16 August 2012 by Alex Stewart
The Barossa Valley, less than an hours drive northeast from cosmopolitan Adelaide on the Northern Expressway, is one of the best wine producing regions on the Australian mainland. Home to brands including Penfolds and Wolf Blass, it's also cultivating a growing international reputation. Less than 50 miles from the state capital, it makes a great short trip from the city or a delightful diversion if you're touring other areas of South Australia; head south to the Eyre Peninsula or continue north to the Flinders Ranges. The Outback is also closer than you might think.
The Barossa Valley is home to 13,256ha of vineyards. there are 755 grape growers here and the farms boast some of the oldest continuously producing vines in the world. Most of the plantings are Shiraz, but there's also Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mataro, Riesling and Semillon to sample.
The Barossa Gourmet Weekend, at the end of August, sees one of South Australia's best gastronomic experiences take place - a brilliant blend of wine and food, it's the place to sample the region's specialitie; 22 wineries offer visitors the chance to sample world famous wines and some fabulous food. Just make sure you have a designated driver or use the handy shuttle bus to travel between tastings. The rest of the year, it's still possible to visit a variety of wineries, tour their cellars and sample their produce.
If you can't make the Weekend, look out for the Barossa Vintage Festival instead, a week-long showcase of the region's produce, held at wineries, vineyards and in parks throughout the valley in odd numbered years, starting on Easter Monday. The premier wine tourism event in Australia, 2013 promises to be a classic celebration.
The original inhabitants of the Barossa Valley were Peramangk aboriginal people and it wasn't until 1837 that the first Europeans made a foray into the area. Around this time the pioneer Johannes Menge described the region as 'the cream, the whole cream and nothing but the cream.' We think he was smitten by it.
In truth, most visitors are; it's an attractive, romantic region with plenty of sunshine and warm days, although evenings can be chilly especilly during winter (June-August). The gateway to the valley is the town of Gawler. Make sure to visit Angatson, Greenock and Lyndoch, Tanunda and Wiliiamstown as well. It's also a great base for exploring the Clare Valley, Riverland and McLaren Vale.
Self-drive tours are the easiest way to get around and there are several tried and tested driving routes on well-maintained and clearly-signed roads. Visit the wineries and relax afterwards in a luxury lodge or spa such as The Louise, an exclusive retreat set amid some of the most idyllic vineyards.
Barossa is much more than just a wine region though. Grab a map and take to the countryside tracks on foot or on a bike. Try hot air ballooning, enjoy a helicopter ride or even blend your own wine, safe in the knowledge that if your effort isn't very palatable, there's plenty of world class stuff close at hand.
For more on the Australian wine and dining scene, read our round up.