17 Dec 2015

The grapes of the Barossa produce some of Australia’s best wines. Match it with fine food and you’ve got a delicious reason to explore the region.

Romance, of course, can happen anywhere.

But it helps when you’re surrounded by rolling hills cross-hatched with grapevines that just happen to produce some of Australia’s best wines. Match that wine with fine food – and you’ve got yet another delicious reason to explore the Barossa, an hour’s drive north of Adelaide.

The Barossa also has plenty of ways to fill the gaps between those indulgent dining experiences. Hop on a bicycle to explore the cycling trails and back roads connecting one cellar door to another, climb into a hot-air balloon to see the sun tint golden the patchwork of vines and farms or learn a new skill such as blending your own wine or making pasta from scratch. View all the things to keep you busy here.

If that sounds too strenuous, you can always relax to such a degree that you can’t even remember what Monday morning looks like.

But first things first: those brilliant wines. No one quite knows why the Barossa produces such exceptional fruit. The valley’s two main soil types are generally regarded as low in fertility yet the different terroirs create wines of great character and distinction.

Perhaps history has just as much to do with it. Pioneering early European settlers planted vines now regarded as ancestor vines (older than 125 years), which laid the foundation for the region’s viticultural heritage. Today, more than 13,000ha are under vine in the Barossa, with Shiraz the most popular grape variety.

The Barossa’s 755 grape-growers also nurture Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, Riesling and Semillon vines.

Pick an expert’s brain

If you’re in the Barossa for a weekend, how do you know which of the 80-plus cellar doors to visit? Try picking an expert’s brain.

Kick off the weekend with dinner at Appellation within The Louise, where you can tap into the sommeliers’ intimate knowledge of the local drops.

Between dishes such as Barossa grain-fed chicken with bacon broth, chestnuts, sweet pea and lemon thyme, and bittersweet chocolate sorbet with roasted Adelaide Hills hazelnuts, perhaps you’ll fall in love with Bella’s Garden Shiraz from Two Hands, just down the road from the luxury property.

The Louise also offers in-house guests experiences such as an extended masterclass and long lunch at Two Hands, or a blend-your-own-wine session at Penfolds Nuriootpa cellar door followed by dinner at Appellation, with a course that’s matched to your blend.

Those who have their hearts set on tasting Australia’s most famous red can book into Penfolds A Taste of Grange experience.

Want to indulge in wine-tasting without worrying about driving? Join one of the small-group tours or book a private cellar-door tour.

For a more memorable ride, tour the cellar doors in a 1962 eight-seat Daimler, a modern seven-seat Mercedes or settle into the passenger seat of a custom-built trike. There’s even a hot-air balloon ride (with Balloon Adventures) that finishes with wine tasting at Tanunda’s Langmeil Winery, home to one of the world’s oldest Shiraz vineyards.

Heavy hanging grapes

Depending on the season, the balloon ride will offer views over vines bursting into bud in spring, hanging heavy with fruit in summer or giving up their harvest as summer fades into autumn. The leaves then change colour and drop, leaving vines bare as winter sets in.

No matter what time of year, there’s always something delicious to buy at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop: the famed cook’s range of gourmet foodstuffs includes vinegars, oils, ciders, fruit pastes, pickles and ice-cream. Stop in for coffee and cake, or pick up a picnic basket to enjoy in front of the farm’s blue-green dam. Most of the picnics are built around one of Beer’s pâtés: duck and orange, chicken and quince, mushroom and verjuice, and more.

This year, Beer expanded beyond culinary endeavours to open a gourmet spin on self-catered accommodation. Orchard House, which sleeps up to four people, is a short walk from the Farm Shop through heritage orchards. Guests are encouraged to pick fruit from the trees and fresh herbs from the garden tanks. The pantry is stuffed with Beer’s products, which guests can use as they like, and breakfast provisions include free-range eggs, black pig belly bacon, sourdough bread, Jersey milk and unsalted butter.

Visitors who want to take home a taste of the Barossa should bring a cooler bag and fill it with goodies from the Barossa Farmers Market, which runs each Saturday morning out of the cavernous Vintners Sheds at Angaston.

Vendors have time to chat

Sellers vary from week to week, depending on what’s in season, but you’re likely to find fifth-generation market gardeners specialising in greens and heirloom carrots, potato farmers cracking a joke or two, an “oliveologist” who perfected his lemony olive oil with the help of Maggie Beer, curry paste-makers, bakers and millers, coffee-roasters and chocolatiers.

Unlike busy city produce markets, the vendors here have time for a laugh and a chat. Those in the know hit the market early – it opens at 7.30am – to beat the mid-morning wave of visitors who drive up from Adelaide.

Another way to enjoy the markets is with Italian chef Matteo Carboni. Together with his Australian wife Fiona, Carboni runs a cooking school in Angaston, Casa Carboni. His Saturday classes start at the markets, sourcing produce for lunch. Back at the cooking school, participants make an entrée, fresh pasta, risotto and dessert that they’ll enjoy for lunch, together with a glass of wine and a coffee.

It also pays to arrive early at Kingsford Homestead (check-in time is from 2pm) on the western edge of the Barossa near Gawler. The property is large enough to house a roll-top bathtub set in a remote field, far enough away from the seven-suite homestead that you’re guaranteed not to see another guest while frolicking in the tub. Couples are driven to the claw-foot slipper tub, which overlooks the North Para River, with a basket containing binoculars (for bird-spotting), bathrobes, bath salts and an ice bucket for the bottle of bubbles.

As for the homestead itself, its history is intriguing. A pastoralist commissioned the two-storey, Georgian-style sandstone house in 1856 – it’s thought that the stone travelled from Edinburgh as ship’s ballast. Original features remaining today include the slate entrance hall and the cedar “buffet” that unfolds to reveal steps leading down into the stone cellar.

Television history

Kingsford was a watering point for coaches, drovers and bullock teams; it bounced back from a severe 19th-century drought to become a Hereford cattle property and, later, an agricultural research facility.

But things became really interesting when it was bought by Channel Nine. For seven years, the Kingsford homestead and its interiors starred in the TV series McLeod’s Daughters as the run-down cattle station Drover’s Run. Fans will recall that the show featured a photogenic bathtub under the windmill – the inspiration for installing a remote tub (complete with its own heating system) when the property opened as a luxury retreat in 2012.

Those after a truly Barossa-style bath can try Endota Spa within the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort . Besides the usual spa services – massages and manicures, scrubs and spray-tans – is the red-wine soak. It’s said that the antioxidant-rich red wine helps to combat ageing.

Some say exercise does the same thing. Work up an appetite for your next Barossa meal at Kaiserstuhl Conservation Park, 12km southeast of Tanunda. Two walking trails lead hikers through low forest, scrub and grasslands, past creeks and rocky outcrops, for sweeping views over the valley. Wildlife enthusiasts should time their walk for dawn or dusk, when there’s a good chance of spotting grazing kangaroos.

If your idea of exercise is flexing the plastic, head to JamFactory at Seppeltsfield, a satellite venture of JamFactory’s flagship Adelaide galleries, studios and store. The 1000-square-metre Barossa craft and design hub opened within 19th-century stables in late 2013.

Like its big-city counterpart, it provides working space for creatives (including a cutler, glass artist and shoemaker), a gallery and a store showcasing the beauty of hand-crafted pieces.

And finally, don’t forget you’re in the spiritual home of Australian fortified wines where after you’ve bought a curio or two for the mantelpiece at home, you can taste some rare gems at the cellar door. Finish off the day with an early dinner at the swishly transformed Fino Restaurant where head chef Sam Smith’s masterly Mediterranean-inspired fare showcases the best of local seasonal produce. Ratchet up the romance and dine inside – hidden away in one of the old bottling hall’s alcoves.


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