A short 50 kilometers or so north of Adelaide, one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations has found itself with the good geographical luck to be near a major metropolitan area. Good for the tourists, anyway. Meet the Barossa Valley, known as one of the country’s oldest wine producing regions. Way back in 1843 the first Shiraz grapes were planted by eastern European settlers at Langmeil and amazingly, that small 1843 plot is still active and producing today. A good starting point is a visit to Langmeil Winery in the centrally located town of Tanunda . Visitors get an informed introduction to the history of winemaking in the Barossa, and there you’ll also get to see the world’s oldest Shiraz vines and possibly the world’s oldest vines of any kind.
While you’re in Tanunda it’s a good idea to visit the Barossa Visitor Information Centre to plan your trip. It’s open daily and is the simplest and most thorough source for figuring out the lay of the land. They’ll supply you with maps and information on tours, wineries, activities and events. They’ve also put together a clever variety of self guided tours designed to fit most tastes, including wine tasting only, wine and food pairings, historical walks and bike touring. Touring the valley by cycle is ragingly popular and the operators will get you outfitted with all the needed gear to safely get on the road, complete with a picnic basket if you want. Some of the valley tours are also packaged with vouchers for discounts from businesses along the way. Who doesn’t love a discount? And if you find yourself unable to connect and are having withdrawals, the centre also offers free internet via wi-fi hot spot.
Drive or Drink
If you’ve come for the wineries, then you have some choices to make before you start. If you’re planning on drinking your way through the valley, then hiring a chauffeured car may be the best way to go if you want to go at your leisure. Otherwise, you can hop on a guided tour bus and still avoid the drinking and driving issue, plus they will offer itineraries that include the most popular stops. If neither of these fits your style, then drive yourself and plan on the sip and spit method, followed up by a nice glass of wine or two with lunch. Most wineries are open daily until around 5pm and types of programs available will vary widely, ranging from production or vineyard tours, to public tastings, private premium tastings or catered picnics.
Blend Your Own Bottle
One of the most unique wine related experiences in the Barossa can be had at Penfolds in Nuriootpa, For a fee, they offer a scheduled session in their ‘Winemaker’s Laboratory.’ There you’ll participate in a 90 minute guided class of sample tasting, culminating in the custom blending of your own private labeled bottle to take home. Space is limited so call ahead to schedule, and get ready for something you won’t get just anywhere: bragging rights to your own private Penfolds blend.
Eat With a Food Maven
When the hunger pangs attack during the day, a visit to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop nearby in Nuriootpa is a popular destination for foodies. Whether you merely sit and have coffee and dessert or enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the dam, the Farm Shop’s popularity will be evident by the loads of activity all around. With Maggie being a TV cooking icon, naturally there are cooking demonstrations, food samplings and opportunities to stock your pantry with Maggie’s signature goods. Lunch (called Picnic Fare by Maggie) is served all day inside and out. After your meal, grab a glass of wine, take a walk around the grounds and talk to the ducks and the turtles. It’s an interesting and satisfying stop always with plenty going on.
Whisper Louder Please
South of Tanunda, the nearby village of Williamstown is home to the Barossa Reservoir, built over 100 years ago and considered an architectural triumph of the time, the first arched dam in Australia. The story of its construction is presented and is quite interesting, but Its real draw is its retaining wall which has been unofficially named Whispering Wall because whispered words from one end of it can be heard at the opposite end over 100 meters away. Children and adults alike love it, and it’s a great chance to whisper long held secrets you don’t mind others finally hearing. It’s one of those rare roadside attractions everyone will remember fondly.
Though the majority will come for the wine, no matter which sights you see on your visit there will be dozens more you missed. The residents of the Barossa are among the most hospitable you’ll find anywhere and will eagerly welcome you back. And if you’re like most, the Barossa Valley will immediately find a place on your hotlist of places to visit again.