For the last few days we’ve forgotten our budget and pretended not to be backpackers. We’ve pretended like we’re on holiday, with actual jobs and money replenished at the end of each month, rather than slowly but surely dwindling away to nothing.
The reason for this extravagance was simply that we were in the Barossa Valley, Australia’s home of premium wine. This isn’t a region where you can just rock up to the nearest cellar door and grab a crate of bargain booze to keep you going. It’s a place where you sip thoughtfully as you scan your eyes down the tasting menu and realise that the bottle price of your favourite wine is $200 and you’re way out of your depth but (thank god) not drunk enough to think that price sounds reasonable.
Seppeltsfield Vineyard and Winery
On our first day in the valley we decided to take a look round by ourselves, driving from our home base – a nice little town called Gawler. This wasn’t the best idea as we didn’t really have much of an idea where we should go as there’s over a hundred vineyards and cellar doors offering tastings in the Barossa Valley. So unless you do your research, or are making a beeline for your favourite winery, you end up not knowing where to start. The other big problem is that one of you has to drive… it wasn’t me.
The first place we visited was Seppeltsfield. We had never heard of them, but the main road was called Seppeltsfield Road, so we figured they were kind of a big deal. Turns out they’re the most historic winery in the Barossa Valley, and specialise in fortified wines. They’ve been there since South Australia was first settled by Eurpeans in the mid 1800s. Who knew!
We had a brilliant 45 minute guided tour of the estate, looking back through it’s history right up to the present day. From this we got a good overview of the history of the Barossa Valley as a whole, as well as getting to poke our heads in to the old distillery where they made their brandy, and found out a fair bit about gravity cellars, wine tanks and all sorts of things we can now pretend to know about.
At the end of the tour we got to the best bit – the tasting. As the tour was only $9 each we weren’t expecting tasting to be included but, happy days, it was. First of all were the usual reds and whites, including something we hadn’t seen before – sparkling red. Blakey loved it but I found really odd, just couldn’t get my head around fizzy red wine. We moved on to their famous ports, both the 10 year and 21 year, but then had to practice a lot of self-restraint not to give in and buy a taste of their 100 year old, which costs over $1,000 for a 100ml bottle! 100ml! You have to pay to even have a sip of it. They kindly let us sniff it for free though. Can you imagine if you accidentally dropped it, or sneezed in it?
We didn’t manage to get away without buying anything… Blakey pushed the boat out and bought a bottle of the 10 year old port to keep us warm on the cold nights when we drive through the outback next week. We also had a glass of wine while we were waiting for the tour to start, which cost us about as much as I’d usually spend on a bottle.
After a posh winery we thought we’d visit one a little more on our level, and spied the Jacob’s Creek flags flapping away in the distance. Excellent, affordable wine for the van!
Turns out that they only have their premium wines available from their HQ, so none of the cheap and cheerful stuff we get in the UK. In fact, the European stuff isn’t even bottled in the Barossa Valley, it’s sent over to Europe in massive steel containers and bottled there. The 6 for £22 stuff you can buy in ASDA has barely even seen the Barossa Valley before it’s whisked away in bulk. Not posh enough or expensive enough to merit being bottled in Aus.
Once I’d gotten over the shock of the prices of the premium wine, I began to enjoy myself. For $5 you can taste 10 or 11 different wines, or for $10 you can try 6 of the mega posh wines. Blakey chose the posh list, whereas I went for quantity over quality. Turns out they actually have some pretty good stuff… although it’s funny really… the $180 bottle of shiraz was really dry and horrible to me, whereas the $20 bottle (their best seller, no surprise there) was much nicer. I suppose people pay for the history and the pedigree of the 100 year old vines and all that, but to me it was all a bit crazy. Once you’ve opened the bottle, you’ve got to drink it within a day or two anyway, and when would you ever feel like it’s the right time to sink a bottle of wine that expensive?
When working my way down the cheapo list I was delighted to find that even the posh Barossa Valley has lowered itself to cater to the prosecco guzzling Brits, and bought myself two $15 bottles of Jacob’s Creek Prosecco Spritz – one with blood orange, the other with grapefruit. Bargain!
After all that wine tasting we had to go and lay down on the beanbags out on the winery lawn for an hour to recover. Urgh. Same again tomorrow!
Welcome to the Wine Wagon
Being wise, but mostly not wanting to end up in Australian prison, for our second day’s exploring we decided it was best to book an actual tour rather than drive ourselves. Enter… the Wine Wagon! Bright yellow minibus on it’s last legs but amazing all the same. Our driver for the day was Timo, a proper Aussie bloke in his battered coyboy hat and sunglasses, who grew up in the region and knew all the best places (read: the ones with the free tasting).
Once we’d all piled in, he got the music going and had the first glass of wine in our hands around 10.30 in the morning. Mmm breakfast wine.
To be honest we had a fantastic time. We got talking to a Swiss couple on the bus and made friends for the day. Timo took us to plenty of out-of-the-way cellar doors which we wouldn’t have had a clue about, and he had so much local knowledge on the area and the wine.
In the morning we visited three amazing cellar doors for tasting. At the wonderful Calabria we bought a cabernet shiraz blend from their Kings of Prohibition range, which had the coolest wine bottles. Not that we bought it for the packaging, but still.
Timo then took us to the Lambert Estate for an outstanding ploughman’s lunch, where one of their resident winemakers played host and kept the wine flowing as well as plenty of entertaining stories.
After lunch we dropped in at a cheese shop, where we of course had to buy some local cheese (rude not to), followed by a new chocolate shop and ice creamery. By the time Timmo dropped us back at our van, along with our wine and cheese, we were full of good food and even better wine.
The tour cost us $95 each (approx £50), plus the wine and cheese we bought, so we were way over budget for the day but it was absolutely worth it. We figured if we can’t sometimes push the boat out then we’re going to miss out, and this is a once in a lifetime trip. No regrets, except for the headache the next morning.