When one thinks of the Barossa Valley, the first things that pop into the mind are images of rolling vineyards, red wine (particularly Shiraz), artisanal produce and long table lunches.
Variety pops into the mind, but with little clarity. Yes, we know the Barossa is big. We know it has an enormous annual output of wine, and no, it’s not just Shiraz. But where is the detail in that variety?
Everyone has heard about the ‘hidden secrets’ that abound in the region, but how many of these treasures do we know with any intimacy other than a catchy advertisement replete with Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand? A new breed of boutique wine tours seeks to uncover these secrets to the public.
Much like the wineries they visit, these tours focus on quality over quantity. Guests are taken care of with itineraries individually designed based on personal tastes and experienced guides to bounce questions off.
The Adelaide Review went along for the ride with one such company, Small Batch Wine Tours, and got the opportunity to learn about four of the most unique wineries in the labyrinthine region that is the Barossa.
We begin with Langmeil Winery’s cellar door, situated on one of the oldest settlements of the Valley. Many will have seen and tasted Langmeil wines in restaurants and bottleshops.
Their distinctive black and gold label speaks to the Barossa’s cherished tradition, just as their winery and cellar door celebrate it. A quick drop of ‘Barossa Berocca’ – a glass of sparkling red at 10 in the morning – and we’re off about the premises. We visit an old smith’s workshop, complete with anvil and furnace, to discuss the winery’s history.
The settlement was founded by a German refugee, Christian Auricht, who was advised to plant grape vines on his lot. One is tempted to think that the hands-on approach to life has departed modern wineries, but on stepping out of the workshop we are greeted by the sight of a man putting the finishing touches on a big handmade wooden bench under the neighbouring shed, and we are told that much of Langmeil’s vines are hand-pruned, eschewing the massive pruning machines present in industrial wineries. Obviously the rustic roots run as deep as those of the vines here.
Speaking of those roots, we proceed to some of the oldest vines in the valley. Clocking in at a remarkable 173 years old, these vines produce the grapes for the Freedom 1843 Shiraz, a collector’s favourite.
Gnarled and thick, these roots have “the wisdom of the old” according to cellar door manager Jonathan Bitter, and are among the oldest continually producing vines on Earth. Loaded with stories and temptation, we move underground into the Freedom Cellar to taste Langmeil’s brilliant reds, including the Freedom 1843, alongside a selection of local cheeses, muscatel grapes and duck pate.
Following from one of the Barossa’s most traditional and historic boutique wineries, we arrive at one of its most progressive.
Izway Wines prides itself on “gently guiding” their wines to the finished product, and one of many wineries bucking the additive trend. Very few acids, sugars, nutrients or tannins are added to Izway’s natural-style wines as they come along, and winemaker Craig Isbel is proud to note that his wines are a “reflection” of the seasons and conditions that lead to their bottling.
The cellar door is a work in progress, and construction surrounds the solar powered winemaking sheds. It’s refreshing to visit a cellar door with few pretensions and so much focus on creating complex, unique wines.
“Some wines aim too much for drinkability and they sacrifice the layers and intrigue,” says Isbel as we taste his range. The wine list reads almost like the starting XI of a cricket team, with Bruce, Brian, Don and Les filling out the order. Indeed, they’re named for Isbel’s friends and heroes. “Les was a wicket keeper down at Nuri’. I used to throw a lot of bouncers at him. We became good mates,” laughs Isbel.
The names are a charming match to the richly, diverse and challenging flavours Isbel’s wines deliver. Some are bouncers, with big brash acids and fruit flavour, while others are more like a cheeky Yorker, surprising the tastebuds and lingering on the palate.
Midway through the day, and already a few glasses deep in wine, it’s time for lunch. There are no packed lunches on this tour, but instead a visit to one of Barossa’s very best restaurants: FINO.
Dining amid the ostentatious splendour of the Seppeltsfield winery with a two-course meal, plus drinks, is a fine way to recalibrate the palate before moving on to the next winery. Next stop is one of the most unique experiences to be had on tour in the Barossa, a masterclass with Rieslingfreak’s CEO (Chief Everything Officer) John Hughes. Our lush touring van rolls through the quaint streets of suburban Tanunda, before pulling up in front of a most unassuming house.
This is where the tasting is? Alright. The mind boggles with the possibility of taking the tasting in someone’s living room, complete with doilies on a kitchen table and maybe a cat wandering through on its way to the food bowl.
No, we’re not destined for the living room. We’re headed for the shed. A typically suburban green tin shed will be our destination. Guests expect woodchips, oily rags and spiders, but are shocked to walk into a remarkably modern space.
Insulated, dimly lit and lined wall-to-wall with wine, this is Hughes’ own jealousy-inspiring cellar. Everyone sits down at the long polished wood table, and the masterclass begins with a tour through six of Rieslingfreak’s drops.
They’re all as lovely as they are different, and Hughes explains how certain characteristics come from the grapes being grown in different soils at different altitudes. An absolute standout is the SchatzKammer, a German-style Riesling bursting at the gills with perfectly balanced sweet and acid flavours.
By the end of the masterclass it is clear that there is no more appropriate place for it to have occurred than in the cosy comfort of Hughes’ own private sanctum. Our final stop of the day is Rusden Vignerons, yet another unique and boutique spot, smack bang in the middle of the Valley. Rusden’s wines are sourced from their 40 acre block, and move well through the restaurant and export trades.
With only 40 acres of vines, Rusden puts out an impressive set of varietals, as Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, Mataro and Malbec all sitting alongside the Barossa mainstays of Shiraz and Cab Sauv. It’s a storming range, but the Rusden team are comfortable with this heroic output.
“It’s our style – we like to experiment,” says Craig Philips Rusden’s sales and marketing manager as he swirls and sips a drop of Malbec. “You probably saw a paddock of vines ripped up as you came in? Yeah, that was Sauv Blanc. Bit of a weed, we like to think. We’re putting some Cinsault in on that lot.”
Evidently, Rusden are comfortable carving out new territory here in one of Australia’s most well-trodden wine regions. The sun sets as the group piles back into the van for the ride back to Adelaide, contentedly full of wonderful wine and the small batch stories of these four boutique Barossa wineries.
John Dexter was a guest of Small Batch Wine Tours on the Small Batch Experience Tour. smallbatchwinetours.com.au