How to Plan a Trip in the Barossa and Surrounding Wine Regions:
Where to Stay, Where to Eat and Which Wineries to Visit
Sydney, I love you. Your beaches are glorious.
Melbourne, you hipster dreamboat, you can do things to brunch no-one else would dream of.
But Adelaide? You just might be the best city in the world for a wine lover.
A big call I know. But South Australia just has so much to offer with at least 5 distinct regions to explore within a short distance of Adelaide. (And I’m talking an hour’s drive, not the ‘relatively-speaking-for-Straya-so-ooh-around-4-hours-drive-mate’).
So, this post is to help you plan a trip exploring the various wine regions of South Aus, starting with the most famous region of the Barossa.
WINE REGIONS OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
From Adelaide you are in striking distance of:
1. Hot, dry Barossa - perhaps the most famous, renowned for its hearty Shiraz and other bold red wines.
2. The slightly cooler Eden Valley which overlooks the Barossa, renowned for its steely, citrusy Riesling
3. The cooler still Clare Valley, where afternoon breezes, cold nights and higher altitude create age-worthy Rieslings. (Check out my separate posts about Eden Valley's Yalumba and Henschke (coming soon)
4. The Adelaide Hills, where (clue’s in the name) - a bit of altitude creates a more moderate climate, and a reputation for quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
5. Finally the McLaren Vale - where the clue is also in the name - the vale being part of the Fleurieu Peninsula that pokes out into the ocean thus benefiting from cooling ocean breezes.
You could happily spend 2 weeks just in this region, going from beach to city to depths of countryside.
But let’s be honest - when do we ever get as much time as we’d like to experience, well, anything? So here are my highlights for a whistlestop tour through the regions with some unmissable experiences along the way.
(For Coonawarra, which is very much part of the South Australian wine map, check out my post here: How to Spend the Perfect Day in Coonawarra It's about 4/5 hours drive south from Adelaide)
WHERE TO STAY
Where's the best place to base yourself for access to all the wine regions?
Unless you want to spend time in Adelaide too, I would highly recommend basing yourself in the Barossa since the rough driving distances look like this, versus Adelaide:
From Adelaide City Centre to:
Barossa Valley - 1 hr
Adelaide Hills - 30 mins
McLaren Vale - 40 mins
Eden Valley 1 hr 10 min
Clare Valley - 1hr 50 mins
From Barossa Valley to:
Barossa Valley - 0 mins
Adelaide Hills - 50 mins
McLaren Vale - 1.5 hrs
Eden Valley - 30 mins
Clare Valley - 1hr 20 mins
So overall you’re looking at less driving time, and more time spent immersed in the beautiful countryside as opposed to fighting through city traffic.
We based ourselves at the absolutely exceptional Dairyman’s Cottage. What Michael Wohlstadt, the dairyman himself has created here is truly dreamy.
He has two little cottages on his dairy farm, surrounded by the most stunningly beautiful countryside, sounds, smells and flavours you could ever hope for.
A fridge full of real (unpasteurised, unhomogenised) fresh milk, delicious butter, smoked bacon and fennel sausages greeted us. A pot of his homemade spiced almonds, plus chocolate, dried apricots, artisanal ground coffee, a foot long ciabatta, fresh flowers and a bottle of Barossa Shiraz sat invitingly on the table when we first arrived.
There’s the opportunity to see the cows getting milked and the calves getting fed, and to go and visit the adorable, stinky, inquisitive heritage breed pigs.
Chickens roam, an winsome white cat mopes around (who clearly knows each new guest has a fresh supply of thick creamy milk) and an adorably vocal dog are there to entertain the city dweller deprived of these ridiculously simple pleasures.
It’s a great spot to base yourself, and if you’re lucky, share a dinner with Michael in his kitchen with whomever he currently has helping out on the farm, putting the world to rights over whatever bottles you brought back from the cellar doors that day.
WHICH WINERIES TO VISIT IN THE BAROSSA?
First, let’s get Penfolds out of the way. Is Penfolds a must-visit? Well, it is the most world famous Australian wine brand, so... For a more in-depth look at Penfolds, head on over to my Penfolds blog post here, where I tell you a bit about Penfolds history and describe the Taste of Grange Experience in depth so you can decide if its for you.
An adorable little cellar door in an old stone cottage, with higgledy-piggledy rooms with inviting little nooks and sofas inside. They offer a couple of different tasting flights, depending on whether you want to go every day or premium.
Stand outs were The Beauty, a Shiraz made with fruit from one of their cooler sites and co-fermented with Viognier, (something they do in the Northern Rhone to give Syrah a little aromatic ‘lift’) and The Beast, made with Shiraz from one of their more unrelentingly hot sites.
They also had a stunning Sparkling Shiraz, one of the nicest I’ve ever tried which I have no doubt had as much to do with the hot day (which made a sparkling red seem like a great idea, rather than a weird one) as to do with the winemaking. It’s made with the traditional method, meaning the secondary fermentation (the one that creates the bubbles) happens in the bottle, leading to a lovely toasty complexity.
They also have a well-reviewed fine dining restaurant which offers 4 or 7 course tasting menus paired with Hentley Farm wines.
Believed to be the home of the oldest Shiraz vines in the world. I’ve heard good things about this winery as a cellar door experience, though sadly it was closed the day we were in the area.
Round off your Barossa experience with a visit to Artisans of Barossa, featuring wines from various producers, all with a small-batch, sub-regional focus.
Formerly a family butcher’s, this cellar door kept coming up as a recommendation from locals, surrounded by vineyards dating back to 1847. Offering local produce plates to nibble on while you taste your way through their range.
WHERE TO EAT IN THE BAROSSA
The UNMISSABLE Restaurant in The Barossa! FermentAsian
If there is just one place you go to eat in the Barossa, please make sure its fermentAsian. I can’t recommend it highly enough! This restaurant has one of the best wine lists in Australia, maybe even the world, and hands down it’s certainly the most entertaining one! I mean look at it
It reads more like a magazine than a wine list, with amusing interjections from Grant Dickson, the Head Sommelier such as the below tirade about Chardonnay:
“Channel surfing on my inter-galactic emissary conversation detector, I chanced to download a barrage of cruel, unfair bigotry from a travelling Logos: “I don’t like Humans; hate the sloping foreheads, the prominent brows, the excessive body hair and the way their knuckles scrape across the ground”. I’m generally pretty thick skinned but I was more than a little offended by such clearly outdated observations. I felt like screaming into the ether “YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION; WE HAVE EVOLVED!!!!” Which of course suddenly made me think of Chardonnay. The number of times I have suffered customers informing me “I don’t like Chardonnay; hate the butteriness, hate the prominent oak, hate the vanilla, hate the fat. Hate. It." Some folks obviously haven’t been paying attention. Big-oak, big-butter, flab-factor-of-eleven Chardonnay cougar drinks were pandemic back in the 80’s. But then the backlash hit. NZ Sauvignon Blanc hit, The ABC phenomenon hit. BUT SINCE THEN AUSTRALIAN CHARDONNAY HAS EVOLVED. In 2018 words like buttery, oaky, vanilla have packed up their overweight baggage and departed the Chardonnay lexicon. Perhaps it's time to reevaluate out-of-date prejudices…
VIVE LA EVOLUTION!
His awesome wine list then goes on to offer a huge range of different chardonnays from ‘stone-tinged tinglers’ to ‘artifacty styles…battonaged to within an inch of their lives’.
This was one of the most entertaining wine pairing experiences of my life so far. Our sommelier clearly had so much fun with his job, taking the wine pairing for the degustation menu into his own hands and just totally ripping up the rule book. For each course he gave my partner and I something different so we could compare:
With our first course, (fresh betel leaves with sticky, caramelised pork), he served up a glass of classic Blanc de Blanc Champagne to compare with a Sake made by a little old pioneering Japanese feminist lady with some unusual kind of rice… Something like that anyway. You get the picture - each wine pairing was a story and laugh in its own right, and that’s before getting to the food which was divine. Think Chin Chin, but even better, which is something I never thought I would say.
Oh and the Chef’s tasting menu is only $75 pp (excl wines) which surely makes it one of the best value tasting menus
OTHER PLACES TO EAT IN BAROSSA
Other classics to look into are:
Another key option if you’re into posh degustation / wine pairing menus.
She’s kind of like Australia’s answer to Mary Berry. You can go to her little farm shop/ corporate empire for a plate for cheese, purchase many a high-end paté or pickle, eat at the restaurant (which was completely booked so book ahead) or even take a cooking class.
Like most wine regions, you will need a car if you value flexibility and freedom, but for dinner the friendliest cab service award goes to: 0400 631 631, Barossa & Light Cab Service.
Other key South Australian wine regions are easily accessible by car from Barossa.
A bizarre rubix cube, seemingly floating in the middle of the vineyards. Full points for effort, trying to mix up the traditional cellar door experience, with a restaurant, tasting room and some weird and wonderful (if feeling a tiiiiny bit outdated) multi-sensory exhibits. Worth it for the stunning views.
Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards is the oldest winery in McLaren Vale still under family ownership. Great views from their hilltop location, and a little picnic area.
A contemporary feeling, super-slick cellar door experience. The structured tasting we did was excellent - very knowledgable host and it felt like a conversation, rather than a transmission of their standardised talking points. Their Lenswood Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are exceptional and their M3 Chardonnay is an absolute classic is you love a rich, creamy but still balanced Chardonnay. Exceptional.
A well-respected wine producer with a cellar door which also does 'farm-to-table' fine dining with 4 course and 6 course experiences.
A truly fabulous family-run producer worthy of your time and money. Brimming with history and stories. Proving that 'family-run' doesn't have to mean small and limited. Check out my 8 Reasons to Love Yalumba post here including why founder Samuel Smith must have been a truly #woke Victorian!
Producers of the iconic 'Hill of Grace' wine, which is made only from their "Grandfather Vines". These are some seriously old ass, gnarly vines that sit under the watchful eye of the small Lutherian church the family also built when they arrived in the region. In the wine world, vine age tends to equates with (perceived) wine quality. These 'Grandfather' vines date back to 1860, making them amongst the oldest vines in Australia. Consider that the Phylloxera Epidemic (a bug, unwittingly brought over from America, that basically killed off all of Europe's vines and the indeed the winemaking industry, until the solution was discovered to graft European vines onto American rootstock) began to take hold in the Rhone in 1863, you can see why these 'original', unadulterated, pure vines are so revered. They are a kind of an anachronism in viticulture.
That old vines = better wine is an interesting discussion topic of its own, but the received wisdom is as follows: the older and more established the vine is, the less bunches of grapes it yields. This means the vine's ripening efforts are concentrated into a few precious bunches, rather than spread thinly across many. This is said to equate with greater concentration and complexity in the grapes. The question of whether the correlation continues to increase the older and older a vine gets is up for debate. Between a 5 yr old vine and a 30 year old wine. For sure. But between a 30 year old and a 60 year old, let alone a 160 year old vine? That becomes a more philosophical question. I'm publishing a write up soon of our full experience here so I'll let you know my personal answer to the question!
Henschke is situated a little way out of the usual tourist footfall of the Eden Valley, but certainly worth the pilgrimage. They have a newly built, suitably luxurious cellar door.
A classic Clare producer and well-worth a visit - we made a beeline here especially for the Assyrtiko. One of my favourite varieties but so far, only grown in Greece, most famously Santorini where is produces awesome, distinctive wines that to me are the definition of "mineral". Jim Barry is the first producer in the world to produce it commercially outside of Greece, after tasting it on holiday in 2006. Only a few vintages have been released so far, so it was very exciting to finally get to try it!
Another absolute must-visit. Plan to have lunch here or afternoon tea, to revive yourself after a day of tasting - its hard work you know! It has the most divine setting on their shady terrace, looking out onto the vines, you won't regret it! Their Gewürztraminer is exceptional and one of the best you will taste in SA.
Thanks for reading if you've got this far. If you've been to South Australia and have place I simply must include, please let me know!
Happy sipping wine lovers.