By Jessica Festa
“How do we enter the wine cellar?” I ask Sally, one of the owners of Kingsford Homestead, a historical food and wine hotel located at the edge of South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
We walk through the slate flagged entrance, over sandstone tiles, imported from Edinburgh, until we reach a cedar buffet dresser in the hallway. There are some magazines stacked on top, as well as a bowl of fresh cherries. Sally smiles and points to the table.
I frown. “I don’t understand. Where is the cellar door?”
Her husband Pat comes to join her and together they open the chest to reveal a set of stairs leading down into an dimly lit stone cellar filled with over 400 local and international wines.
Commissioned in 1856, the two-story Georgian building is a 5-star boutique homestead featuring seven well-appointed rooms with views overlooking the vineyards and countryside. Pat and Sally are the hosts, and love encouraging visitors to really experience the flavor of the Barossa through their all-inclusive program. Guests can help themselves to fully stocked fridges of beer, wine, bubbly and spirits and indulge with a drink in their Outdoor Bush Bath, a luxury bathtub set in the property’s secluded forest.
Image via Kingsford Homestead
After canapes and drinks on the patio overlooking the gardens and rolling hillsides, I join the group I am traveling with as they make their way downstairs for the first epicurious adventure in the Barossa: A candlelit degustation dinner in Kingsford Homestead’s wine cellar.
While each dish has a tantalizing flavor, made more intense by using locally sourced ingredients, the most innovative selections are from their “Kingsford on a Plate” series. Inspired by Chef Stuart Oldfield, the dishes showcase ingredients used in recipes during the 1856 history of Kingsford with a gorgeous modern twist. The shining star is the six-hour slow-cooked beef daube, which would once have been a simple beef and vegetable stew, but has since been reinvented with the addition of a Barossa Shiraz reduction. The meal is paired with the homestead’s signature Barons of the Barossa labels, which come from local winemakers like David Franz, Peter Lehmann and Wendy and Tony Brookes.
The other menu options are also delicious, including a Poached South Australian king prawn served with celeriac, avruga and chives, local beetroot with goats cheese crÃ¨me, an international selection of creamy cheeses with soft mould crackers and fig paste, and a delicious dessert of fruity roasted rhubarb, buttery hazelnut shortbread and citrus twist of orange mascarpone. As a pairing to the meal, we enjoy on the homestead’s signature Barons of the Barossa labels, which come from local winemakers like David Franz, Peter Lehmann and Wendy and Tony Brookes.
Image via Kingsford Homestead
A 1959 Daimler
The next morning, Pat drives us up to the end of Kingsford Homestead’s long dirt driveway to meet our tour guide for the day, John Baldwin of Daimler Tours.
“John is very particular about his car,” explains Pat. “He doesn’t like to get it dusty.”
I’m immediately confused about how someone who leads driven tours around the Barossa Valley can be so nervous about his car getting dirty; that is, until I see the 1959 Daimler parked at the top.
Now I understand why John’s company is called Daimler Tours. The company’s philosophy is not to offer pre-planned itineraries, but to get to know its guests and base the tour off what people want. We let John know that while some of the group is interested in history, others would like to learn more about the area’s culinary offerings.
The Future Of The Barossa’s Wine
Driving past endless vineyards and rows of red City of Belfast roses, we make our way to Yelland and Papps in the heart of the Barossa Valley.
“These guys are our future,” explains John. “They’re setting a standard for the future of the Barossa Valley.” In fact, their first wine came out in 2007.
We enter a space that is clean and rustic adorned with antique and handcrafted furnishings. A charming wooden hutch, built by Susan’s (the winery owner) grandfather, showcases homemade jams and chutneys. Their bar is crafted from recycled wood from a 27 Chevy, and the menus are made of brown recycled paper.
“We started doing this in a spare room in our house,” says Susan. “Once the business began to grow, we bought this space so we could really experiment and make our own grapes.”
Image via Yelland & Papps
“We want people to immediately realize we’re different when they walk in,” explains Susan. “We’re focused on sustainability. We grow fig trees, mulberry bushes, walnuts, have a veggie garden and a sheep shed and we like to make use of what we have for our products.”
Outside, the group enjoys a French picnic among the vines with a meal of bread, cheese, jams pork rillett, prosciutto and a gorgeous selection of chutneys homemade from family recipes.
We first sample their Delight Vermentino. The winery is unique in that they are the only ones blending Vermentino with 100% Barossa Valley fruit. With a light body and citrus aroma, it’s made for “drinking not thinking,” which is reflective of the entire Delight Series. Next, we sample their 2011 Delight Vin De Soif, with 69% Grenache, 15% Mataro, 14% Shiraz and 2% Carignan.
“We hate that people stop drinking red when the weather warms up,” says Susan. “We want to encourage people to continue drinking red even when it’s summer.”
The red is chilled and light, with easygoing flavors of red cherry, raspberry, red plum and cranberry. While the winery offers the more complex Devote and Divine series, the relaxed picnic atmosphere perfectly matches the breezy wines.
It’s good we’ve rested up, as it’s now time for the group to leave and burn off the French bread and charcuterie by biking four miles from Nuriootpa to Angaston via the Barossa Valley Bike Trail. The section of the bike trail we’re traversing takes us on a paved path through endless vineyards, golden wheat and canola fields and vibrant patches of roses with scents so strong it permeates the cool air.
When we arrive at the English/Scottish town of Angaston, John arranges for our bikes to be picked up and we make our way to Yalumba, the oldest and largest family-owned winery in Australia. Open since 1849, the business has been passed down from generation to generation and remains a family enterprise to this day.
“We’re also the only winery in Australia and one of the only in the world that has its own barrel making facility,” explains Benny, who has been working in various roles at Yalumba for 16 years. Continuing the tour, Benny points out The Signature cellar.
“Our signature wine is a Cabernet Shiraz appropriately named The Signature because once a year we put the signature of one of our dedicated workers on the barrel.”
While the tour is lovely, the winery is best explored through the palate, as we soon learn during a tasting of their Pewsey Vale Edan Valley Riesling 2012 and The Signature.
The Riesling is pale straw in color, with intense fruit flavors of lemon and lime and a hint of crushed stone however, The Signature steals the show. A full-bodied red wine, the varietal is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that is iconic of the Barossa. It’s a deep red, with intense fruit flavors as well as hints of American oak, which come from their cooperage where vintners flavor, season, temperate and construct their own wine barrels by hand. The experience is reminiscent of old world Barossa, especially as we tour the valley in a classic car from 1959.
To add to the epicurious experience, we stop at the Barossa Valley Cheese Company. Taking up half the room is an enticing case of ripened cheeses. John has brought us here at just the right time; as it turns out we have walked in at the beginning of a free tasting session.
“We specializes in handcrafted soft cheeses,” says Jan of the Barossa Valley Cheese Company. “Soft cheeses are ripened from the outside to the center, so flavors move inward.”
While the Barossa Geo is elegant with a smooth and creamy texture, the white mold Barossa Camembert is rich with slight hints of mushroom. The slightly sweeter cheeses include the Barossa Washington — silky with a flavor that seems to build in intensity as it moves about the palate.
Then tasting ends with a bit of royal treatment — two goal milk cheeses — the robust Le Petit Prince and my personal favorite, the tangy and nostalgic Le Petit Princess. While all the cheeses are enjoyable, I can’t help but think how nicely they would pair with a fine wine. Luckily, there are endless wine experiences in the Barossa Valley.
Image via Kingsford Homestead
In The Wine Lab
While we’ve visited old world and modern wineries, the group has yet to actually create their own blend. This is why John brings us to Penfolds, another lovely winery located in the heart of the Barossa. After putting on our lab coats, we go up to the lab to create our blends based on the Penfolds Bin Series. We mixed Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre in beakers using different percentages until we concoct an enjoyable blend.
“If you’re making wine for yourself there’s no right or wrong,” explains Noelene, our wine lab instructor. “That being said, one hint is that Grenache is often the predominant variety, but not always.”
First we taste each individual variety. While the Grenache is very aromatic, the Shiraz is a bit fuller and spicier, adding richness and weight. The MourvÃ¨dre on the other hand is more complex and earthy in character, with hints of licorice.
At first I feel trepidation, but once I make my first blend, relying mainly on the spiciness of the Shiraz, I feel like maybe I have a future in the wine industry.
A Delicious End
As our tour comes to a close at TV personality Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that it’s simply impossible to ignore the epicurious culture of the Barossa. Along with highly quality coffee and interesting tea blends like Rainwater Mint, Sunday Roast, Orange Earl and Wine and Roses, the shop is a mecca of free samples. Walking around, we taste marmalades, jams, sauces, vinegars, oils, marinades, pastes, vino cottos, sugos and, of course, her signature pÃ¢tés, all made by Maggie and her staff.
Image via Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop
As I sit outside sipping a chocolate marmalade tea and indulging in an enormous homemade lemon merengue tart, I’m enveloped in the incredible scenery and delectable culture of this region.
A peacock wanders by the table while turtles swim in the cloudy blue onsite pond. People don’t do things in the Barossa unless they can do them well. This philosophy is the lesson of the day, and I’ve learned it well through intimate wine tastings, locally-sourced cheese samplings, world-class sustainable restaurants and celebrities that actually care about the community. It’s refreshing and satisfying in the way only a well-aged wine and pheasant farm pÃ¢té can be. It’s true Barossa Valley culture at its finest.
About Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and finding places you don’t see in guidebooks. You can follow her adventures on her travel website, Epicure & Culture.