The Barossa is a truly historic Australian wine region. Families have been growing grapes and making wine here for five, six and seven generations. Adrian Hoffmann was born into a traditional Barossa family, one that had been working the land since 1857. While there are no surviving records, they’ve been growing grapes since at least the 1880s. The reputation for the quality of their fruit has been continually high since then and continues to grow.
Today, Adrian is the proud custodian of the Hoffmann family vineyards. He loves what he does and is a tireless advocate for fellow growers in the Barossa. You’d be hard pressed to meet someone more passionate about grape growing in the Australian wine community. But things weren’t always this way. There were times when the Hoffmann’ vineyards were up for sale during lean times in the 1980s. There were times in his life when Adrian wanted nothing to do with life on the farm. A life working for his father’s engineering firm looked like the path he wanted to follow.
Thankfully for both the local winemaking community and wine lovers around the world, Adrian changed tack in the early 1990s. Just as the world was starting to discover the Barossa, Adrian was discovering his passion for growing grapes and working on the land. He learnt the traditional methods from his grandfather who passed down generations of accrued knowledge. Adrian has complemented this with the latest research and more than a little marketing nous to become one of the region’s most successful and progressive growers. The reluctant farmer now a leader in his field.
The history of the Hoffmann family in the Barossa
The Barossa has a unique food and wine culture and is famed around the world. This culture has a distinctly German flavour thanks to Silesian Lutherans who emigrated to the region in the 1800s. Common family names like Kalleske, Shulz, Hoffmann and Kaesler were escaping religious persecution in their homeland and brought their farming, food and wine traditions with them to the early settlements in the Barossa. It didn’t take them long to realise that they’d come to a very special place and they planted vines that bear fruit to this day. They shared and developed their food traditions using the exceptional produce grown in the Barossa dirt. It must have seemed to them that they’d found a garden of Eden on the other side of the world. But anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows that life in the Garden was never going to be pastoral idyll.
The Hoffmann family can be seen as a microcosm of the joys, the trials and tribulations of the Barossa grape growers. When they arrived in the region in 1857 they started as farmers, not grape growers. This was a time when a diversified farm was what a farm was, so there were probably a few vines on the Hoffman farm even then. By the 1880s this had changed. They were growing grapes for Benno Seppelt, at the time the region’s largest producer and an important figure in the growth of the region. Throughout the 1900s the Hoffmann family vineyards became firmly established as the source of some of the most sought-after grapes in the Barossa. There were the ups and downs that come with life on the land but on the whole, all was well. There was a strong market for their fruit through much of the 20th century. Then came the 1980s and the Hoffmanns faced the biggest challenges they’d seen in their 120 plus years in the Barossa.
Enter Adrian Hoffmann… at the worst possible time
Adrian Hoffmann grew up in the Barossa in the 1970s and 80s. This was a time of great change and upheaval in the region. Wine fashions in Australia and around the world were changing rapidly. Gone was the preference for full-bodied reds and fortified wines as consumers fell in love with aromatic whites and cool climate reds. This was bad news for growers in the Barossa.
This was the era before old vines were cherished and treasured, the time before the Barossa had a reputation as one of the world’s great wine regions. Adrian’s father Jeff could see no other option but to reduce the number of vines they had. When they still couldn’t sell the grapes from their meagre 15 hectares they had left, he decided to put the vineyard on the market. Over a century of proud grape growing tradition was on the edge of oblivion.
In what now can be seen as an extraordinary stroke of luck, there were no buyers for the Hoffmann vineyards. Like the old saying goes the sky is darkest just before the dawn, just when it looked like a great and proud wine region would be irrevocably changed forever something changed. The world began to discover the wines of the Barossa. Slowly but surely, they heard of the traditions, the precious old vines and the unique wines of the Barossa. At the same time a young lad called Adrian Hoffmann was developing a new-found passion for viticulture.
The next generation takes the family farm to a new level
If you are going to develop a passion for viticulture it’s pretty handy if you are the fifth generation of a family of grape growers and Adrian learnt a huge amount from his grandfather, Gordon. Gordon allowed Adrian to learn on the job, let him make mistakes that would be made once and never, ever again. He passed onto Adrian the accumulated knowledge that comes with generations of grape growing. Adrian absorbed all of this but he felt there was something missing. His time spent working for his father’s engineering business and formal studies had instilled in him the importance of marketing to ensure success. Mention marketing to the vast majority of grape growers and you’d likely get a response that is not fit to print, but Adrian was keen to change that.
There was a time when Adrian was an old school grape grower. He’d grow the grapes and sell them. He wasn’t fussed about what happened to them once they arrived at the winery. Then in 1999 he was selected as a Young Ambassador for the Barossa Vintage Festival. As part of this he travelled to the London Wine Trade Fair, the world’s largest wine trade event at the time. This was the moment that everything changed for Adrian. All of a sudden, he realised that he wasn’t just growing grapes for local wineries and that he wasn’t just competing for sales against his neighbours and growers in the nearby South Australian wine regions. It occurred to him that he was a part of the global wine community. Rather than cowering away, Adrian was inspired to learn more; to expand his horizons and become a beacon for other growers in the community. In the years since this life changing experience Adrian Hoffmann has achieved all this and more.
Giving back to the community that has given him so much
It’s no accident that grapes from Adrian’s vineyards are some of the most sought after in the Barossa. He has learnt the importance of open and honest communication with the wineries he supplies grapes to. He works closely with each producer that purchases his grapes. He listens to their needs and then uses his deep knowledge and understanding of his patches of dirt to provide them with the style of grapes they are looking for. He has learnt the importance of being proud of his high-quality product and is not afraid of marketing his grapes and being selective about who he works with. He eschews the big one-off pay checks for his fruit in favour of developing long-term relationships with winemakers that value his fruit as much as he does.
Importantly for the Barossa, and for the broader Australian grape growing community, Adrian doesn’t keep his knowledge to himself. He wants other growers to benefit from the learnings and vine growing experience that have helped him to grow and develop into one of the most highly sought-after sources of fruit in the area.
Adrian knows that he doesn’t have a monopoly on special patches of soil in the region. He knows that the wine lovers of the world are looking for exceptional wines from special places. More than most, he knows just how special the Barossa is. When you have people as zealous and as community-minded as Adrian Hoffmann leading the way forward for the Barossa, you know the future is brighter than the summer sun for Australia’s most famous wine region.
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