Barossa Valley April 26, 2007

by Charlie Leocha on April 27, 2007

seppeltBarrelBig.gifIt started raining at about 4 a.m. It is a nice gentle, soaking, steady rain. It has lasted all day and into the night. It is a sound that the Barossa Valley had not heard for far too long. The locals are all talking about it. They apologize for it. “Sorry mate,” they say, “We really need this.” They stand outside with no umbrellas enjoying the rain, feeling the wetness, smiling at the raindrops and splashing though a puddle or two, then they all add, “We need a lot more of this than just one day.”

I reminds me of the 1980s when I lived in Heidelberg, Germany. Crowds of Germans would walk out of their offices when the sun would come out during the winter months. They would fill the parks and town squares standing with their shirts off and arms outspread enjoying the warm rays. It is not much of a difference today with the Barossa Valley residents soaking in the rainfall.

AngasPark.gifThe rain makes it a perfect day to explore the far reaches of the valley and visit other food products of Barossa Valley. Dried fruits, nuts, cheeses, paté, preserves, vinegars and spreads beckon.

First stop is the Angas Park Shop (08-8561-0830) in Angaston. Here shoppers can find everything (every day except Good Friday and Christmas) from the healthiest local foods such as wholesome dried fruits and nuts to decadent chocolate and sugar coated treats. Local farmers bring in their harvest and Angas Park packs them and sometimes sugars them up.

The valley surprisingly has only two cheese makers. One of these, Barossa Valley Cheese Company (08-8564-3636), has set up shop only a hundred meters down the road from the Angas Park Shop. Here, they make around 14 different soft cheeses ranging from a Camembert to Brie to a stronger Washington Washrind. Victoria Glaetzer and her mother make all their cheeses by hand from fresh milk from a local dairy. Victoria explained that her cheeses change depending on the weather and the conditions during the cheese making. “Cheeses are living things,” she notes, “We tend to forget that.”

Cheese.gifHer cheese company created a group of six wine and cheese trails that lead visitors from winery to winery through the Barossa Valley. Customers purchase a pre-packaged set of four cheeses and then follow the route of their choice to four different wineries and pair the cheeses with optimal wines according to a wine/cheese-pairing list that Victoria and her mother suggest.

We drove through the steady rain to the 150-year-old Seppelt Winery (08-8568-6217) in Seppeltsfield, one of the oldest and most historic wineries in Australia. (Tasting room on the right below.) This is the main regional producer of fortified wines such as Ports and Sherries in the valley. Set on 20 acres, the picturesque stone warehouses, barrel storage vaults and pressing rooms spread out in a relatively bucolic setting. The old Seppelt homestead is open for tours and used often as a wedding venue.

seppeltastingrm.gifMysteriously, more than 2,000 date palms, planted by workers during the depression, line both sides of the road leading to the winery. The story goes that during the depression the Seppelt family had their workers plant these palm trees to keep them working when wine sales declined. The workers agreed to work for half pay but received room and board during that difficult time.

This is the only winery in the world that sets aside a barrel of Port every year to be aged for 100 years. The 100-year-old Ports cost A$1,000 a bottle. We had an opportunity to taste a bit of this Port from 1907. It was rich, thick and sumptuous. It is a drop that must be drunk with reverence.

The Seppelt family winery was recently purchased by corporate interests and the fortified wine production (Ports, Tokays and Sherries) is now on the sales block. Long-time workers are dismayed at this impending breakup. In this case, the imminent sale or breakup of the Seppeltsfield Company may be the end of a long history in the valley. Reports are circulating that the company will be selling their 100-year-old Port wine stock barrel by barrel if a new buyer for the entire division doesn’t appear on the scene in the near future. It will be a loss to the Barossa of historic proportions.

MaggyBeer.gifAfter leaving the tasting room and cellar door at Seppeltsfield, our group headed to the Maggie Beer Farm (08-8562-4477) to sample a range of her patés, olives, woodfired breads and unusual fruit spreads. Maggie Beer is a legendary culinary TV personality in Australia and focuses on fresh foods and new tastes. We had a lunch at her store with a collection of these products and had a chance to taste her non-alcoholic Cabernet grape juice.

Maggie was filming an upcoming TV episode at her farm shop and every so often would pop out to offer shoppers a taste of a creation that had just been finished for the show. At the same time other workers were demonstrating how to add flavor to cooking with the use of her trademark Verjuice, the Cabernet grape juice, and virtually everything she sells was available for tastings.

RockfordPress.gifFinally, we headed to Rockford Winery (08-8563-2720) where the owners are determined to make wine the old-fashion way. They remove the stems using a turn-of-the-century Bagshaw crusher, use an old wooden basket press (right), ferment their red wines in open stone containers, age them in barrels and pride themselves on using traditional grapes, producing with traditional equipment and making wine in traditional styles.

Dinner was at the 1918 Restaurant (08-8563-0405) that serves excellent meals with plenty of local wines at moderate prices. The restaurant name comes from the date on the foundation stone. Our appetizers (entrees in Australia) ranged from oysters to quail and a spicy prawn soup and from cheese-free pizza to stuffed Portobello mushrooms. The entrees (mains in Australia) were steaks, lamb, barramundi and Artic char. Desserts were a special experience with a homemade ice cream of Bailey’s Irish Cream and scorched almonds with warm chocolate sauce and steamed apple and cinnamon pudding served with lime and coconut ice cream and butterscotch sauce.

A note: During this Barossa Valley excursion our group was guided by Ralf Hadzic of Life is a Cabernet tours (08-8396-2233). His company specializes in organizing individual and small group tours of Adelaide and the Barossa Valley. One would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable guide and someone who knows more folk in the valley. He is originally from Adelaide, but grew up in Ohio and lived in Texas.

Tomorrow, we head to an early visit at the Whispering Wall, shopping time at the markets of Adelaide and a tour of that city.

It is still raining.

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