Barossa Valley, stretching from the outskirts of Adelaide north to Nuritoopa, is famous for its vineyards, but more particularly for Shiraz. In the early 1980’s, however, the valley has a completely different economy and viticulture. The old Shiraz vines were being uprooted with government encouragement and financial help. Back then consumers wanted white wine, and red could not be sold even at bargain prices. Considerable amounts of surplus Shiraz grapes even suffered the indignity of being baked into muffins. At that time, no one could have possibly imagined that Shiraz, particularly Barossa Shiraz, would become a sought-after wine.
Immigrants from Silesia, then part of Germany, today a region of Poland, in the 1830s and 40s first settled the gently rolling countryside and eucalyptus-spiked hills. Entire villages packed their meagre belongings and travelled to Australia for a new and hopefully more prosperous life. They settled in the Barossa Valley and worked the land as they had in the old country, divided into long thin parcels, each with access to water.
Shiraz was planted here to make fortified wine, and as these-type of products fell out of favour, growers began selling off their fruit to big wineries. By 1970’s, they were still happy selling their fruit, but then wineries stopped buying. Local growers were forced to uproot Shiraz and plant white grapes, or bake the Shiraz into muffins, or start making wine in the hope to open new markets, Some like Peter Lehmann chose to open his winery in 1977, and today makes fabulous Shiraz wine. He cannot make enough to satisfy the ever-escalating demand. He joined forces with Robert O’Callaghan of Rockford, Charles Melton of Melton Vineyards, and Bob McLean of St. Hallett to make Shiraz. They were quite successful persuading a good number of consumers to switch to red wine, but the real breakthrough came with the introduction of Penfold’s Grange Hermitage that the legendary Max Shubert, chief winemaker of the winery, created. The wine was an instant success in both Australia and all export markets.
Since then, several small new wineries opened in Barossa. Greenoch Creek, Three Rivers, Torbreck and Grant Burge are just a few that come to mind. Today all these wineries as well as Penfold’s, Yalumba, and Barossa Valley Estates produce fine Shiraz along with outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre and blends of all. White wines from Chardonnay, Semillon and Riesling are also gaining solid reputation. In the Barossa Valley the soil is well drained, stony and agriculturally meagre with a long growing season and intermittent rains. In short, perfect for grapes, particularly red.
Basket press Shiraz has become a specialty and some new wineries make a special point of buying old presses to vint dark, well extracted, tannic wines for long cellaring. Interestingly enough, because of the physiological ripeness of the fruit, tannins are soft and well integrated making it possible to enjoy these Shiraz early in their lives, but also provide the opportunity to cellar them.
When Robert parker, the government lawyer turned wine writer, prized the 1995 Greenoch Creek’s Apricot Block Shiraz and Creek Block Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blend demand far outstripped the small (3000case) production. Mr Parker, reputed to like dark, brawny wines was enthused enough about this small winery’s wines as they appeal to his palate. His, now famous and influential, WINE ADVOCATE is for the wealthy, well read, well-travelled wine consumer who can afford to buy wine at any price category.
He can literally make or break a small winery. Many consider Mr Parker important for a region’s wines and demand, but some winemakers dislike the repercussions of his recommendations – prices skyrocket, shutting out true wine lovers. Today Barossa Valley’s Old Vine Shiraz wines enjoy unprecedented popularity but consumers should also try the other wines of this valley.
Here are a few fine Barossa Shiraz:
The Barossa Shiraz 2000 P. Lehmann
Blackwell Shiraz 1998 St Hallett
The Octavius 1997 Yalumba
Filsell Old Vine Shiraz 2000 Grant Burge
E and E Pepper Shiraz 1998 Barossa Valley Estates
Apricot Block Shiraz 1995 Greenoch Creek
Creek Block Shiraz 1995 Greenoch Creek
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu