The history of the Barossa is still so prevalently visible today, none more so than with the gnarled, craggy old vines that proudly stand (or lean in most cases) above the dry, dusty, rust coloured soil.
The history of the Barossa is still so prevalently visible today, none more so than with the gnarled, craggy old vines that proudly stand (or lean in most cases) above the dry, dusty, rust coloured soil. Their deep green, heart shaped leaves and purple clusters of fruit, a testament that their time is still not up. Vineyards of some of Europe’s most noble varieties - Syrah, known in Australia as Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro or Mourvèdre/Monastrell, Semillon, as was well as Bordeaux’s regal Cabernet Sauvignon can all be found.
These vines were planted throughout the region from the mid to the late 1800’s. So in comparison to Europe, as a wine region it may be a pup, but unlike Europe and the Americas that had the mite phylloxera decimate their vineyards in the late 1800s and 1900s respectively, Phylloxera never made it to South Australia (and New South Wales) - The neighbouring colony of Victoria was far less lucky and did get decimated, cutting this promising industry early.
"Vineyards of some of Europe’s most noble varieties - Syrah, known in Australia as Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro or Mourvèdre/Monastrell, Semillon, as was well as Bordeaux’s regal Cabernet Sauvignon can all be found in Barossa."
South Australia’s wine heritage was able to evolve and flourish under families of English, German, Silesian decent. The vineyards, wines and wineries thriving under the leadership of such determined luminaries such as the Seppelts of Seppeltsfield, the Smith’s of Yalumba, the Gramps of St Hugo and Jacobs Creek… amongst others. A tough land that produced tough workers with an eagerness to prove their worth in this new country, so far away from Europe.
"A tough land that produced tough workers with an eagerness to prove their worth in this new country, so far away from Europe."
In the 1920’s as England was readying itself to introduce a wine export bounty that many felt would benefit Australia - the opposite happened, kneecapping the country’s table wine market leaving it to concentrate on its fortified wine industry - Port, Sherry, Tokay, names that are no longer allowed today, were the lifeblood of Australia’s wine exports. Luckily, wine making families continued to produce table wine, great table wines at that, that were recognised as being on par with some of the greatest the old world produced - without the rules, bureaucracies, and politics that governed their European counterparts.
The industry continued, evolving, modernising silently from a far until 1976, when a competition in Paris shocked the wine world and rocked the establishment to the core. Dubbed ‘The Judgement of Paris’, it was a blind tasting of the best French and California Chardonnay and Cabernet, where in one fell swoop, California proved what many there had always believed… great wines can be made in the New World.
French vignerons like Chateau Lafite’s Portet family had sons migrate to California and Australia to pave their way and make their mark on these new lands, bridging the two continents even closer. With its abundance of sunshine, the New World’s wine regions were creating wines with consistency and fruit generosity - and now buoyed with optimism of no longer being considered second class citizens.
Ironically, this was the start a troubling times for the Barossa, when government bureaucracy coupled with corporate greed kicked off a knee jerk reaction of wanting to rip out some of the region’s (and world’s) oldest vines for lack of productivity. Although an old vine still produces fruit, it isn’t as vigorous as younger vines - the fruit they do grow tends to be more concentrated - but there’s a lot less of it. It also can’t be machine harvested and the vines themselves need a little extra TLC - all considered too troublesome for large companies wanting to export ‘sunshine in a bottle’ to eagerly awaiting wine drinkers around the world.
This galvanised passionate vignerons that knew the treasure trove that they had in their fields and kicked off a campaign to save these vineyards from bulldozers and losing a vital part of Australia’s pioneering history. These vineyards, visible as you drive through the region - the occasional kangaroo hoping through - are a constant visual reminder that this is not like any other place… and the wines the old vines produce, are certainly like non other.
Today the efforts of people like Peter Lehman, Grant Burge, Robert O’Callaghan, Charles Melton and so many more, fuelled a passion and pride that led to the Barossa coming into its own and honouring the vision that early settlers had. And although not all was saved, the Barossa today still has more 19th Century vineyards than any other place on earth.
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"The Barossa today still has more 19th century vineyards than any other place on earth."