One of the world’s top culinary destinations, Australia’s Barossa Valley is home to some of the best food and high-profile wineries going around. It has an obvious European influence and many of the beautiful stone cottages and Lutheran churches are testament to a 19th-century wave of German settlers.
Naturally, food and wine are drawcards for the region, but what also made this little slice of South Australia stand out for me was the sense of community and connection. All of the business owners and the people who work for them at the wineries, the restaurants and the hotels, know each other, support each other and refer clientele to each other. Because how else can you build a thriving food and wine epicentre if you aren’t propping up your neighbour? This sense of community means that you don’t have to be a wine aficionado or a budding food critic to fall for the area, you can also just bask in being surrounded by some really hospitable, friendly and creative people.
It’s on the top of the wish list for people from all over and here’s what I discovered, in only twenty-four hours, to be the best places to experience in the Barossa Valley.
Let’s start the Barossa way, wine!
Wine has been a way of life in Barossa since the early 1840s and today is home to more than 550 grape growing families, some of which have sixth generation family members still working on the same plot of land. The region is obviously known for its compendium of wineries and cellar-door tastings – shiraz grapes are the local specialty, but we sampled some pretty epic whites and sparkling’s too.
It’s only fair I start with a disclaimer that I am not a picky wine drinker – as long as it’s chilled (if white) and not corked, chances are I’ll drink it. But what I am a stickler for is a good setting – I like places that have character, charm and thoughtful design. These wineries are therefore not necessarily the largest or the most popular in Barossa, but are a few of the boutique-style cellar doors which I found to have beautiful wines, a good setting and great people who left me feeling inspired.
Starting with one of the more renowned, Rockford Wines. This gorgeous intimate space is set amid a cluster of quaint stone heritage buildings. It was busy, but we didn’t have to wait too long for a tasting. The staff were passionate, friendly and knowledgeable – not just about their wines, but about the Barossa area in general. We walked away with a bottle of the 2016 cabernet sauvignon, a 2017 semillon and a fig and chilli chutney from Krondorf Trading Co.
Krondorf Creek Farm
Hot off the press is Krondorf Creek Farm. They’ve been making their wines since 2012 but sold their first bottle in September when they opened a cellar door on their property in a historic stone building they’ve been restoring for the last sixteen years. The property was once the village butchery and a bustling mixed farm. Because they didn’t want to dilute the experience of having a middleman or a retail environment between them and their customers, Krondorf Creek Farm wine is sold exclusively through their stone Cellar Door – from their hand, to yours!
This little space is one of the sweetest spots to pause for a while. From the main road we drove through their vines before we got to the cellar door. Initially it felt like we were driving onto someone’s private property, which was a fitting start to this special experience. It had been raining outside when we visited, so we sat down by the fire and enjoyed a glass of their 2016 cabernet sauvignon while we chatted to the very lovely Jess Greatwich who owns the estate. We spoke about the philosophy behind the brand and how important connection is to their business. “We invite our guests to visit us at the property,” said Jess. “To drive through the vineyards that produce our wines, meet us, run their fingers over the stone walls, listen to the magpies in the 500-year-old gum trees. Our wines are so essentially of this place, and we want to give people the opportunity to experience that, to build a relationship with us and become part of the story of Krondorf Creek Farm themselves.”
Another must-visit is Sieber Wines. Owned by Richard and Val Sieber, the vineyards are part of a third generation family property which was traditionally a cropping and grazing farm. The wine here was so delicious we ordered a case of the 2015 GSM Grenache shiraz mourvedre to be sent to us at home. We sat down and did a 1:1 tasting with the very entertaining Val, who is spilling over the brim with stories. My partner and I told her we’d just got engaged and she jumped up and gifted us a (signed!) bottle of their 2016 shiraz cabernet – we promised her we’d open it when we had our first-born.
The region has a lot to offer in the way of food. But if you’re in the mood for some pure magic for lunch, then head to Hentley Farm.
Years ago when I was writing for a magazine, I interviewed a chef named Lachlan Colwill who was placed third in the world at the international Chefs Rôtisseurs Competition. He went on to open Hentley Farm, which has been featured in Gourmet Traveller‘s ‘Top 100 Restaurants’ list since 2013, and I was excited to visit while we were in the Barossa.
The food was really, really delicious. We enjoyed the ‘Du Jour’ degustation menu, complete with wine pairing. The starter was a dipping station of greens, almonds, jersey cream and honey – such simple ingredients, but the flavor blew my mind. The scotch egg with curry spice was another favourite. As was the peach, crème fraiche and fig leaf dessert. But what took the cake for me was the duck – it was cooked to perfection and served with carrot, ponzu and greens.
I loved that the restaurant has taken another step forward in the farm-to-fork concept by having their chefs not only involved in the farming process, but also doing their own food service. They would come out with the dishes, speak to the ingredients and answer any questions we had. At one point I asked how they sliced the top off the egg shell for one of the desserts so perfectly and the next minute the chef was back, armed with a bowl of eggs for a demonstration.
The restaurant is set in a beautifully restored 1880s farm building which is surrounded by large gumtrees and vines — it really is a unique culinary experience for anyone visiting the Barossa.
We also visited their beautiful old exposed brick cellar door after lunch. It’s filled with old leather chairs and mirrors, low wooden beams on the ceiling, chandeliers and a fireplace. We bought a beautiful Eden Valley Riesling to take home with us.
When we weren’t busy scouring the Barossa wineries, we also enjoyed a night of respite at The Louise, set on the beautiful Marananga hilltop. The suite we stayed in (aptly named Seppeltsfield after the icon estate in the region) was complete luxury – spacious, beautiful big spa bath, outdoor rain shower and a private terrace with daybeds looking out at the vineyard.
The space has been designed and decorated with all the details in mind. It was easy to relax and feel at home here, because they had thought of everything – from the candles in the bath, to the epsom salts, the selection of CDs and the Nespresso coffee maker. You can tell the owners, Jim and Helen Carreker, have poured their heart, soul and a whole lot of research into this place!
Upon arrival we headed straight for the pool. It was a sunny afternoon and we sat on the daybeds which looked out over the vines. The perfect wind-down after an exhausting day of…well, eating and drinking!
In the evening we had a beautiful dining experience at their restaurant, Appellation. We enjoyed five courses of Executive Chef Dan Murphy’s favourites of the day, with local wine pairings. I especially loved the spencer gulf snapper with blood plum, buckwheat and sour cream and the coorong angus beef with charred carrot, smoked butter and dill.
There’s a great little seated area and a gorgeous kitchen garden right outside the restaurant – the chefs use this little patch to guide the menu for the restaurant. Between courses, and as the sun was going down, we took our wine and walked through the garden and vines.
A full breakfast was delivered to our room the following morning which we enjoyed listening to some music as we sat outside on our terrace.
It was a jam-packed, wine and food filled 24-hours, but I’m so glad we got to see so much of the Barossa during my first trip to South Australia. If you haven’t yet visited this little pocket of the world, I’d definitely recommend add it to your list.