A WINE STORY There are some fruits that can really turn your head and send you immediately somewhere else. Exotic, romantic and elusive, they can conjure up ideas of adventure – from hot suns and starry, midnight skies, through to damp, early mornings that cling coolly to bare-skinned legs. The sweet, dark smell of ripe-picked grapes, however, always takes me to the Barossa. This week, after a busy morning driving around the region in search of local wine and food, I shouldered open a winery door onto a group of men sitting around a table, finishing off what looked like a well-deserved, if somewhat early, lunch. I let the blood-red, raw light of midday into the cool of the room, and several dark, oiled, anchovy faces looked up at me, at first fierce and surprised, but then quickly softening into lop-sided grins and open smiles. As I moved into the winery, I was met with warm swallows of rosemary and garlic; woody, sarsparilla sweetness and slightly bitter notes of green olive and chocolate. Quite simply, I grew dizzy with pleasure. Barossa already has a legendary reputation for its wine, and in particular for its bold, molasses-like Shiraz. But there is also so much more. And not just Semillon, Riesling, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Grenache; nor new found temptations like Tempranillo, Touriga and Savagnin, but also a host of artisan specialties and smallgoods that have been so proudly preserved that they now endure beyond their eighteenth century origins in Europe. What I found on that afternoon was a whole community not so much united in fruits of the vine, but defined by a profound sense of place and belonging. It is not just what they drink, but it is also the bread that they eat, the foods that they enjoy, the company they keep and still, for some, the dialect that they speak. It is less a question of ‘who’ they are, but ‘where’ they are, that sets them apart. To be of or from the Barossa is usually by inheritance only. However, today it is also a place of change and ambition, and one that is currently enjoying a new generation of winemakers, cooks, artists and artisans giving a highly-respected – but tenacious! – old guard, a run for its money. What is not open for debate, however, is the pride in a defining sense of place that also carries with it a weight of history and expectation. If Australia truly has a proposition that can take its place among the great regional destinations of the world, then it is hard to think of a more richlytextured and colourfully-toned destination than the Barossa.
THE CHAPTERS 1. THE BAROSSA: RARE AND DISTINGUISHED 2. THE BAROSSA: GENERATIONS 3. THE BAROSSA: OLD VINES 4. THE BAROSSA: SHIRAZ AS OUR HERO 5. THE BAROSSA: DISCOVERY 6. THE BAROSSA: BAROSSA GROUNDS 7. THE BAROSSA: FLAVOURS
THE BAROSSA: RARE & DISTINGUISHED There can be little doubt that if Australia has a regional wine story that has resonance around the world then it is The Barossa, comprised as it is of Barossa Valley and its elevated, beautiful high country, Eden Valley. But The Barossa is more than just a wine region, it is also a vital culture of generational fine wine endeavour, pioneering European influence, gastronomic excellence and strong community spirit. Above all, it is pride in a local sense of purpose and belonging.
THE STORY Most – if not all – wine regions can claim a fine wine story for excelling in one particular variety, style or expression. Few regions, however, can claim to be as synonymous with a country’s reputation for international acclaim as the Barossa, renowned as it is for a portfolio of varietals, blends, estates, single-vineyards and flagship releases that is certainly beyond compare in Australia, if not further afield. But claims of excellence and credibility have to be demonstrated and not just articulated. The Barossa can certainly boast a unique cultural heritage – itself an intriguing blend of Prussian, Irish, Scottish and English diaspora – as well as an acknowledged contribution to such recognised fine wine legends as Penfolds’ famous triumvirate of Grange, St Henri and RWT (Red Wine Trial); Stephen and Prue Henschke’s Hill of Grace; the tapestry of growers’ blend that makes up Stonewell from Peter Lehmann; and the audacity and brilliance of Torbreck’s individual Shiraz crus, to name but a few. But within greatness there has to be depth as well as breadth, and the Barossa’s real contribution lies far beyond the work of any one, single house, or variety. While Shiraz may well dominate the conversation in terms of price, presence and profile, old vine Grenache – whether as a stand-alone, or as part of the regional trinity of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro (Mourvedre) – is another unique and treasured resource, as well as the ‘angel’s visit’ rarity of great Cabernet Sauvignon, often restricted only to particular vineyard sites – Penfolds’ Block 42, or Elderton’s Ashmead Single Vineyard – but still an important fine wine contribution to be reckoned with. The story is not just about red, however. Eden Valley Riesling is a style and achievement of equal endeavour, with a distinct signature of lime, apple, talc and slatey, mineral purity that often can be only just emerging at 10 years of bottle age. Semillon must also rate a mention as an
idiosyncratic, but relevant, traditional Barossa expression of genuine accomplishment – the cuckoo in the Hunter Valley’s signature nest, as it were! Similarly, while many regions can tilt at greatness as a result of one particular, outstanding harvest, to demonstrate a consistent achievement or standard over decades of vintage vagaries is the stuff of real and enduring pedigree. Barossa is a still-emerging wine story that dates back to 1842, with a library of vintages that attests not only to longevity, but also to diversity, detail and progressive, stylistic evolution. But if there is a single, literal monument to the Barossa’s ability to demonstrate fine wine heritage, it must surely be the Camelot-like presence of Seppeltsfield – a unique estate that houses the world’s oldest, unbroken line of fortified wines dating back to 1878, and which is currently undergoing a renaissance as a table wine producer that will give its famous, gravity-fed ‘lagars’, a new lease of life. There is no doubt that it will take future generations to establish Barossa as one of the greatest wine regions in the world – it will happen organically as the wines continue to evolve, and through our own endeavor as we increasingly seek to engage new audiences with our story. But we are already in a good place to start – 23 of the 123 Langton’s Classified wines in 2010 are from the Barossa; Barossa Shiraz is an establishing genre in the global, secondary fine wine market; of all regional GIs, Barossa had the highest number red 5-star wineries in the 2012 edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion; Barossa has been the most represented region in both the 2009 and 2010 Landmark Australia Tutorials; and current consumer insight research identifies ‘Barossa’ as one of the few Australian wine regions with genuine international recall and recognition.
“If there is one thing that I have learned as a wine auctioneer and observer, it is that the most enduring and inspiring wines belong to places with a strong identity, underpinned by a strong community. They are also real and meaningful and stand for something: of natural beauty or a fine wine philosophy. Undoubtedly, the Barossa is such a place…You must simply believe in yourself and what you stand for in order to succeed.”
Andrew Caillard, MW
THE INSIGHT Rare and Distinguished can only mean the best of the best – the greatest and most eked-out expression of your estate and philosophy that you can express. It is not inclusive in its make-up, but it is democratic in the benefit that it confers – an aspiration for, and a demonstration of, excellence and ambition on behalf of the Barossa. Barossa Rare and Distinguished cannot be emulated by anyone else, or anywhere else.
THE BAROSSA: GENERATIONS Generations is the connective tissue that holds together the past, the present and the future of the Barossa. By extension, it is also the link between the old, the new and the as yet un-realised. It may be a bloodline, a shared point of origin, an inheritance or simply a commonly-held belief. The benefit of â€˜Generationsâ€™ can be found among the families, the vineyards, the history and the wine stories of the Barossa.
The Barossa has always been a cohesive place, recognising early on in the throws of regional marketing that a collaborative stance was an important one – it can bring scale where there is none; unity where there is fracture, and common purpose where there is a daunting mix of individual interests. Back in December 2008, two hundred members of the Barossa wine fraternity: winemakers; wine marketers; grape-growers; viticulturists; coopers; tank makers and assorted tractor salesmen all gathered in a shed called Old Redemption, high on a hill overlooking Peter Lehmann Wines and the Para River, to debate and discuss the region’s future. It would be fair to say that the economic ravages of a fiercely competitive marketplace, allied to structural imbalances bloated by corporate and private interest greed, was challenging the region’s famously collaborative fabric. Two next generation leaders, James Lindner and Ben Glaetzer, under the guidance of the newly appointed Barossa Grape & Wine Association, CEO, Sam Holmes, decided it was time for a symbolic gesture of reconciliation and congregation. This being the Barossa, the natural solution was ‘lunch’… Chaired by Brian Walsh of Yalumba, the inaugural ‘Generations’ lunch brought together five speakers
with a range of experience and perspectives: Peter Lehmann; Wolf Blass; Robert Hill-Smith; Jan Angas and Dr Michael McCarthy. Conversation ranged from the emerging wine consumer opportunity in Asia, to the challenge of marketing a regional brand that had been almost single-handedly ‘corrupted’ by one – highly influential – critic’s view of Barossa. In short, a once famous ‘signature’ for rich, full-bodied, generous structure, was now in danger of becoming an out-dated and clichéd ‘caricature’. Without deserting its authentic origins and inheritance, the Barossa had to reposition itself for a fast-changing and ever-challenging new commercial era. The day’s conclusion was delivered in Churchillian tones by the gravelly-voiced Lehmann: “This is just another pendulum swing. In 1983, one of Australia’s most respected viticulturists said the Barossa would only be growing cabbages by 1990. Yet the Barossa, is still one regional name which is recognized worldwide. We still make the world’s most unique Shiraz, and the best Rieslings from the Eden Valley. We still have some of the oldest plantings of vines on the planet and an unbroken history of grape growing and winemaking to rival parts of Europe. I still see a great future for the Barossa, a future with enormous potential.”
THE INSIGHT In an era of increasing cultural and commercial alertness, modern Australians are more inclined than ever to search to understand the how, why and where of origin. In the evocative, indigenous place names of the region – Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Eudunda and Kapunda – and among the next generation of its community, Barossa can find a careful restitution with its past that will help to shape its future. The Generations theme provides a solid foundation of conversation and exchange, whereby all of the region’s perspectives can be shared in the pursuit of unity, integrity, courage and quality. Ultimately, the potential to mix the old with the new, and for each to inform the other’s purpose, is only important if it results in the Barossa achieving what it surely must: exceptional wines with an unmistakable regional signature; an authentic and contemporary food culture built on traceable, local produce; and a visitor experience that is unmatched for warmth and generosity anywhere else in the world.
“The Generations Lunch created a connection between young and old, rich and poor, English and German, old money, new money…and no money.” Brian Walsh, Yalumba
THE BAROSSA: OLD VINES The Barossa contains some of the oldest vineyards in the world â€“ with one example dating back to 1843 â€“ but until now, there was no formal schedule of classification or registration. In 2009, the Barossa Old Vine Charter was instituted to register vineyards by age, so that older vines could be preserved, retained and promoted. The Charter groups vineyards into four categories by age: (in ascendant order) Old; Survivors; Centenarians and Ancestors.
THE STORY At the start of the 21st century the average age of a vine in Australia was less than 10 years old, but this is more testament to the frenetic pace of new planting during the previous decade, than a true reflection of Australia’s unique viticultural heritage. In fact, although officially a member of the ‘New World’ in wine parlance, Australia has both the oldest soils and the oldest producing vines in the world. Yet it is important to establish firmly at the start that whilst vine age may often be used as an indicator of potential quality, it is not a prerequisite – just as variety, region or maker does not by itself, create a superior wine.
“In the perception of the serious wine-drinker, the Old World owns the integrity to old vineyards. To take an Old Vine Charter to the world will cause a lot of people that take Australia for granted to think again. This charter is about integrity: about hoping that the wines we put in front of people express the place and the variety. It is a necessary evolution that signifies the growing up of Australia.” Robert Hill-Smith, Yalumba
While the idea of a Charter had been debated for a number of years, it was never formalised. Then in 2007, Barossa-based Yalumba declared its own framework for classification, with Robert Hill-Smith declaring: “The Old Vine Charter is dedicated to the recognition, preservation and promotion of these old vines, and we hope that this Charter may play a small role in ensuring that in the unlikely event of another vine-pull scheme, it is not the oldest vines are destroyed, as was the case in the 1980s”. This brave ‘pathfinder’ stance was subsequently ratified and adopted by the region, and while the region equally recognising that rules can and will change, the community was convinced that the classification, definitions and terminology was an accurate representation of the old vine treasury that is unique to the Barossa. The Old Vine Charter should be seen as an opportunity to celebrate the intrinsic merit of old vines, and to encourage the wine community to start a register of vine planting by vineyard and variety for future classification and review.
THE CHECKLIST Barossa Old Vine
Equal or greater than 35 years of age. These Old Vines have grown beyond adolescence and are now fully mature. They have a root structure and trunk thickness that encourages diversity of flavour and character. Their worthiness has been proven over many vintages, consistently producing the highest quality fruit for Barossa wines of distinction and longevity.
Barossa Survivor Vine
Equal or greater than 70 years of age. These very Old Vines are a living symbol of traditional values in a modern environment and signal a renewed respect for Barossa old vine material. They have weathered the worst of many storms, both man-made and naturally occurring, including the infamous 1980s Vine Pull scheme. A Barossa Survivor vine has reached a significant milestone, and pays homage to the resolute commitment of those growers and winemakers who value the quality and structure of old vine wines.
Barossa Centenarian Vine
Equal or greater than 100 years of age. These exceptionally Old Vines serve as a witness to the Barossa’s resilience in the face of adversity. The Barossa, unlike many other of the world’s great wine regions, is phylloxera-free, which allowed these vines to mature into their thick, gnarly trunks and naturally-sculptured forms without interference. Noted for their low yields and intensity of flavour. Planted generations ago – when dry-farming techniques demanded careful site selection – Centenarian Vines have truly withstood the test of time.
Barossa Ancestor Vine
Equal or greater than 125+ years of age. An Ancestor Vine has stood strong and proud for at least one hundred and twenty five years – a living tribute to the early European settlers of the Barossa. Their genetic material has helped to populate this region with irreplaceable old stocks that underpin the viticultural tradition. Tend to be dry-grown, low-yielding vines of great flavour and intensity, and are believed to be among the oldest producing vines in the world.
THE INSIGHT Old vines do not of themselves make good wine. But, vineyards that consistently produce good wine tend to get the opportunity to become old vines. And as with any sense of custodianship, there is responsibility as well as benefit. Old vines also present challenges to the grower: they require a lot of nurturing and yields are often uneconomically low. On the upside, they offer possibilities that young vines simply cannot entertain, they tend to be more drought resistant, and their Darwinian efficiency often means that they can be flavour-, sugar- and tannin-ripe earlier in the season. The unique history of the Barossa means that this viticultural legacy can be successfully promoted in the pursuit of international fine wine acceptance and credibility. If it should ever be possible to taste history and the past, then it will be through the successful preservation and celebration of an old vine culture.
THE BAROSSA: SHIRAZ AS OUR HERO With over 45,000 ha planted throughout the country, Shiraz is synonymous with Australia, and the Barossa is often regarded as its spiritual home. Violet to inky black, often stone-fruit driven, a little licorice-tinged, and usually supported by warm, earthy tannins, Shiraz – while almost always ‘generous’ – can also be as fine and supple as it is full-bodied. Debate may rage over what is the Barossa’s ‘greatest’ wine, but even among the apologists for blends, Grenache, Cabernet, Mataro, Riesling and more, there can be little doubt that ‘Shiraz’ is what the region is most famous for…
THE STORY At the very least, Shiraz in Australia is two different wine expressions: a low-yielded, dry-grown, heavily winery-worked style, with ripeness, tannin and oak in equal abundance; and a finer, medium-bodied style, picked at lower ripeness, with less exposure to small, new oak, and accordingly more fragrant and floral in composition. Traditionally, these stylistic opposites were distinguished by state and regions, with South Australia’s Barossa and McLaren Vale championing the former, and Victoria’s Grampians, Beechworth and Yarra Valley, the latter. Today, and increasingly, both styles can be found in the Barossa, with the stylistic parameters just as likely to be defined by the winemaker’s own philosophy and wine-drinking preference than any climate-driven issue. Whichever style you prefer – and there is obviously a good case for both, and most permutations in between - Shiraz has consistently been recognized as the region’s – if not the country’s – signature expression. Shiraz’s modern evolution can be broadly described as follows: in the 1970s and 1980s, Shiraz-Cabernet blends, often referred to as ‘claret’, were dominant; in the early 1990s, Shiraz found its way into more Rhone-style blends, accompanied by Grenache and Mataro; in the early part of the 2000s, Shiraz-Viognier caught the winemaking community’s attention, with the heady, aromatic lift of the white grape often obscuring some young Shiraz vine limitations; while the current phase is now seeing Shiraz matched with more adventurous assemblages involving Tempranillo; Touriga; Malbec and Sangiovese, to name but a few. Yet despite the range of stylistic choices on offer, there is increasingly a consensus view among the community – and even between the generations – that chasing ‘trends’ and ‘fashion’, such as marginal Mediterranean varietals, fickle oak regimes and paranoid alcohol levels, will only obscure the region’s greatest asset: an exemplary, 170-year old tradition for producing Australia’s finest Shiraz.
THE INSIGHT Shiraz is not the only – nor necessarily always the best – that the Barossa can do. But the Barossa regional brand – like every collaborative idea – is an ‘ingredient’ brand, and every ingredient brand must have a principal ‘ingredient’. The Barossa’s is Shiraz. It provides focus, unity and a positive start to the customer/ consumer conversation.
“Paul Jaboulet came out from the Rhone Valley in France. I put on my 1962 Hill of Grace and he put on his 1962 La Chapelle. What was amazing was how similar the wines looked and what they matured into. Our wine was from vines that were over 100 years old, and his wine was from vines that were probably only about 40 years old. So the Old World was new and the New World was old!” Stephen Henschke
THE BAROSSA: DISCOVERY There is a world of difference between a desperate tilting at windmills, and a self-assured understanding that there is always room for surprise and delight. Your own region, brand or story may well set a confident and clear expectation, but that can never be the total pictureâ€Ś All brands and experiences need an element of firsttime education and discovery â€“ in effect, a constant surpassing of expectation.
THE STORY The Barossa’s connection with world-class Shiraz is well established, and not much of a notion for debate. But, within both the Barossa and Eden Valleys, there is always some unturned stone of discovery – whether it be food, wine or tourism-related. In wine terms, this has already been recognised by those prepared to promote Merlot, Mataro or Grenache beyond members of the supporting cast; while with whites, few could argue that Riesling isn’t every bit as accomplished and terroir-reflective as any red grape; Semillon is increasingly stealing thunder from the Hunter; and such has become the critical acclaim for Viognier, that it is no longer considered ‘alternative’.
THE INSIGHT Discovery can range from the newly introduced, through to the different and the rediscovered or reclaimed. In terms of varietals and wine styles, the phrase ‘alternative’ is one to be avoided – it implies a need to choose between options, whereas the real benefit of ‘discovery’ is the extension of repertoire and preference. Above all, the real relevance of discovery is that it cannot happen without some kind of learning experience, and this is the most productive exchange of all between brand and audience.
“There is a similar, positively parochial, revivalist spirit to be found among some Australian winemakers…Rather than to go overseas to find viticultural inspiration, these winemakers are looking at the vines that have been growing in their own backyard for, in some cases, well over 100 years. In old, established winegrowing regions such as the Barossa Valley, for example, red grapes such as Mataro; Carignan and Cinsault, long considered second-rate varieties, are now sought after both for their savoury flavours and their suitability to hot, dry growing conditions…This resonates strongly with the rediscovery and promotion of heritage fruits and vegetables and rare breed animals championed by the Slow Food and farmers’ market movements…” Max Allen, The Future Makers
But beyond these ‘perpetually-emerging-but-neverquite-established’ options, there have also been some exciting new developments – foraging for the genuinely experimental such as Sagrantino, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Touriga Nacional and Savagnin, allied to a rediscovery of old material long left in anonymity – Carignan, Cinsault, Durif, Marsanne, Petit Verdot, Roussanne etc. The result is not a confused fruit salad, but rather a constantly – if subtly – evolving palette of flavours and textures from which to draw. Obviously, this is not just important in a consumer economy obsessed with ‘choice’, but also in terms of perpetual brand refreshment, and more significantly, herein may also be potential solutions to some of our longer-term, environmental challenges.
THE BAROSSA: BAROSSA GROUNDS So what are the potential sub-regions of the Barossa? From north, south, east and west, from valley floor to the highest hills they include, but are not limited to: Gomersal, Williamstown, Lyndoch, Rowland Flat, Barossa Foothills, Vine Vale, Eden Valley, High Eden, Light Pass, Northern Barossa Valley, Greenock, Seppeltsfield and Marananga. These potential sub-regions are actually some of the original local villages of the settlement – or as Robert O’Callaghan politely corrected me, ‘the parishes’. For a region originally founded on a brave hope for religious freedom, and whose landscape is still punctuated by picturesque stone churches, this seems curiously appropriate.
The Barossa sub-regionality debate has been swollen by the number of communes and parishes that make up the complexity of the region. The key question is: should sites be distinguished on the basis of soil, microclimate, altitude or town boundaries? In terms of distinctive differences in microclimate, soil and aspect, sub-regions such as Greenock or Moppa are certainly different from Rowland Flat or Lyndoch. Similarly, High Eden is markedly different from other parts of the Eden Valley. In determining the relevance and detail behind the differences, it is important to consider the full range of influence: above and below the ground ‘climate’; geology; topography, soil, weather, aspect, people and culture, to name but a few. The following excerpt is from the notes of journalist Philip White, a former geologist and current wine-writer who has attended the three annual tastings of Barossa Grounds (formerly known as Barossa Terroirs). Philip’s account focuses primarily on below the ground influences, but the exercise nonetheless informs the debate around the existence and relevance of Barossa sub-regions. It provides a subjective – but highly illustrative – account of how aspects of physical environment and geology can contribute towards consistently identifiable characteristics and flavours in the local wines. Or, perhaps more lyrically, how you can locate the Barossa parishes in a glass of wine… “The first set came from the higher vineyards between Williamstown and Lyndoch, and a few from the older country over the Para around Gomersal. These are largely in alluvial sands laid down in the last million years or so, overlying the
micaceous schists, siltstones, calcilicates and quartzites of the Upper Burra group, all older than 540 million years. These were perfumed and fragrant delicacies with hints of fennel, aniseed and wintergreen over their elegant cherries and dark berries. They were generally of moderate alcohol and acidity; concentrated, yet modest and pretty, reminding me of the floral cuties from the schist of northern Beaujolais. “Next, the western piedmont of the Barossa range, from Rowland Flat north through Bethany and Vine Vale, along the Stockwell fault to Saltram. Most of this is sediment of sand, gravel and clay, younger than 1.8 million years. These, too, were perfumed, elegant wines, musky, juicy and delicate over their cherries and blackcurrants. Fleshy rather than mineral, with meaty charcuterie hints. “The bracket from north of there, in similar geology, from Nuriootpa past The Willows and Light Pass, was quite different, with a touch more acidity and alcohol, and classic Barossa chocolate adding to their rich fruitcake and leather. In these ethereal, juicy, wines, dried apple, an aroma typical to the more westerly vineyards, began to emerge. Some showed the minty influence of eucalypts. “Across the range, the wines of the High Barossa – from McLean’s Farm atop Mengler’s Hill, south past Mountadam to Eden Springs and east to Craneford – rocked. This geology – metasiltstones, metasandstones, slates, gneisses and granites – is 490 to 545 million years old, when sluggy critters, arthropods and trilobites were evolving. With stony mineral basenotes perfectly reflecting their source, these were stacked with morello cherries, blackberry jam and prunes, in ethereal, juicy, bouquets; below lay charcuterie meats and earth. The alcohols seemed modest, as did the acidity, but the latter looked natural, which always beats shoveled tartaric!
“The wines from north of Eden Valley town, out past the Henschkes, were more boisterous, minerally and stony, with blackcurrants, blackberries, dark cherries, prunes and sin black jams abundant. Milk chocolate appeared here, and more charcuterie; even metwurst. The tannins were earthy, yet sinewy. “Back to the Moppa: the flats north of Nuriootpa, where the great old vines of Ebenezer and Kalimna somehow live in dry alluvial sands deposited 1.8 to 50 million years ago, with bits of more recent windblown sand on top. These were what I’d call classic, mighty, fruitcake Barossa: black and thick with prunes, cherries, mulberries and cassis, with dark chocolate, and meaty, leathery tones glowering below, and higher alcohols to match. The tannins were soft, yet earthy and mineral. “South then, and west to Greenock, Seppeltsfield and Marananga, and the Valley’s strongest, most complex wines: packed with jams and fruitcake, prunes and figs, dried apple and pear, leather, cooking chocolate, and walnuts. The rocks north of the Marananga Church to the by-pass highway are schists, siltstones and quartzites from the Upper Burra Group, from away back in the Neoproterozoic (545-1200 million years), when multi-cellular life was beginning. Climate and altitude aside, this is where I dream that the older, more complex rocks give flavours to match.”
THE INSIGHT Obviously, geology and the glacial movement of both land and time are not the only influences in defining character and/or terroir. Above the ground climate, from temperature and sunlight hours through to prevailing winds and rainfall, as well as culture, from people, practice and philosophy through to local football and gastronomic rivalry, will also play its part. The significance of the geological distinction, however, is twofold: it leans towards empiricism for an idea – terroir – that is often criticised for being too ‘interpretive’; and, it demonstrates that for a young country, and a ‘new’ world, the passing of time and history has indeed had a profound effect. Ultimately, the discussion and promotion of Barossa sub-regionality should serve to help grower, winemaker, customer and consumer better understand the distinctive hallmark of local place and origin.
“Essentially, the Barossa parishes are not just another chapter in a regional brand story, but rather a demonstration that the detail of place is the ultimate author of wine character.” www.winehero.com.au
THE BAROSSA: BAROSSA FLAVOURS The Barossa already has a strong and established food identity. It speaks most profoundly of its Silesian and German heritage – artisan smallgoods, specialist bakers and an elderly – but highly productive! – community of home-cooks dedicated to the production of delicious pickles, jams and preserves. So far, so gemütlich! But in truth, there lies in the Barossa a passion for food, flavours and hospitality that goes far beyond northern Europe, taking in all of the Mediterranean, and venturing as far east as Cambodia and Vietnam.
The morning I met Maggie Beer in her demonstration kitchen at the farm – that of ‘The Cook and The Chef’ fame – she seemed a little flustered with the preparations of the day, and the fact that she was about to go to Europe the following. An interview was the last thing she needed… But here’s the thing… A quick coffee, and brief chat about what to cover, and here comes that broad smile, those strong, gesticulating hands, and that bright-eyed enthusiasm that she seems to maintain at a constant, rolling boil. That’s not just professionalism. That’s genuine passion. She quickly warms to her theme: “I have always thought of the Barossa as Mediterranean as much as anything else, not because of the produce, but more because of the very distinct and different seasons, and the way that they determine the patterns of our lives.” Pushed a little further, Maggie manages to sum up the Barossa cuisine as more a sense of involvement and a spirit of generosity than actual ingredients, and something that has served to keep the multi-generational community together through shared exchange and endeavor. “Really, it’s what makes us all tick – taking pride in the effort of the day, and then being able to share it around a table with a bottle of something delicious!” Of the seasons themselves, the soft fruits of Spring and Summer are a real treat, but the quintessential flavours and colours of the Barossa are undeniably autumnal. For Maggie it is pumpkin and quince, hogget (oneyear-old lamb) and pheasant, and pulled-pork and clove and cinnamonspiced red cabbage that best exemplify the region’s style and accent. Warm, gold and russet in tone, just like the folded landscape itself.
“It was the luckiest accident of my life that Colin and I settled in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. If I believed in such things, I might say that fate played a hand in it all: it has always felt that it was just meant to be. Whatever the reason, the quality of our life here is so deep and rich, and so centered around the soil, the seasons and the community, that I now wonder how I was ever a city person.” Maggie Beer
THE INSIGHT For this section – and seeing as it is about food and generations and exchange – I thought an example would be more appropriate in demonstrating the ‘learning’… The Apex Bakery has made a Barossa favourite called streuselkuchen since it first opened. This yeast cake is made in great slabs, with or without fruit, depending on the maker’s preference. Apricots can top it in summer, followed as the season progresses by red grapes and then plums. The Fechner family – currently in charge after its original establishment by Albert Hoffmann – has a huge plum tree in their garden and they freeze the fruit whole. Halved and stoned, it thaws on the streusel before it all goes in to the oven, the juices enthusiastically bleeding into the cake. Hot from the oven, it is nothing short of addictive!
One final anecdote. During the 1960s, and during his retirement, Martin Meinel used to bake bienenstich at The Apex. A yeast cake, it has a honey and almond crust, and is filled with cream or custard. Martin was so protective of his recipe, that it was thought to have passed with him. And that might have been the case, but for a young and gimleteyed David Fechner, who having witnessed Martin’s efforts over and over again from the next room, reckoned he could have a good guess at the ingredients and the measures. Today, bienenstich is found in every Barossa bakery! So, what of the insight? Well, with food and flavours, it comes down to three things: passion for great, local ingredients; respect for inherited learning as well as a willingness to experiment; and, finally, a generous compulsion to share.