With a rich vine and wine history dating back to 1842, the Barossa Valley is one of the most historic wine producing regions in Australia. There are now sixth generation grape growing families in the Barossa Valley, they are the custodians to Australia’s largest collection of old vines with blocks dating back to the 1840’s. Australian wine is inextricably linked with Barossa Shiraz for many people and while the variety is definitely the Barossa’s star performer, varieties like Grenache, Mourvedre/Mataro, Riesling and Semillon all have a long and distinguished history of producing exceptional wines. In recent years these traditional Barossa varieties have been joined by a new wave of Mediterranean varieties, suited to the region's soils and climate. The region has also been invigorated by a new breed of winemakers who have challenged the status quo while still maintaining an inherent love and respect for the Barossa traditions and culture.
Barossa Valley history: old vines, family lines and a unique culture
The Barossa Valley was first developed for agriculture and viticulture after European settlement by the British, but it wasn't long before Silesian Lutheran emigrants from Prussia gave the region a distinctly German flavour. How did this come about? London banker and merchant George Fife Angas was the largest land owner in the Barossa Valley with 11,300 hectares,so he needed plenty of help to work the land.
George Fife Angas... sought as settlers solid god-fearing folk, prepared to pass the weekday hours in honest toil and the sabbath in worship of their creator.
John Beeston, A concise history of Australian wine
The Silesian Lutherans were escaping religious persecution in their homeland so perfectly fitted Angas' need for hard working people. Many made the journey to the Barossa Valley and the evidence of these settlers is still clear for all to see, taste and experience today. From the beautiful Lutheran Churches dotted around the region to the delicious food traditions of baking, smallgoods and pickling to the grape growers with names like Schulz, Kalleske and Kaesler.
But the Barossa Valley didn't build it's reputation entirely off the back of hard working Silesian migrants. Samuel Smith was a brewer at Wareham in Dorset, England. He sailed to Australia in 1847 with his wife and five children. Upon arriving they heading to the Barossa to get work with George Angas. As Samuel was working as a gardener in George's garden and orchard he quickly realised that the soil and the climate in the Barossa Valley were perfectly suited to vines. So he promptly bought 30 acres of land from George and planted the first Yalumba vineyard in 1849. From little things, big things grow...
Johann Gramp, a farmer from Bavaria had a similar story. He arrived in the Barossa Valley in 1847 and settled on the bank's of Jacob's Creek. He, like Samuel Smith and many of the other settlers, noticed that the Barossa Valley was perfectly suited to vines, so he sent the message back to Germany to send cuttings of Riesling to be planted in their new home. By 1959 Johann had realised that the Barossa Valley's future lay in viticulture, expanding his Jacob's Creek vineyard as many others in the region had begun to do. The foresight of Gramp, Smith and many others has given the Barossa a rich and unrivalled treasure trove of old vines which are still producing amazing wines to this day.
Life existed in the Barossa for ages before anyone much cared about its wine, and that history keeps it feeling genuine, like somewhere you might drive to from Adelaide just for a few good meals, a spa treatment, a bit of sunshine. Then you stop in to see a winemaker—maybe Rojomoma's Bernadette Kaeding, a talented photographer who displays her works beside her steel tanks—and drink an otherworldly shiraz that tastes like blackberries. And you realize you are in the midst of one of the world's foremost wine areas.
Bruce Schoenfeld, Wine Writer, Saveur Magazine from Australia: The Wine Destination of the Year
From the late 1800s to the 1960s and 70s the Barossa Valley grew and developed, but it's wines were yet to make their mark on the world stage. As Australians were mainly drinking fortified wines during this period the region, like many others, had become a specialist at producing these styles. From rich and luscious tawny styles, made from Grenache and Shiraz, to light and refreshing sherry styles the Barossa Valley was adept at all. Nowadays these wines are a much smaller part of the overall production in the Barossa, however, the amazing wines still made at wineries like Seppeltsfield are a testament to the world class nature of these styles.
As taste in wine evolved in Australia and around the world so too did the wines produced in the Barossa. Slowly but surely Australians grew to love table wines. Initially it was white wines like Riesling and Chardonnay that consumers turned to but over time they also grew to love red wines like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. A new generation of young winemakers in the Barossa Valley built their names and reputations during this period, names like Grant Burge, Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass, Charlie Melton and Robert O'Callaghan at Rockfords.
I really appreciate what Robert O’Callaghan started here at Rockford. His mantra was preserving the best of the traditional wine trade. I absolutely love that we preserve old ways & traditions, the old equipment & winemaking styles. It’s important though to understand that we preserve the best of the traditional wine trade. We do use some modern techniques where needed to compliment the best of the traditional. That’s our wine philosophy.
Ben Radford, Rockford Wines
It wasn't long before the wines from these, and many other Barossa Valley producers, started to gain a global reputation for vibrant, fruit-forward wines of exceptional quality. These wines quickly won over the world's wine lovers, from wine writers and sommeliers to wine geeks and novices. This heralded the start of a 'golden era' for the Barossa Valley and for Australian wine. Fast-forward to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and tastes evolved once again. Intense, concentrated and heavily naked wines became the fashion. For a time, examples of Shiraz, Grenache, and red blends from regions like the Barossa Valley were possibly the most fashionable and highly sought after wines in the world. These wines were feted by wine critics and dominated the Australian fine wine story for many years, cementing the Barossa Valley's reputation for producing exceptional wines in a diverse range of styles. But just like in the 1960s and 1970s, the time was ripe for another evolution in the Barossa Valley.
(R)evolution: a new breed pushes the boundaries while respecting tradition
We’ve got a bedrock of winemaking tradition and old vines blended with a younger generation who are challenging global perceptions of Australian wine.
Charlie Melton, Charles Melton Wines
Today, there's a group of new and exciting winemakers who are, once again, helping to change the face of wine in the Barossa Valley. Some of them, like Damien Tscharke, Wayne Ahrens and Troy Kalleske, come from families that have been part of the fabric of the Barossa Valley since the 1800s. Some, like Pete Schell and Helen McCarthy, have been drawn to the Barossa, coming from around the world to explore the rich tapestry of soils and terroirs that make the region world renowned.
Some are exploring innovative choices of grape varieties, planting Mediterranean varieties that are better suited to the Barossa's warm climate than classic French varieties. Fiano, Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Dolcetto and Graciano are just a handful of the varieties that are finding a new home in the Barossa Valley. Others like Abel Gibson at Ruggabellus are exploring traditional Barossa Valley varieties like Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and Riesling in new and exciting ways to much acclaim.
I was really interested in the shape and the feeling of the land in the Barossa. It’s just so rugged and weathered and it has endured for so many seasons… It’s definitely the main source of inspiration for our wines. I’ve also been lucky to drink some old reds from the Barossa from the mid 1960s and early 1970s, before the age of ripeness. These wines were hugely inspiring to me.
Abel Gibson, Ruggabellus Wines
This evolution and experimentation is not just restricted to grape varieties, the new breed are also experimenting with grape growing and winemaking styles. Organic and biodynamic farming, earlier picking dates, whole bunch fermentation, extended skin contact, fermentation in amphorae and minimal intervention winemaking are just some of the ways that people are innovating in a traditional wine region like the Barossa Valley. But are these innovations or is it just a case of wine region going back to the winemaking traditions of people like Johann Gramp and Samuel Smith? Whatever the case the wines that the new breed of the Barossa Valley are producing have captured the wine world's imagination. These wines add to the wonderful diversity of our most famous wine region, ensuring a bright and bold future for many generations.
My generation are proud to be the custodians of the Barossa traditions developed over many, many years.
Justine Henschke, Henschke Wines
What others are saying about Barossa Valley
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