The Barossa’s German early settlers set in motion food and wine traditions that persist to this day. Car dealerships and suburban homes dwindle on the drive out of Adelaide heading north-east, giving way to the quaint stone cottages, Lutheran churches and grapevines of the Barossa. The luxuriant green of the region’s fields is a fleeting spring gift – to be enjoyed while it lasts. Come November, they’ll be yellowed and rustling in the wind, the result of the dry summers the region experiences.
Named after the Barrosa Ridge in Spain by an Englishman, settled by Germans and blessed by a mild Mediterranean climate, the Barossa Valley, just an hour’s drive from Adelaide, has traditions that run deep. Its food and wine culture is derived from its foundational conventions of the homegrown, homemade and homespun.
It’s a place of customs, the observance of which measure the year. For example, on the third Sunday of each February, the Barons of Barossa, a wine fraternity founded by local vignerons in 1975, come together to perform the Declaration of Vintage. The ritual involves the blessing of the first-plucked grapes in the historic Tabor Church in Tanunda, the parading of said grapes down the main street and the crushing of the grapes at Keil Garden. The juice is then sampled and the vintage declared before the vigneron and winemaker of the year are announced.
The industrious, pious and knowledgeable German Lutherans who first arrived in the valley in the mid-1800s (grapevines in tow) were fleeing religious persecution in their homeland. Their legacy can be seen, smelled and tasted all over the Barossa in the form of its food products and, of course, the wine. These days, the Barossa is food and wine. Its loyal denizens, among them Maggie Beer, chef Simon Bryant and Penfolds head winemaker Peter Gago, are known for their passionate advocacy of the region’s produce.
It’s the combination world-class wineries, historic country towns and fabulous food that makes the Barossa such a worthy weekend escape. Just make sure you leave space in your bag for several bottles of red and arrive with an empty stomach.
Where to stay
The Louise is made up of 15 suites, each its own self-contained compound with courtyards in the front and back and views of rolling hills and vineyards. The suites are elegant and deeply comfortable, the luxury understated but keenly felt.
There’s a fireplace in the spacious lounge room that roars into life with the flick of a switch, the better to bask in its glow with a glass of shiraz from the day’s explorations. In the bathroom there’s an enormous bath (complete with wall-mounted TV) but it’s the shower options that are most impressive. A high-powered handheld showerhead seems ample until you notice the rain-shower option across the cubicle. The two options feel perfectly luxurious – and then you open a door onto an outside showering courtyard that’s drenched in sunlight. When you realise it’s possible to use all three in one cleansing session, anything less feels churlish. Going home from The Louise is difficult.
The best restaurants and bakeries
The bakers at Apex pull slow-ferment sourdough, perfect pies and the best bienenstich (also known as German bee sting cake) in the region out of their wood-fired Scotch oven. They claim the oven is the longest-running commercial wood-fired oven in the nation – that’s a lot of loaves.
The St Hugo winery is named for Louis Hugo Gramp, whose grandfather, Johann Gramp, planted his first vines in the area in 1847. Hugo Gramp was born in 1895 and it’s his legacy that’s celebrated at the newly constructed St Hugo cellar door and restaurant. The original ironstone building has been restored into an underground tasting room, a fine-dining restaurant and a fabulous lounge area where tastings can be undertaken. The restaurant is helmed by acclaimed local chef Nik Tucker , whose approach is to match the food to the wine, not the wine to the food. Each course of the eight-course tasting menu has been devised according to a very involved process of food and wine matching.
Appellation at The Louise
Executive chef Kyle Johns and the team smoke their own fish, forage for wild greens and pickle the excess harvest from the kitchen garden. They bake sourdough, butcher meat – these guys even carbonate their own rainwater. An appreciation for the seasons, local produce and wine makes for a truly memorable dining experience at Appellation. Opt for the five-course tasting menu with matched wines for a taste of the Barossa on a plate.
Locals were bemused when Tuoi Do set about establishing her Vietnamese restaurant in the Barossa. After all, she’s not a chef, she’s not a local, she had no financial backing and who wants to eat Asian food in the Teutonic Barossa? Well, as it turns out, everyone. The restaurant’s vegies are supplied from its market garden, tended by Do’s parents, and the dishes make the most of local produce. South Australian prawns are paired with a citrus salad, massaman curry is made with Mayura Station Wagyu beef and a Barossa chicken is grilled with spices and served with coconut salad. The building, a gorgeous old corner house, was lovingly restored by Do and her husband, Grant Dickson. And Vietnamese makes the perfect foil for the region’s big shirazes and sharp rieslings. Who knew? Tuoi Do did. Bookings are recommended.
Things to do
Beyond the imposing St Hugo gates is a cork-lined drive, from trees only recently denuded by cork farmers imported from Portugal for their special skills. At the end of the drive is the new home of St Hugo. It incorporates original heritage buildings with incredible modern architecture, which means there’s a glass-backed fireplace, floor-to-ceiling glass windows and historic ironstone feature walls. Guests are welcome to sit on the enormous plush sofa and do a wine tasting, tour the historic vineyards or try the tasting menu in the restaurant. Visitors with the resources can arrive at St Hugo in a helicopter, name a vine, create their own blend and have a magnum of the wine stored in a high-tech cellar beneath the restaurant. When the wine is ready for consumption, a minder will accompany the precious liquid to its owner’s door.
Barossa Farmers Market
Every Saturday morning, the citizens of the Barossa head for Angaston for their weekly shop at the Barossa Farmers Market. Who would go to a supermarket when you can get your milk direct from the local dairy farmer? There’s also a selection of fruit and vegetables, chicken, beef, duck, lamb, breads, locally made smallgoods, honey, olive oil and more. Head in and grab anything that looks good for a lunchtime picnic.
Rent a bike
Propel yourself around the region’s wineries on two wheels. You can head to Barossa Bike Hire for a bike and detailed maps and routes to some of the 80-plus cellar doors or the company will deliver them to your accommodation. It’s a great way to see the region and once you arrive at the winery, you’ll really deserve that tasting flight. Try cycling to Yalumba in Angaston – it's Australia's oldest family-owned winery and the Wine Room ambassadors will take you on a tour of the property, taking in the cooperage and the historic clock tower.
The Barossa Museum
There’s scant information on the area’s Indigenous population before European settlement but for a history on the Barossa’s German heritage, the Barossa Museum is fantastic. Located inside Tanunda’s old Post & Telegraph building, the collection comprises photos, clothing, furniture, tools and handmade pottery.
This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.