Friday, November 3, 2011: Barossa Valley, Australia
After the incredibly long and rewarding day on Kangaroo Island yesterday, we gave ourselves a bonus couple of hours of sleep and started our day this morning at 9:30am. Since we were headed to the Barossa Valley, a world renowned wine producing region, we figured that wine tasting would be best started later in the morning after a good breakfast.
Just a few minutes walk from our lodging, we arrived at the Adelaide downtown Hertz, where we quickly picked up our car for the next 5 days, and then began the drive north towards the Barossa Valley. Though we had been in Adelaide for a couple of days now, we were surprised at just how much we had gotten used to the smaller, more laid back world of two lane roads and roundabouts. With over a million people, there are a lot of traffic lights here, and very few motorways (freeways), so it took us nearly an hour to travel little more than 30kms (18 miles) and reach the far northern suburbs of Adelaide, where the shopping centers and businesses lining the streets transitioned into rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye could see.
We had arrived to the Barossa Valley and the first thoughts of the place brought us home to Sonoma. A bit more laid back, the people had a warm and welcoming personality, no hard sells for any of the wine, choosing rather to focus on our enjoyment of the visit and the area. It was a pleasant and enjoyable start to the day as we came to the first of the day’s stops — Jacob Creek.
Jacob Creek is to Barossa Valley as Mondavi is to the Napa Valley. A huge presence in the region, the wine has been flowing here for nearly 150 years and the label can be found at nearly every store in Australia (and a lot of them at home too!). When we arrived at the beautiful and modern visitor centre, a building striking a careful balance between brillant hardwoods of the region and huge panes of glass, we were surprised at the general lack of people. Though it was clear that the facility could easily handle a couple hundred people between its large opening tasting area, the restaurant, and conference facilities, on this morning, we mingled with fewer than 20.
We had the tasting area essentially to ourselves as we were free to enjoy complimentary tastings from a huge range of wines. From sparkling wine to whites to moscatos and a half-dozen reds (including the signature Shiraz that the region is famous for), our hosts were helpful in sharing information about the wines, the vineyards, and really let us set the pace for the day. Unlike wineries in Napa, with tastings of 2-3 wines at a price of $10 (or more) a person, wineries here provide a tasting menu of over 20 choices and you can have as many or as few as you like. We strategically skipped a few wines in each section, found a couple to purchase (as these were not available in the states), and headed out to continue our tour of the beautiful Barossa Valley.
From here, we continued to Langmeil Winery, without question, the highlight of our day. Here, Natalie met two new partners in crime, namely the two women that worked behind the counter. They were both wonderful hosts, amazingly friendly, enquiring about our journey, where we had been, where we were going, and pouring great wine for the duration. The tasting menu was, much like Jacob’s Creek, varied and included a lot of choices. We selected a couple of choices each, and the ladies serving would have none of that… “You came thousands of miles just to see us!”, they said, friendly grins plastered across their faces, and they proceeding to pour Natalie nearly every selection on the menu, including a few that weren’t on the list and in private reserve. As the wine kept coming, the conversation flowed, and since the tasting room was just the four of us (a few folks came in from time to time, but for the most part we were by ourselves), they poured themselves a taste (or two or three) and joined in the fun!
By the end of this marathon, everyone was in stitches as the following scene unfolded… Picture the two winery hosts (who by this point had given themselves the name “The Cunning and Devious Duo”) behind the bar with a glass each, Natalie in front with a glass that they wouldn’t let get even close to empty and ten bottles on the counter (not counting the reserves that had to be put away before other people came in). They were on a mission to ensure that we wouldn’t ever forget our visit to the Barossa (since we came all that way just to see them!) and they had succeeded. We grabbed a photo with them and bid our farewells, not before grabbing a bottle of an Australian exclusive to enjoy on our upcoming road trip to Melbourne.
We enjoyed a (now much needed) picnic lunch at Langmeil and then continued to our final winery stop of the day, Wolf Blass. Again, wineries and tasting rooms (as known as cellar doors) look more like contemporary art museums then dark and dank wine cellars. Arriving at Wolf Blass, a massive tasting room was joined to a small cafe, hardwood floors and huge floor to vaulted ceiling windows, greeted us as we entered. The staff member here again was gracious and walked us through the wines of the region, as well as how Wolf Blass identifies and groups their wines (by colors — yellow label, red label, silver label, etc.). Following a much more conservative course here, we enjoyed a few wines each and then headed out.
From here, we headed to the small town of Hahndorf on the eastern edge of Adelaide. This town had been presented to us as a thriving German settlement with much of the charm and style of a traditional town in Europe, much like that of Solvang in Southern California. When we arrived though, it seemed much more small town Australia than small town Germany, so following a short drive through, we headed back into town to close out our day.
Following a great dinner at our place, we settled in for an early evening as we had a full day of driving tomorrow as we head south and east to Victoria and to the Grampians National Park.