Barossa Wine Traveller – Tyson Stelzer and Grant Dodd

Welcome to the Barossa you never knew.

By Robyn Lewis
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Vines in the Barossa Valley in South Australia

Vines in the Barossa Valley in South Australia [©South Australian Tourism Commission]

Grape picking in the Barossa Valley in South Australia
Barossa Wine Traveller by Tyson Stelzer and Grant Dodd
Barossa Wine Traveller by Tyson Stelzer and Grant Dodd
Yaldara Estate at Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley, South Australia

 

There’s little doubt that the Barossa vies with those other two big Australian wine valleys – the Hunter and Yarra – for the title of Australia’s most recognised wine region, both at home and internationally. Take a street poll and my bet is that it would come up Number One at least five times in ten, especially outside Sydney.

Brand Barossa is firmly on the map, thanks to a fortuitous combination of history, climate, soils, location, wine, food and of course its people, many of whom would also add the hand of the Almighty.

And now it will become more so with the release of a new wine travel guide, Barossa Wine Traveller, by wine writers Tyson Stelzer and Grant Dodd, superbly illustrated with photographs by Dragan Radocaj and Stelzer.

Although born in Tasmania, Stelzer is of Barossan Lutheran stock. Adorning the cover is the church of his grandfather – who grew up in the area, along with his own father and grandfather – set amongst autumn vines. So it is fitting that he writes of this region, a sort of ‘coming home’ for the now-Brisbane resident.

Co-author Dodd is an ex-professional golfer, now a wine, golf and travel writer. He has spent time in South Africa where he is a partner in a Stellenbosch vineyard, and like Stelzer is now a resident of the sunshine state. Long-terms friends, they obviously enjoy travelling to wine regions as much as tasting wines, as this book testifies.

My copy arrived with a note from Stelzer saying ‘this project has given me a new appreciation for the personalities behind the wines. Enjoy these colourful Barossan characters!’ and it is indeed this focus on the people behind the wines that sets Barossa Wine Traveller apart from government and regional tourism publications. That and the lack of advertising – no jarring inserts from tacky pokie-laden pubs here. (One gets the impression that there aren’t any in this picture-perfect wineland).

Quoting the WineBarossa.com website: ‘First settled more than 165 years ago by European immigrants, the Barossa is now home to a thriving wine community with world renowned brands, boutique wine companies and artisan winemakers. It is truly an old world wine region in the new world.’

That first impression, of a piece of the old world - namely Germany – firmly taken root in the new, shines though in Barossa Wine Traveller. Peppered with names like Dutschke, Semmler, Lehmann, Seppelt, Blass, Kies, Gramp, Tsharke, Glaetzer, Teusner and Seiber, it’s like a who’s who of not only the bigger end of the Australian wine industry but a roll call of the good ships Bengalee, Zebra and Skjold when they arrived on Antipodean shores in the 1830’s and 40’s, bringing with them not only persecuted Lutheran settlers but their hard work ethic and stoic tenacity.

They colonised many areas around Adelaide and Barossan towns like Klemzig, Krondorf, Gnadenfrei, Seiegerdorf and Neukirch bear testament to these pioneers. For some time German was the principal language of the Barossa Valley, and Lutheran churches provided not only spiritual, cultural and economic guidance but schooling for the children, ensuring its dominance. For decades life was tough, but in this fertile ground the cuttings of the modern South Australian wine industry took firm hold, and today the region prospers.

Many of today’s wines are grown or made by the fifth and sixth generations of wine families, a fact which may surprise some visitors, who think of the Australian wine heritage as ‘new’. Thanks to the vine pest phylloxera that devastated European vineyards in the 1800s, the Barossa is home to some of the oldest living grapevines in the world, and the Barossa even has an ‘Old Vine Charter’, with venerable ‘Ancestor’ vines being those more than 125 years old – and still productive today.

However not all settlers were German – there were Scots, Irish and English: Brocks and Bairds, the Angas brothers, Millyards and Langes. Tanunda was German, Angaston English, but this divide has (almost) broken down now and a more multi-cultural approach is apparent, as we flick through Barossa Wine Traveller and find names like Clancy Fuller, Charles Melton, Glen Eldon and of course Penfolds and the Smiths of Yalumba interspersed with Barossan Deutsch.

Some are newcomers, with new wine labels - Lou Miranda, Two Hands, Travis Earth, Sons of Eden, Murray Street, First Drop, Torbreck, Loose End, Waky Mute – who provide a modern twist, design flair and vigour. In fact it’s a surprise to see just how many vineyards and labels have been established in the Barossa in the past ten years. If you haven’t been recently it’s certainly time for a refresh.

And like almost every wine region in Australia you will also find Italians such as Lou Miranda, Marco Cirillo, the Torzis and even the odd Argentinean like the Di Palmas of Villa Tinta, who also work with the principal red varieties of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and grenache.

I asked Stelzer about the changes in the region, and whether he thought that his surname helped open doors: ‘Family connections probably helped – Barossa appreciates its own – but it’s as much do to with my wife’s aunt marrying the winemaker from Bethany as being a Stelzer. I have cousins there but we aren’t really in touch.

The Barossa is more open now. It certainly welcomes all wine writers. People are more progressive, there are lots of young guys making wine, and it’s great to see the older ones mentoring them.’

The region and the book include the cooler, more elevated Eden Valley and its famed white wine varieties: riesling, semillon and chardonnay. One excellent feature is a ‘3D’ map of a style first seen in Stelzer’s book Burgundy 2006, prepared for the Barossa Grape and Wine Association (BGWA), which at once gives an eagle’s-eye view of the valleys and their vineyard locations, and provides a sense of place. On its reverse is a roadmap of winery locations, although I find it somewhat too small to be navigationally useful.

Barossa Wine Traveller features 150 of the 160 wineries and vineyards. Why wouldn’t they all want to be involved, I asked Stelzer? ‘A few are simply too small and don’t have cellar doors, and a couple of others – notably Grant Burge – are not members of the BGWA so are not included. The BWGA did not provide us with any funding – we wanted to remain independent – but they did help us with organizational arrangements, so we only included their members who wished to participate.’ Clearly most did, and I am sure they and the BGWA are delighted with the outcome. 

To quote the authors: ‘In its places, faces and never-before-told stories, Barossa Wine Traveller will take you to the Barossa wherever in the world you happen to be enjoying its wines. For the first time, the inside stories of each of its 150 wineries are told, leading you through a behind-the-scenes tour of traditional red varieties … It’s the Barossa like you've never known it. Along the way you'll discover all the favourite haunts of the Barossa and Eden Valleys, according to those who know them best, the wine folk who call the Barossa home.’

Indeed it’s a great summary and Barossa Wine Traveller, selling at the bargain price of A$19.95 will provide not only an excellent introduction to any intending visitor to the region, but a souvenir for those wanting to take home more than a case of wine.

There are even hints for amusing ‘Wining Kids’. I asked Stelzer if this was a typing error or a deliberate pun (but surely not meaning introducing them to wine and a too-tender age?). ‘Several people have pointed this spelling out, but yes, it was deliberate. The whole thing of what to do with kids when you are wining has been overlooked’.

As a parent myself, I know the frustration of wanting to enjoy a cellar door tasting while my young daughter has other, more stress-inducing activities in mind – to date: climbing the vats, pulling bungs out of barrels, 'rearranging' the glassware, pinching ripe grapes, touching forbidden sculptures, failing to obey 'do not enter the vineyard' signs (surely under 5's can read them?), and even at one memorable lunch hurling herself off the duckboarding and into the wetlands  – so it’s a welcome relief to see that these needs are now being more widely recognised and met.

Earlier this decade at a wine travel conference I asked the very same question, and the response was laughter, as if to say ‘well who would want to take their children to a winery or vineyard!?’ Somewhat tellingly the only proper answer I received was from the manager of Yalumba (a Barossan , naturally), who saw before most that cellar doors cannot afford to turn away wine lovers during their 30s and early 40s  – when their wine interest is often reaching its peak  – just because they happen to have children. (Unthinkable in France or Italy, of course).

Today a new generation of winemakers have children of their own, and amusements for the under 10s include everything from the standard toyboxes and swings to ‘a kangaroo enclosure out the back’ (at Whistler Wines). The authors asked this question of every winery they visited, and were also given some recommendations for other children’s activities in the region. They tried to find some for teens, too (who can be even harder to amuse, short of leaving them in the car with the windows down and an ipod for company). The Barossa must surely now be a model for child-friendliness – that in itself is enough to make me want to go back soon, and should not be considered a no-no for people who do not have or like children, for it’s the bored ones who whine – with an h.

Thanks in part to TV cooking celebrity and restaurateur Maggie Beer and her quinces, pheasants, verjuice and other produce, the Barossa is now almost as well known within Australia for its food as its wines, and Barossa Wine Traveller also provides some of the locals’ hints on wine and food matches, places to dine or purchase local specialties liked the smoked meats, sausages and dried fruits that are the envy of the rest of Australia. So there’s a directory of (non-wine) places to visit - as well as lists of top wines to drink; one for those unfamiliar with the word budget, and another for those looking to spend no more than A$20 per bottle.

But again, we return to what really sets the Barossa apart – its people – and for that you’ll have to buy the book and read their stories, many of which have never been seen in print until today. Some are hilarious. Stories are indeed where it’s at, and they are entertaining, witty and overall, full of their sense of place.

To quote vignerons and winemakers Peter and Margaret Lehmann: ‘We could not imagine being anywhere else. Even during the difficult days of years past we were just walking, eating, loving, breathing, being Barossa. In the words of Martin Luther, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’.’

Few regions in Australia create the same sense of place, or command such loyalty. One imagines that in another hundred years, the Barossa will still be as strong and vibrant as it is today, reinforced in the built environment by the council’s refusal to allow random housing on five acre lots, preferring to keep human populations to the towns, the vineyards for the vines, and suburbia and property developers at arm’s length.

In all, Barossa Wine Traveller is a great addition to the wine library and a must-have for any serious wine lover’s visit to this great Australian wine and food region, the Barossa Valley.


Barossa Wine Traveller (Winepress, Brisbane 2009) is available from Barossa Valley wineries, David Jones stores and leading bookstores across Australia. RRP A$19.95.

It can also be purchased direct (either singly or up to multiples of 10) from Tyson Stelzer’s publishing company, Winepress. (Postage extra).

Regions

  • Barossa (including Eden Valley) (SA)
  • Barossa Valley (SA)
  • Eden Valley & High Eden (SA)

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October 19th, 2009
 
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