Tapping Wine Tourism Into Liquid History

Tuesday, 5 June, 2018
Graham Howe
Graham Howe experiences a few of the stunning new wine tourism attractions of the Barossa Valley in South Australia, the hub of Australian wine.

“Do kangaroos eat grapes?” I wondered, watching a kangaroo hop through old bush vines in the Barossa Valley, an hour north of Adelaide. Our host advised these vegetarian, lactose-intolerant marsupials like grazing on the cover crops and napping in the shade of the vines – but they don’t like grapes. Spotting kangaroos in the spectacular landscapes of the vineyards of Adelaide Hills, the Barossa, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, I felt I was on a wildlife and wine safari.

We were touring wine country in a stately 1962 Daimler Majestic limo with John Baldwin, a wine tour specialist (see www.barossadaimlertours.com.au). He talked about the history of the Barossa Valley planted by Silesian settlers in the 1840s, which has grown into eighty cellars making over two-thirds of Australia’s premium wine exports today. We pass the homes of Australia’s biggest, oldest wine brands - Jacob’s Creek, Penfolds, Seppeltsfield, Yalumba and Wolf Blass. John, a car enthusiast with a vintage handle-bar moustache, pointed out the oldest (Shiraz) vineyard in the Barossa planted in 1843 – the phylloxera plague (“a small pest with a funny name”) left South Australia unscathed.

Avenue of hopes and dreams leading to Seppeltsfield Wines

Our first stop is at St Hugo, a new state-of-the-art tasting centre opened in 2016 by Jacob’s Creek as a showcase for its premium wine range. While Jacob’s Creek main tasting centre – named Best Large Cellar Door by Gourmet Traveller in 2018 - is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Barossa, the focus at St Hugo is on bespoke tutored tastings of back and current vintages – and terroir tours. Named after Hugo Gramp, the founder of Jacob’s Creek in 1847, the wines of Jacob’s Creek owned by Pernod Ricard are exported to over 70 countries today – and the #1 bottled brand in Australia.

We listen to cockatoos cackle in a grove of oak trees planted by descendent Colin Gramp to see if St Hugo can grow its own cork – in a trial which may produce its first commercial harvest in 2030. Over the “past, present and future tasting”, we tasted back, current and unreleased vintages of St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, the cellar’s flagship for almost forty vintages since 1980 – and St Hugo Barossa Shiraz – wines with elegance, longevity and power. Special tasting experiences at St Hugo include a private helicopter flight to see the sub-regions of the Barossa, a chef’s table degustation – and a blending experience with one of St Hugo’s winemakers. It was time to move on.

We were travelling back in history in our dream Daimler – the same carriage which took the Duke of Edinburgh to the Empire Games in Australia in 1962. The “avenue of hope and dreams”, 2500 giant Canary Island palms planted in the 1920s, lead up to Seppeltsfield Wines, the world-renowned producer of fortified wines founded in 1851. The new tasting centre, restaurant and wine bar is another of the big wine tourism attractions of Barossa. The cellar, distillery, vinegary, glass studio and working cooperage are a classified heritage village – and the only winery in the world to release a century old port every year – a five-star wine which James Halliday calls “the essence of wine”.

We were here to do the centenary tasting – and were soon at work in the ambient old cellar among the casks oozing with fortified wine which offer a continuous lineage from 1878 to the present. While waiting for a taste of the magical elixir of my own birth year (1957) to be drawn, I noticed Prince William (born 1982) and Prince Harry (1984) had their very own birthyear cask. Back in 1878 Benno Seppelt started putting away a barrel of his best port every vintage – with the proviso it should not be opened for 100 years. His legacy is liquid history. At a later stage, they put two extra puncheons away every year to top up the angel’s share of the mother barrel. Seppeltsfield releases its Para Tawny (a Shiraz/Grenache blend) – lately, the 1918 vintage in 100 ml (A$700 or R7000) and 375 ml (A$2000 or R2000) bottles. Halliday has awarded every release 100 points since 1907.

Over lunch at Fino, Seppeltsfield’s contemporary new restaurant set in the old bottling hall of the bluestone winery, we sampled some of the Barossa’s finest wines – including a stunning Cirillo Grenache 2016 made from old 1850 Barossa bush vines. The gravity-fed 1888 cellar at Seppeltsfield, one of the largest cellars in the world, with tiers of open fermenters, is still used to make still wines. In a first for an Australian winery, in May 2017, co-owner opened Chateau Seppeltsfield Minquan in China, a A$75m (R750m) investment in a key future market down to the neo-classical architecture. Seppeltsfield was a global winner in the best of wine tourism awards of great wine capitals in 2017.

I’d bagged seven of the eight cellars in South Australia ranked in the Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia (UWEA - see www.ultimatewineryexperiences.com.au) – d’Arenberg, Penfolds Magill Estate, Jacobs Creek, Seppeltsfield, St Hugo, Yalumba and Wirra Wirra – excluding The Lane Vineyard. I finished my tour of Barossa at Yalumba, the newest member of UWEA – the grand old dame of family wineries in Australia founded by British settler Samuel Smith in 1849. A founder member of Australia’s First Families of Wine, Yalumba is one of a handful of wineries in the southern hemisphere to maintain its own cooperage – and one of the pioneers of the quintessential Australian blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz since the 1880s. It is a renowned destination for its Signature Tour of its flagship blend – offering a vineyard tour of sites, a barrel tasting of Signature components, a tutored tasting of museum, current and future releases in a renovated old fermenter.

We did a Yalumba series tasting after a tour of the old cooperage and cellar with its priceless wine library of old and new world marques, and breakaway tasting rooms built into a maze of old stone fermenters. Our tasting of Riesling, Viognier, Grenache (they also do a Grenache journey of six single vineyard and bush vine wines), Shiraz (The Octavius is their flagship), and The Signature Cabernet/Shiraz was based on expressions of the seven soil types of sub-regions from the Barossa to Eden Valley. The Yalumba vine nursery is the largest in Australia and produces one million cuttings per annum – including six clones of Viognier propagated from cuttings acquired from Condrieu in 1980. We tasted Eden Viognier in a proprietary glass specially developed in Italy – one of five versions of Viognier made at Yalumba which has played a global role in the revival of the variety.

I headed off to cycle the Riesling Trail through Clare Valley, the capital of Riesling in South Australia.

To be continued …

Graham Howe attended the Australian Tourism Exchange 2018 in Australia as a guest of Tourism Australia (www.australia.com) and South Australian Tourism Commission (see www.southaustralia.com)

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is likely the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for a wide variety of print media, online and radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over seventy countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra.

Avenue of hope and dreams leading to Seppeltsfield Wines
Avenue of hope and dreams leading to Seppeltsfield Wines

A glass made specially for Viognier a hero variety at Yalumba
A glass made specially for Viognier a hero variety at Yalumba

Cooperage at Yalumba one of few wineries to still make own barrels
Cooperage at Yalumba one of few wineries to still make own barrels

Centenary tasting at Seppeltsfield which has a lineage of port in barrel from 1878 to present
Centenary tasting at Seppeltsfield which has a lineage of port in barrel from 1878 to present

Birth year tasting of my 1957 port vintage at Seppeltsfield Wines in Barossa
Birth year tasting of my 1957 port vintage at Seppeltsfield Wines in Barossa

Cellar at Yalumba (1849) one of the oldest family cellars in Auatralia
Cellar at Yalumba (1849) one of the oldest family cellars in Auatralia

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