Beautiful Barossa

An important note before I carry on about the grape. The fires in Victoria have been incredibly sad and tragic. The whole country shares this sentiment, and it's a testament to Australia greatness when you see its people respond with such genuine and heartfelt sincerity. The state of South Australia, and the Barossa Valley are A-OK.

Also I added new pics to all my blog postings, so if you've already read them go back and check out the photos.

On to Barossa...

After 5 very enjoyable (albeit tremendously hot) days in Adelaide, I arranged to meet up with Two Hands winemaker Matt Wenk in the early hours of the morning to catch a ride out to the Barossa Valley. Barossa's about an hour inland from Adelaide and we had some good fun chatting on the drive out. Matt strikes me as a great guy, and he pointed out just about everything between the city and the valley, sharing some history and ineresting anecdotes in between laughs. It was clear I wasn't alone in suffering through this heat, as many of the valley vineyards were brown, sizzled, and in all around poor shape. Matt explained that water rights were deregulated some years ago, and without sufficient irrigation the canopies just wouldn't make it in this heat, leaving the grapes to burn and shrivel.

We cruised through the Maranaga district of the valley, down a road lined with tall, old palm trees, and came upon the Two Hands Winery. I received some warm introductions to the team, and the main cellar hand Ben showed me around the facility. Ben's very knowledgable, chill and easy to talk with, and I told him if this whole winemaking thing didn't work out he'd make a fine tour guide. The winery itself is impressive, with a practical and well thought out design.

Two Hands Cellar Door (tasting room) in the early mornin' hours...

The view on the other side of the street...this is one lucky country...

After running through the cellar and meeting some more of the staff I rolled out with Matt and Steve (TH vineyard specialist) to check out Zippy's vineyard down the road on the Barossa Valley floor. Zippy's shiraz is broken into several different blocks, with the best fruit directed towards the Bella's Garden' and sometimes into the flagship series wines. Matt was concerned about sun damage and dehydration with the extreme heat so we split up down different rows, counting clusters per vine, estimating cluster weight, and most importantly looking for berry shriveling and/or sunburn. We spent over an hour walking the rows and checking out the various blocks, with nothing bad to report. Zippy's is well irrigated and has vigerous canopy. We spotted Darrin the vineyard owner/manager on our way out, and we stopped to have a cheerful conversation. It reminded me of a typical SB vineyard experience, save for the fact that I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying (I just nodded and laughed when appropriate). There was some friendly catching up, as well as some constructive talk and some farming strategy discussed.

Zippy's vineyard and it's healthy canopy

Red clay earth is the ducks nuts (Aussie slang for the best):

We returned to the winery to meet a few more members of the staff, and then Matt tossed me the keys to a 'ute' (Australian for pickup truck), told me to have fun exploring, and to keep to the left. It's quite the strange experience driving on the left hand side of the road, and for the first hour or so I was prepared for disaster. By the end of the day it was no worries.

My ute in Marananga.

Barossa is beautiful. Rolling hills, vineyards everywhere, cool little country roads. There a handful little towns scattered throughout, each about ten minutes apart, and all redefine the word quaint. Nuriootpa is the hoppin town, with 4,700 people. All are dotted with country cafes (not fancy wine region restaurants mind you), a couple pubs, and the strangely out of place stores and shops you only find in small towns.

After a couple hours of highly enjoyable aimless driving, I reckoned it was time to head to Torbreck and kick off my Barossa wining.

The Torbreck cellar door is just down the road from the winery (real close to Two Hands), and Chilla (a former TH employee) proved to be as personable and entertaining as she was knowledgable. Torbreck offers their whole line up of wines for tasting, from the everyday vino Woodcutter's series to the flagship Runrig.

I hate to do this, but I must insert a disclaimer here. Friday and Saturday last week were hellishly hot. I keep mentioning this. I live in SB and detest the heat. I tasted a lot of wine over this first weekend in the valley, and because the heat was unfair to both the wines and my palate, I'm not going to include tasting notes. The only wines that truly showed well were cold crisp whites, anything with residual sugar, and of course the bubbles. The reds were in awful shape. On Sunday the weather cooled down significantly, and my tasting experience reflects that. I'll post those notes, and I look forward to revisiting some of the reds tasted last Friday and Saturday.

Back to Torbreck. The rhone white was a winner, not as heavily oaked as many of the rhone style whites down here. Stylistically the Aussies enjoy their viognier with heaps of oak, and that just ain't my bag. The Pict (Mataro aka Mourvedre) also stood out. Overall the Torbreck wines exceeded my expectations, but as I mentioned anything not served cold wasn't in its element.

I took off from Torbreck, and after a few more wrong turns I was truly humbled by my piss poor sense of direction. I made it back to Two Hands right around 5pm, just in time to meet up with Ben and Volker (another Harvest casual, from Austria, aka The Volkenator) for the Friday night happenings. Ben and his girlfriend Megan were meeting both sets of folks at the local Greenock pub for dinner, and they invited Volker and I to join them.

At this point I should reiterate and make it abundantly clear how genuinly nice Australians are. Dinner was tons of fun. The folks were awesome. The pub food was tasty, Volker felt right at home with his big plate of schnitzel, and they served delicious local beer which is brewed right down the street.

After a couple pints and a sizable dinner we headed out for Friday night fun. The rest of the Two Hands vintage staff (harvest casuals as we are affectionatly known) were bbq'ing with some of the Torbreck full time staff. There was more drinking than eating at this hour, and the night involved many laughs, lots of shop talk, more beer, hilarious vintage stories, and some competitive apple throwing...all in all some quality bonding. It's truly a small world, especially in the wine industry. We all have mutual friends, and it was both a new and rewarding experience for me to hang with a great group of young people from all over the world, all completely dedicated to the juice.

By night's end I found myself smiling ear to ear, a wee bit reflective, very apprecitive of how great life can be, and so happy to be in Barossa Valley.

Stay tuned for my weekend wine notes...

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