has been taking place since 1842, conducted by the descendants of around 750 grape-growing families, many of whom can trace their roots in the Barossa back six generations.
More than 170 wine companies, both big and boutique, process the grapes of the valley to produce iconic wines, including Penfolds Grange, Orlando Steingarten, Yalumba The Virgilius, Henschke Hill of Grace, Rockford Basket Press, Seppeltsfield Para Tawny and Peter Lehmann Stonewell.
But the valley’s attractions go far beyond the fruit of the vine. It has a rich, thriving farm gate and gourmet food and dining scene, a big history and a range of cycling and walking trails set in secluded pockets of bushland scattered across the valley.
On a warm, autumn day, there’s no better way to explore its small corners than on foot. The Jack Bobridge Track, a 27-km-long cycling and walking trail links Tanunda with the rural regional centre of Gawler to the west. The trail skirts the base of the hill on which the resort is perched, linking the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre with nearby St. Hallett Vineyards, established in 1944, on St Hallett Road a few kilometres away. It is a beautiful stroll, following the North Para River through rolling vineyards and bushland.
Magpies warble in the big red gums along the river, hidden frogs croak amongst the reeds, and in the distance, a flock of raucous white cockatoos call out to one another, acting like silly galahs as they lazily wing their way over the valley. The kookaburras in the trees further upstream seem to get the joke and laugh at it amongst themselves for so long they are the ones that sound foolish.
A big, dusty kangaroo stands stock still in the scrub, its ears twitched to our approach, suddenly deciding to hop deeper into the bush.
The Barossa Valley is a moving feast of culinary evolution. Foodies drive the three-hour round trip from Adelaide to dine at one of the valley’s latest food incarnations, FermentAsian on Murray St. in Tanunda. The award-winning eatery is the loving work of chef/owner Tuoi Do who launched the restaurant with partner Grant Dickson from Rockford Wines. The food is created with fresh ingredients, grown by Tuoi’s Vietnamese parents. Try the Thit Lon Cuon La Lot (Betel leaves with Caramelised Pork), a subtly spiced blend of South-East Asian flavours.
If you are into wine, don’t end your meal without at least looking through Grant’s extensive wine list, which offers rare wines. A bottle of antique French wine might set you back $4,500. For a slice of good German fare, drop in to Linke’s Central Meat Store in Murray St., Nuriootpa, for a stick of their best garlic mettwurst, grab some bread from the bakery, and tuck in.
Smallgoods and preserves abound in the valley and you will find many of them at the Barossa Farmers Market in Angaston, open Saturdays from 7.30am to 11.30am. There’s everything free range, from pork to bacon and eggs, along with chutneys, relishes and jams. At noted South Australian cuisine creator Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop on Seppeltsfield Rd., Tanunda, you can see free daily cooking demonstrations, be instructed in the magic of cooking with Verjuice, dine on the deck overlooking the pond or picnic on the lawns.
At the boutique end of the winery scale, it’s worth dropping in at Two Hands at Neldner Rd., Marananga. Two Hands’ catalogue of eight wines features grape varieties ranging from Moscato to Riesling and a good swag of Shiraz. The wines can be sampled in a structured tasting costing $A5, which is donated to the charity, The Uganda Project. Established in 1999 by Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz, with wines sold from a 19th-century stone cottage and associated bakehouse, Two Hands Wines was set up to highlight the characteristics of Australia’s Shiraz regions. Following a mantra of “quality without compromise,” the first vintage was produced from 17 tonnes of fruit in 2000. Two Hands now exports to more than 24 countries around the world and in 2012 was named in the Wine Spectator’s Annual Top 100 for the 10th consecutive year, an achievement unique in the world of winemaking.
If you are looking for a stroll through history, be sure to explore one of Australia’s most famous wine estates, Seppeltsfield, and visit Chateau Tanunda. Seppeltsfield’s history dates back to 1851; it is the only winery in the world to release a 100-year-old single vintage wine each year. Visitors can try their own birth-year vintage of Tawny Port, direct from the barrel. A dozen professional artisans, including a blacksmith and a shoemaker, work in the historic stable building which houses the creative art workshop and gallery, the Jam Factory.
Chateau Tanunda, established in 1890, is one of the oldest chateaus in Australia and is the site of the first winery in the Barossa Valley. Its cellars are a beautiful, cavernous place of old oak barrels and dust where, scrawled on the beams, you can see the signatures of the famous winemakers who worked there as apprentices. To walk off the food and wine, try the Barossa Goldfields Walking Trail, southwest of Lyndoch. When gold fever took hold briefly in the late 1800s, the goldfields attracted around 5,000 diggers out to make their fortune. The walking trails include Victoria Hill (1.4 km), Phoenix Circuit (4.2 km) and Lady Pearce Circuit (6 km).
The Nuriootpa to Angaston Path is a 7 km trail which follows the old rail easement over steep embankments and through deep cuttings. Designed for a pleasant stroll, the bitumen trail has regularly placed seating.
Australia’s longest walking trail, The Heysen Trail, passes through the Barossa Valley on its 1,200-km route from South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula to the Flinders Ranges in the Far North of the state. The trail meanders through the stringybark-clad ridges of the Kaiser Stuhl Conservation Park, south of Nuriootpa, which has a 2.5-km walking trail through Pewsey Vale Forest.
The Kidman Trail is a 269-km-long cycling, walking and horse-riding trail along roads, forest tracks, through private land and unmade road reserves, running the length of the Mount Lofty Ranges from the Fleurieu Peninsula through the Adelaide Hills and the Murraylands to the Barossa and Clare valleys.
Chess board at the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort © Vincent Ross
The Novotel Barossa Valley Resort © Vincent Ross
Chateau Tanunda – Tasting/Barrels Room © SATC Adam Bruzzone
Vines on Seppeltsfield Road © Dragan Radocaj
Regional Seasonal Platter © SATC Jacqui Way
Maggie Beers Farm Shop © SATC Brett Sheriden
Maggie Beers Farm Shop – Brie & Blood Plum Paste with Walnut Toast © SATC Brett Sheriden
Para River walking trail Para River © Vincent Ross
Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre © Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre