Hand made in the Barossa sub regions

By Jeni Port
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Vines in the Barossa Valley in South Australia

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

For years, Barossa winemakers Robert O'Callaghan and Chris Ringland at Rockford have carefully seen to it that single vineyard parcels of fruit from across the Valley have been raised - picked, made and matured - as individuals.

They've wondered at, and enjoyed, the incredibly diverse range of aromas, flavours and textures contained in these parcels of fruit. There's the distinctive chocolatey boldness of shiraz from the Greenock sub-region, the solid structure found in wines from Ebeneezer, the aromatic perfume on shiraz from Marananga and a distinctive tarry-ness from Rowland Flat. And then, once noted, they've sacrificed the individuality of the separate wines for the greater good of the finished "blend" in wines like Rockford's famed Basket Press shiraz.

So, for a long time the subtly different characters of the Barossa Valley sub-regions were lost, not so much to winemakers but definitely to wine drinkers who rarely appreciated such places existed.

Today, they do.

Placenames like Kalimna, Ebenezer, Greenock and Bethany are taking an increasingly prominent position on wine labels. Which pleases both O'Callaghan and Ringland who note with just a modicom of pride that more than a few of the winemakers now celebrating the sub-regions of the Barossa worked vintage over the years at Rockford, including Corey Chaplin at Lunar Wines in Marananga and Tim and Travis O'Callaghan (sons of Robert) at Digger's Bluff, Greenock.

Production of these sub-regional, single vineyard styles is tiny (David Franz Lehmann of David Franz Wines makes his wines in his shed) which has led some to tag them 'garagistes,' as if they've been transported directly from Bordeaux with their extravagant bottle prices and celebrity status. 'Shedistes' more likely. The prices are generally far from extravagant and in the Barossa celebrity status is generally reserved for those with a few more vintages under their belt.

Ringland estimates there might be as many as 50 'shedistes' spread throughout the Valley and while some have some have strong Barossan names like Kalleske, Lehmann, Schwarz and Teusner, these are the younger generation. Most would probably argue they have something to prove.

So what are the sub-regions? From north to south, from valley floor to the highest hills they are: Ebeneezer, Moppa, Kalimna, Greenock, Seppeltsfield, Gomersal, Vine Vale, Bethany, Jacob's Creek, Light Pass, Barossa Ranges and Eden Valley.

Shiraz is a common thread to all of them, but it's not exclusive. These little guys also offer a different perspective on traditional Valley varieties like riesling, semillon, grenache and mataro (aka mourvedre).

The former owner of St. Hallett, Bob McLean, produces a number of styles under his Eden Valley label McLean's Farm, with riesling a standout. A neighbour, Radford Dale, brings out the minerality so typical of the area in its excellent riesling and medium-bodied shiraz.
Spinifex, outside Tanunda, is gaining attention (the right kind) for its Cigale blend of grenache, shiraz and mourvedre, a wine that Barossa winemakers would recognise as showing a strong sub-regional character: a forward savoury spiciness.

Lunar Wines resurrects the flagging fortunes of cabernet sauvignon in the Valley - a fault that rests squarely with wine drinker disinterest - with an outstanding cabernet displaying the Marananga area's heady violet and rose petal perfume. Digger's Bluff, near Greenock, gives a nod to the traditional Valley red, a cabernet/shiraz blend, with a full, rich, ripe style in earth, leather and chocolate.

Soul Growers, the off-duty hobby of James and Paul Lindner of Langmeil fame, looks to grenache/mourvedre, while Clancy Fuller, another off-duty hobby of PR man Peter Fuller and publisher Paul Clancy own vineyards established by Barossa pioneers in the 1840s, including 120 year old shiraz vines at Bethany. Their 'Three Hogsheads Shiraz' is a literal translation of the incredibly low yield from the ancient vines.

In 2005, 12 of the 'shedistes' formed a marketing group called The Artisans of the Barossa. Their charter is to market "hand-made, high quality and creative wines" while maintaining the regionality, traditions and "cultural spirit" of the Barossa. Naturally, they get a bit of stick from some of their fellow Barossa winemakers who suggest the 'artisans' aren't alone in making wines that truly reflect the heritage of the Barossa Valley.

It's a bit of a marketing tussle as to who can be more authentic in a dirt-under-the-fingernails kind of way, something that takes away from the good work winemakers are doing in looking to their sub-regional differences.

So far, they are probably further down the track than any other major wine region in Australia in identifying their sub-regions.

Should wine drinkers care? Most probably won't. In fact, it's been argued that more names on labels is confusing to drinkers but those who enjoy the intricacies of terroir will.



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

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November 18th, 2008
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