Living like a local: Indulge in the cultural heritage of South Australia’s Barossa Valley

Jun 27, 2019
Explore the cultural heritage of one of Australia's best wine regions, the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Source: Village to Villa

Queensland couple Neil McLean and Gai Reid journeyed to Europe to enjoy some authentic travel, ‘living like locals’. The result? They spent 300 days pet and house-sitting their way across four countries, spending less than it would cost them to live at home. Plus they started a new business, Village to Villa! Here’s the next chapter in the fabulous account of their escapades…

Episode 47

[To read episode 42, click here]

South Australia’s Barossa Valley is regarded as one of Australia’s leading wine regions. The collection of towns that makes up this area — roughly an hour’s drive from Adelaide — include Tanunda, Bathany, Angaston and Nurioopta. The region is home to many of the Australia’s most famous wine makers and you’ll find an abundance of high-profile wineries offering tours and cellar door tastings.

However, what Gai and I enjoy most about going to any new region, regardless of what it is known for, is getting the ‘inside story’. When it comes to the Barossa Valley, for example, we are more interested in the history and develop an appreciation for the tough times those early pioneers endured to get the region to where it is today. It was on a recent visit that we were able to immerse ourselves in the fascinating cultural heritage of the Barossa Valley.

It might be regarded as something of a ‘newcomer’ on the wine scene, but the history of the Barossa stretches far. A steady influx of European settlers first arrived in the colony (what we now know as the state) of South Australia in 1836. This northern part of South Australia was already earmarked as an area that would support vineyards and orchards, with fertile lands similar to those of France’s Rhone Valley.

Like some of the other places we visited during our house sit in South Australia, there is a distinct German heritage in the Barossa. Yet, there are also English roots here. You’ll see evidence of this in the villages of Bethany, Krondorf and Langmeil, mapped out in a similar fashion to colonial areas of eastern Germany.

Migrants might not have wasted any time in planting vines for the first wine production, but they also brought with them the trades from their home country — building and construction, farming, baking, butchery and more! They grew food crops to feed themselves and their families, the aim of such farming was to survive rather than to trade. That there were products from which alcohol could be made was an added bonus at the time.

Today, the Barossa is the heartland of Australia’s great wine industry and accounts for more than half of the almost $3 billion in exports from across Australia. There are more than 550 grape growing families in the region (many of whom have been in the industry for several generations) and more than 150 wineries for visitors to enjoy. The climate is perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Shiraz (Syrah), Semillon and fortified wines.

It was on our visit to the Langmeil Winery that we stumbled on the story of its Orphan Bank Shiraz. The vineyard dates back to 1842 and is considered one of the world’s oldest Shiraz vineyards, with the first vines planted still producing fruit today.

The lovely setting at Langmeil Wines in the Barossa Valley …home of the Orphan Bank Shiraz. Source: Village to Villa

In the early-1990s laws were passed to protect the future of the Barossa’s premium wine producing area from development. A parcel of land home to a vineyard more than 140 years old was primed to be pulled out to make way for town development. Having sourced this fruit previously, Langmeil Wines approached the grower/developer in an effort to save the vines from destruction. Knowing the importance of these vines, the decision was made to relocate and transplant the vines at the Langmeil estate.

A special machine was required to uproot these ancient vines, careful not to destroy the large root ball, and move them one at a time. The round trip from one location to another was about 2 kilometres and more than 640km were travelled to move the old vineyard to the winery property. It took two years to complete and had a 98 per cent success rate.

The vines became known as Orphan Bank, having been orphaned and replanted with the hope of adding another 140 years to their history.

“Vines lose their vitality as they grow older, however less fruit becomes higher quality,” our guide informed us. “It makes for a first-class product.”

The first fruit on the ‘old vines’ was harvested in 2008 and has gone on to become a most sought-after and valuable label for the winery.

Another attraction Gai and I were privileged to see was the Centennial Cellar at Seppeltsfield. A tour of the cellar is a once in a lifetime experience. Founder Joseph Seppelt and his son Benno had a long-term vision for the estate. The cellar took 12 years to complete and in 1878 the first barrel of Tawny port was placed inside where it remains maturing.

The famous Centenary Room at Seppeltsfield Wines with Tawny Vintage from 1878 to today. Source: Village to Villa

The tradition of laying down a barrel of the finest wine from each vintage was continued every year following and continues to this day. Inside the Centennial Cellar you’ll find an unbroken lineage of every vintage from the current year back to 1878. You can even taste the Tawny from the barrel of the year of your birth (as part of the tour price)!

There are commemorative barrels in honour of both Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

A Royal Barrel in the the name Prince Harry from 1984 … Next to a similar one for his older brother Prince William born in 1982. Source: Village to Villa

As a tourist in the Barossa Valley, there is a lot to see. The usual cellar door tours are plentiful and easy to arrange with many of the larger operations catering for a constant stream of groups for tastings. However, if exploring cultural heritage is your thing, consider the Barossa Heritage Trail, which highlights more than 100 heritage locations and will take you on a journey along the backroads to historic churches, cottages and barns, farmhouses and houses built from locally quarried stone, or the heritage museums at Tanunda, Springton, Angaston and Gawler.

Have you visited the Barossa Valley in South Australia? Do you enjoy wine tours?

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