Day 2 of the “Ultimate Australian Rail Holiday” 19th May 2016 (Part Two)
Part one of this post brought us up to the moment we stepped off The Indian Pacific at Two Wells, ready to take our included off-train excursion in the Barossa Valley.
Say “Barossa Valley” to any Australian, and they will immediately think wine. There are over 150 wineries in this region, and it is a major exporter. Names such a Grant Burge, Henschke, Jacob’s Creek, Penfolds, and Wolf Blass are just a few which will be familiar to overseas readers. The Barossa Valley is known for big red wines usually made from Shiraz and Grenache, while nearby Eden Valley is more about Rieslings. Go over another hill or two, and you come to the Clare Valley, also popular for Riesling.
The region has a strong German Lutheran history, which in turn derives from the uniqueness of South Australia having been established entirely from free settlers, no convicts were transported here.
A brief history:
- George Fife Angas (1789-1879) was part of The South Australian Land Company (SALC) who set about finding settlers to come to the newly established colony in the early 1830s.
- This enticed Lutheran Germans, some 500 of which came under the leadership of a Pastor and settled a little closer to Adelaide at places such as Klemzig and Hahndorf.
- In 1842, 127 of them settled further north in Bethany (aka Neuschlesien, & New Silesia).
- They knew about wine growing. The earliest vines were planted in 1847, which grew into Orlando Wines, and subsequently became Jacobs Creek.
As we drive towards our first stop, we pass fertile lands of olive groves, hydroponic farms, vegetables and market gardens. Wheat has recently been cropped, the paddocks are stocked with sheep, and many lambs are evident. At a distance on our right, we can see the Mount Lofty Ranges. Beyond them lies Adelaide itself. On occasion, lying at an elevation of 750 metres, these ranges can get snow. They are more famous for spectacular bush fires.
As we continue towards the grapevines of the Barossa, we cannot help but notice the green tinges on the land all about. Even though this area relies mostly on underground water, they did have a little rainfall in the previous week. The green contrasts with the rich red soil. In the sky, we spot gliders from the Adelaide Soaring Club based in nearby Gawler.
There are lots of small wineries in this area, and many have a restaurant attached. The grapes are dormant as we are leading into winter, and the vines will be pruned in the next couple of months. The grapes, meanwhile, are in the fermentation tanks. These days, only the very old vines are harvested by hand, the rest are subject to mechanical harvesting and pruning. That takes all of the fruit off the vine at the one time, rather than needing a month to harvest one patch by the manual method.
The winery on show to us today is Seppeltsfield, famous for their fortified wines such as ports and tokays. In 1850 Joseph Seppelt, his wife and a number of other families migrated from Silesia (now mostly in Poland) to establish a self-sufficient village. Early commercial farming attempts included tobacco growing. Long story short, they expanded into wine growing, eventually settling into fortified wines.
Joseph died of pneumonia aged 55. His son Benot inherited, married, had 12 boys and 4 girls and went on to commemorate their names, births and deaths in a series of barrels. A couple are in the photos below. They are lined up high above our heads in a passageway leading to the tasting and showroom.
From 1878, Benno Seppelt determined that a barrel should be laid down every year and left to sit in the one spot for 100 years. In the sampling room, we got to try the 1916 vintage. From the original 500 litres of finest port wine siphoned into the barrel, only 200 litres of a much thicker and richer mixture remains after 100 years of oxidisation and water evaporation (the angels’ share). Very smooth I must say. Bottling stops this maturing process. It is then released on the market as Seppeltsfield 100 yr old Para Tawny Port, with the Para part of the name being based on the river that flows through the Barossa Valley.
One thing I love about South Australia is the predominance of stone houses, and the lodge country house in the grounds of Seppeltsfield is a beautiful example made of local bluestone. The courtyard and grounds are also stunning, and there are several artisans studios and galleries in the building called The Jam Factory.
The township of Tanunda is at the heart of the Barossa, and regardless that its name derives from an Aboriginal word, it still displays its German heritage. We have a short wander through the main street, time enough to snap a shot of one of the four Lutheran churches.
Bethany (mentioned earlier) is about 2km from Tanunda, and a Barossa Pioneer Memorial has been built on Mengler’s Hill Lookout above the town. Beside it there is a Sculpture Park, similar to the one we saw in Broken Hill. I think this one was originally established as part of our Bicentennial Celebrations in 1988, and then has been revisited in 2008. To my mind, the eagle is keeping a beady eye on the reclining woman. You can see part of the panorama of the valley in the background of one of these shots.
It was while wandering around the sculptures that I noticed the first of several butterflies who seemed to be accompanying me on this holiday. I am happy to hear from any spiritualists as to the symbolism of that!
Our last visit of the day was to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. Maggie is well known in Australia as a chef, author and TV cooking co-host. She bases her reputation on using quality seasonal produce and inventive recipes. We were able to taste test a range of jams, sauces, preserves, pickles and fruit pastes, all of which are on sale at the shop, before gathering in the kitchen which was built for the TV show (a replica of her own) to watch a short cooking demonstration. I nipped back to the shop afterwards to buy a gift pack as a birthday present for a friend I was meeting in a couple of days, and I can say that was received with great delight! (Mail order is available).
Then it was off to their restaurant for a delectable two-course dinner, followed by a bus ride back to the Indian Pacific, now parked at the Adelaide Terminal, and scheduled to depart around 9.30pm. Safely back on board, we high-tailed it to the bar, ready to swap stories with our other passengers, and meet those new ones who had joined us in Adelaide.
Top bunk for me again for this second night’s sleep.
For Reference: We booked our tour through the Australian Holiday Centre.