The Wineries of the Barossa Valley
You’re going to have to work to get to the Barossa Valley. No. That’s not entirely true. You’ll probably have to work to get to any wine region in Australia. The country alone is far away, except to those Kiwis to the east. The Barossa Valley is in the southern region of South Australia, just north of Adelaide. In order for me to get to the Barossa Valley, it took 3 flights, an hour’s drive on the wrong side of the road (I’m an American), and the last stretch of road to my hotel was pure dirt. Lovely, I’ve arrived at the Barossa Valley.
In all honesty, I completely blame Google Maps. In one breath, I’m happy because it did get to to my hotel, but it did so taking me through the most boring of drives and, literally, taking me on a dirt road. But that’s the essence of the Barossa Valley. It’s both in plain sight yet just far enough away you’ll be saying, Are we there yet, at least a few times along the way.
Arriving in the middle of summer, I was expecting blindingly hot days. And it can cook in the valley. Yet I was welcomed with summertime passing thunderstorms which, while the humidity ticked up a bit, the temperature was comfortable.
The southern end is filled with rolling hills and valleys which ease into more of mole hills and flatlands as you approach the north. On a sunny day, it’s a wine tourists’ dream. Drive up onto any hillside and gaze out onto rows and rows of grapevines almost as far as the eye can see.
Eucalyptus trees flourish, but come on, this is Australia after all. And the occasional kangaroo crossing signs flank a few of the outskirting roads of the valley. Yet you’re in farm country, with an open expanse of land to grow, so while you will find foliage, on a hot day, best to bring a hat, as there aren’t a ton of shade.
The surrounding mountains in the summertime turn the most beautiful golden brown. It’s a beautiful contrast to drive up above the vineyards to see the landscape change from a sea of green to a floor of gold. From living in Northern California (about 20 minutes south of Sonoma), it felt a lot like home. Then again, wines do like to grow in similar regions.
There are two main towns in the Barossa Valley: Tanunda and (my favorite town to pronounce) Noriootpa. You can access pretty much any winery within a 10-15 minute drive from either town.
While Noriootpa might be my preferable of the two to say, Tanunda is where the nightlife is. And when I say night life, I mean a bar or two. This town of roughly 5,000 feels smaller than that, thanks in part to it’s main street that runs off in a nearly endless straight line towards Noriootpa to the north. I don’t believe even seeing a stoplight in or around town, let alone the entire wine country area.
There are a handful of roundabouts, which, to an American, is so much fun to drive around, and the occasional stop sign here and there. But that’s it. Granted I was in town on a holiday weekend, yet still there didn’t seem to be a lot of traffic on any day I was there. Then again, there aren’t that many people, including tourists, where there would be a massive rush hour backup downtown.
When you go to the Barossa Valley, best to bring a map. While there were sporadic signs along the road signaling to turn at various roads to wineries, not all were marked. Then again, there aren’t that many roads in general to turn on, so chances are good that you’ll find the right winery. Road signage was fantastic and I never felt like I was lost in the valley. Even when I did take a road too early, I could just drive a few more blocks, make a few additional lefts and I was at my destination. Plus, if you make a wrong turn and end up at a different winery, is it really that bad?
Drinking and Driving
Out here in California, the BAC is .08%. In South Australia, it’s .05%. That’s basically 1 drink. The Government’s My License website, http://mylicence.sa.gov.au/, equates that to a 100ml pour of red or white wine (or Sparkling Shiraz). Considering a standard bottle size is 750ml, you can quickly see how little wine it takes to hit that limit. It’s a big deal. There was a reason why I was continually spitting throughout my time in the wine country. It was the only way I was able to taste all of the wines.
The great news is that there are a handful of wine tours, vans and buses you can join in town to go try the wineries and not have to worry about drinking and driving throughout the wine country.
If you’re not comfortable spitting (trust me, it’s easy) then sign up for a tour or arrange for a car hire. You’ll relax more knowing you’re not counting milliliters with every sip, considering an average pour of wine at a winery is 30-45ml apiece. Plan in advance and your time in the Barossa Valley will be that much more enjoyable.
There are cabs around so do plan additionally on dinner and lunch if you plan on having a glass or two with your meal. I found that a lager (half-pint) with my dinner was enough for me. I then repaired back to my hotel to have some cognac.
Crime & Safety
I can’t say that there is no crime within the valley, but overall I felt very safe traversing through the valley (well except for the possibility of being bitten by a brown snake, but hey, this is Australia). Wherever I went I locked my car and kept any valuable covered. But I didn’t have an continual uneasiness that my car could have been broken into hourly.
I did see a few patrol cars throughout the region, so there are officials watching out. But overall the region is fairly safe. I didn’t see any graffiti, homeless, or dilapidated houses. I was either in the movie Pleasantville (the color version), or it’s just well maintained town.
Given that Australia outlaws just about every firearm imaginable (heck, the locals voluntarily turned in various firearms per the request of the government in order to make the region safer) I didn’t feel like I was any immediate danger (from animal yes, but from man not so much).
It’s a world away, plain and simple. You have to work to get here. But the effort is well worth it. It’s friendly, inviting and doggone it, the wine is fantastic.