There is nowhere quite like the Barossa Valley. Travel editor Winsor Dobbin explores Australia’s most famous wine region. 

The names are familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in wine; Yalumba, Seppeltsfield, Penfolds, Jacob’s Creek, Grant Burge and Wolf Blass. Brands that are famous around the globe.

Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace are the regional icons, with Yalumba’s The Caley a new contender, but the Barossa is a region of contrasts and while there are plenty of big wineries with on-site restaurants, there are also several boutique cellar doors worth seeking out.

Names like Teusner, Yelland and Papps, Schild Estate, Rick Burge, Glaetzer, Charles Melton, David Franz, Rockford, Schwartz and John Duval are prominent.

The Barossa is arguably the best-known “new world” wine region on the globe and a gourmet’s delight. It is rated alongside Bordeaux, Tuscany and the Napa Valley in terms of quality wine tourism.

And the Barossa is now just a one-hour drive north of Adelaide, thanks to some intensive work on the local roads.

It is a region that is about a lot more than just wine. It’s about the people, many of whose families have been farming the land for five or six generations.

It’s about history; the region is dotted with old churches and cemeteries; and exploration: there are plenty of biking and walking trails through the vineyards.

It’s about the hearty food and ingrained German heritage; just visit the local butcher shops like Finke’s, where all the smoking is done using a secret family recipe, and the traditional bakeries, to unearth some unfamiliar gourmet delights.

German-speaking settlers, many devout Lutherans from Silesia seeking to escape trouble-torn central Europe, arrived in the 1800s and brought with them culinary traditions from their homeland.

Today visitors to the Barossa can try dill cucumbers, pickles and preserves, smoked and cured smallgoods (try mettwurst and lachschinken at Schulzes), dried fruits, locally made egg noodles and a range of German-style cakes and pastries (sample a Black Forest Torte at the Tanunda Bakery or maybe a streuselkuchen cake).

A warm region viticulturally, the Barossa is synonymous with big red wines, usually made from shiraz and grenache, and previously for fortified wines, while the cooler Eden Valley is best known for rieslings (think names like Pewsey Vale). Some of the Barossa vines are among the oldest surviving anywhere in the world.

The big name wineries are joined by the likes of St Hallett, Peter Lehmann, Elderton, Turkey Flat,  Schild Estate and Torbreck.

While shiraz and grenache reign supreme, many younger Barossa growers and winemakers are experimenting with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese grape varieties including sangiovese and tempranillo, which are proving highly popular.

The wine industry here has deep roots. Penfolds was founded by an English doctor, Christopher Rawson Penfold, in 1844 – as visitors are reminded by a large roadside sign as they enter the valley.

Today, tourists visiting the Penfolds winery can try their hand at blending their own red wine in a laboratory with guidance from young winemakers.

The Barossa spreads across a number of small towns and villages; Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Greenock, Angaston and Lyndoch are among the more prominent but some, like Marananga, are mere specks on the map.

It is, however, de rigueur to visit at least a couple of wineries with history; particularly family-owned Yalumba, which boasts a history dating back to 1849.

With its own cooperage, where visitors can watch barrels being hand-made, to glorious gardens and historic cellars, the Hill-Smith family was also a pioneer in the use of screw caps and a founding member of Australia’s First Families of Wine. Yalumba oozes with history and style.

Yalumba is generous in throwing open its historic buildings to visitors. Among the options available are a tasting in the Wine Room followed by a picnic on the lawns, but there are also several private experiences for those who want to learn more. Yalumba is at 40 Eden Valley Road, Angaston. (08) 8561 3200.

Also check out the Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail, which guides visitors to stops including the Lyndoch Lavender Farm and Café, Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop and new Eatery, and the Barossa Valley Cheese Company.

The Artisans of Barossa cellar door offers a quick snapshot of the region and is a facility shared by some of the region’s most talented winemakers, including Hobbs, John Duval, Massena, Schwarz Wine Company, Sons of Eden and Spinifex.

For some other authentic local tastes, visit the Barossa Farmers Market, which is held every Saturday morning and is something of a meeting place for local vignerons.

This authentic Farmers Market boasts over 40 stallholders offering a selection of “fresh, seasonal produce including fruit and vegetables, freshly baked artisan breads and sweet treats, ethical meats, free-range eggs, sauces, condiments, olive oils, nuts, milk and cream, and a whole raft more”.

Seppeltsfield, which dates back to 1851, has always been one of the de rigueur stops in the

Barossa and that is the case more than ever with the opening of the winery’s 115-year-old cellar

door and restaurant Fino.

The new development, which also includes superb new gardens, was opened late in 2014 and has been hailed as one of the Barossa’s most significant gastronomic tourism endeavours in recent history.

Other “must visit” cellar doors include historic Penfolds, recent arrival St Hugo and the modern Jacob’s Creek Visitor’s Centre.

Chateau Tanunda, established in 1890, is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most beautiful winery estates, while family-owned Yalumba has atmospheric tastings rooms, wonderful old buildings and an eclectic range, including a number of whites made from the rare viognier grape.

There is no shortage of great places to eat, either, with Appellation part of the luxury The Louise complex and widely regarded as one of the best regional restaurants in Australia. Fino, Hentley Farm and FermentAsian are regional favourites.

Where to stay: 

Novotel Barossa Valley Resort 

Close to one-third of all visitors to the Barossa stay at the very smart Novotel Barossa Valley, high on a hill overlooking vineyards and the Jacob’s Creek winery.

Novotel Barossa Valley Resort is just over an hour’s drive from the Adelaide city centre, adjacent to the 18-hole Tanunda Pines golf course. The Cellar Kitchen Restaurant and Bar features seasonal menus incorporating the best of the Barossa, in collaboration with Saskia Beer.

“The Cellar Kitchen isn’t just a regional restaurant, it’s all about sharing the best of our local Barossa community and inviting guests to our table,” says GM Sarah Goldfinch. “Saskia’s dishes are all produce-driven not chef-driven, with local seasonal Barossa ingredients featured as the hero.”

Another gourmet alternative is grabbing a bike from the hotel and riding to Jacobs Creek Winery for wine tasting and lunch (available only during weekdays).

One of the signature elements of the Accor group’s MyResorts scheme is MyGlass, whereby for a small fee guests can enjoy a beverage experience. Depending on the resort, that may include a cocktail-making class or a wine-tasting with a local producer.

At the Novotel, a local winery will guide you through a selection of their wines paired with five small plates featuring gourmet Barossa produce. During my recent stay the first night was hosted by Grant Burge cellar door manager Julie Webster, and the second by veteran vigneron Tim Smith.

Novotel Barossa Valley Resort is at 42 Pioneer Ave, Rowland Flat. (08) 8524 0000.

How to get around: 

One of the easiest ways to visit several Barossa cellar doors without the need for a designated driver in the Barossa Explorer, hop-on, hop-off bus, which operates from the Novotel Barossa Valley Resort, the Barossa Information Centre in Tanunda and the Weintal Hotel.

For a one-off fee of $30-35, visitors can be dropped at the tasting facilities of up to seven different wine producers.

The wineries visited change seasonally but include the likes of Turkey Flat, Langmeil, David Franz, Rolf Binder, Artisans of Barossa, Chateau Tanunda and Seabrook, as well as Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop and Eatery.

Visitors can join the tour at any of 12 stops along the route and tickets can be purchased on board. The complete route takes approximately an hour so rejoining the tour is easy.

Tours run 10am-5pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.