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The Valley of Vines
North of Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, the town of Tanunda lies at the heart of the Barossa Valley. This is wine country. The town’s early settlers came from the Prussian Silesia region of what is now modern-day Germany. They brought with them many of their traditional foods, their Lutheran religion, and, of course, the rootstock of the vines which today make the Barossa one of the world’s great wine-producing areas.
The Barossa is famous for its Shiraz varietals, which thrive in the stony soils and baking summers. Some of the world’s oldest Shiraz vines can be found in the vineyards of Tanunda. In 1847 Johann Frederick August Fiedler planted the Barossa’s first Shiraz vines on what was then named “Lot 1, Hundred of Moorooroo.” Lot 1 eventually became the town of Tanunda and the vines planted by J.F.A Feidler are still in production today at the Turkey Flat Vineyards, just across Tanunda Creek on the southern side of town.
A Season of Wonderful Afternoons
If you visit the Barossa Valley, I recommend going in the Southern autumn (April-June). Autumn in the Barossa Valley is a season of wonderful afternoons. The broiling temperatures of the Australian summer have cooled into dewey mornings, temperate middays, and warm, languid evenings. Colour seeps through the landscape and the leaves on the vines take on their autumn hues of russet and gold. The heady aroma of fermenting grapes coalesces in the air as the maturing vintages send-up “the angel’s share” of their flavor.
Most of the local wineries have cellar door sales and many have restaurants that serve up some of the rich and varied produce from this fecund and fertile part of Australia. There are so many wineries to choose from in the Barossa Valley and its surrounding region that any list of favorites is purely subjective. You could pick any winery at random to visit and you would not be disappointed. Nevertheless, here are my three favorite Barossa wineries.
My Favourite Wineries
- Peter Lehmann Wines. The story of Peter Lehmann is legendary. In the 1970s, he was working as a winemaker for a large corporate vineyard. When the company tried to underpay local grape growers, Peter Lehmann set up his own winery and guaranteed that the price he agreed on with a handshake would always be honored. He named his winery Masterson Barossa Vineyards, a name inspired by the gambler Sky Masterson from the musical Guys and Dolls because setting up a new winery was such a gamble.
Today, the Lehmann cellar door is a lovely old Australian farmhouse, with thick plaster walls and a wide, shady verandah, standing amid a grove of gum trees beside the North Para River. Their Portrait range of vintages includes their 2017 Shiraz: my all-time favorite wine.
- Whistler. Situated on Seppeltsfield Road, whose long borders of graceful date palms were planted during the Great Depression, the Whistler Vineyard has played an integral part in the long story of Tanunda’s wine history. The current vineyard began life as a sheep farm but in 1982 the Pfeiffer family began transforming the bare, dry land into the bucolic landscape of grapes you see today. The vineyard has been at the forefront of biodynamic and organic growing methods, resulting in a selection of awards gained worldwide at wine competitions.
Named the Best Small Cellar Door in the Barossa Valley in 2020, the Whistler Vineyard also specializes in Shiraz varietals. If like me, you adore the rich, dark, heavy flavor of a glass of Shiraz, then a perfect way to spend an afternoon is to wander down Seppeltsfield Road and relax in a chair under a shady tree while you enjoy the fruits of the Whistler vintners’ labor.
- Caudo Vineyard. This superb vineyard, located where the Murray River bends beneath cliffs of weathered yellow limestone, is not technically part of the Barossa Valley. But as it is such a lovely place to visit, it’s worth a mention here. The vineyard’s restaurant consists of a simple timber shed that opens onto a sweep of soft green grass leading down to the edge of the Murray River. Towering blue gum trees frame the winery buildings and provide shade for people picnicking on the grass and sampling the delicious Chardonnay that the Caudo Vineyard is famous for.
On the terraces above the river, groves of oranges and lemons grow side by side with Pinot Gris and Chardonnay vines. You can camp beside the river, cook your dinner over hot coals (the winery provides all the food and equipment), and watch another perfect South Australia day end as you sip a glass of your favorite wine.
Flights of Fancy
One of the best ways to get an idea of the Barossa Valley’s layout is to take a balloon flight at dawn. From the viewpoint of a wicker basket suspended beneath a multi-colored envelope full of hot air, you can watch the sunrise from behind the hills of southern South Australia. The daylight floods across the landscape and transforms it from indigo and mauve to maroon and gold. The big Eucalypt trees trail their shadows along the valley bottoms through mist-draped vineyards and kangaroos bound through the clearings. The air up there is so quiet on these flights above the Barossa that you can hear the tolling of distant church bells and the gurgling of crows far below.
When you land, at some indeterminate point out in the cornfields beyond the valley (a balloon drifts on air currents of its own choosing), you pack up the balloon and drink a glass of champagne. This fine tradition dates back to the earliest days of ballooning when the Frenchman who pioneered balloon flights would carry a bottle of champagne with them to prove to people that they were, indeed, Frenchman and not beings from the sky.
On the main street of Tanunda, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to cafes, restaurants, bars, and eateries. One of my favorites is a place called Pod Café. Situated in an old timber bungalow, with creaking floorboards and verandah posts festooned with grapevines, this is a great place to sit and watch the life of Tanunda pass by while you sip a latte or perhaps a glass of Barossa shiraz.
Tanunda has an abundance of tiny, back-alley shops selling hand-crafted beads, bespoke clothing, cheeses, pottery, and craft beer. The Tanunda Hotel, a grand limestone edifice with a typically Australian upstairs verandah, serves big helpings of grub with a flair that harks back to the hard-working settlers of Barossa’s earliest days.
The Angel’s Share
A perfect way to end a day in the Barossa Valley is to drive up to the lookout on Mengler’s Hill overlooking Tanunda to watch the sunset. The evening air up here is quiet, warm, and fragrant. As the day drifts towards its end, the sun hovers on a horizon of purple in gold. There are usually a few other people up here and if you bring a bottle of wine (from the Barossa Valley, of course) and a selection of other local produce – cheeses, grapes, patés, and bread – you will soon find that you are part of an impromptu picnic with a group of new friends all up there to share the sunset. As the light withdraws from the day, and the birds fall silent, you can swirl your wine around in your glass and release your contribution of the angel’s share into the warm Barossa air.
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