One of the advantages of not having a full-time job is being able to make the most of the opportunities when they come along. So when the opportunity arose to help a friend out by playing chauffeur last week, I jumped at the chance. The guest was Kamal Malik, the Head Sommelier from the Conrad Resort in the Maldives. Kamal was in Australia as the guest of Teusner Wines, as he was the winner of the Hilton Hotel Group’s South East Asia Sommelier Cup, which Teusner had sponsored. I met Kamal on his last day in the Barossa, picking him up in one of the big black Teusner utes (a definite highlight for this city girl who has only recently moved to the country). On the way to our first stop, I learned that Kamal had started in hospitality and after being assigned to the bar in the hotel he was working, decided that wine was more interesting than cocktails and decided to make a career of it. After several years in India, he moved to the Maldives where he has been for about 9 years, the last 4 with the Hilton.
Our first stop was Two Hands Wines in Marananga, one the prettiest villages in the Barossa. We were met by Daniel Hill, who recently joined the Two Hands marketing team. Daniel showed us around the winery before taking us up to the old bake house for a private tasting. The cellar door is in a beautiful old farmhouse and the bake house was apparently where the locals all came to bake their bread. The bake house also has a glass floor so you can look down into the cellar of back vintages below. Being the designated driver, I enjoyed a coffee while Kamal tasted, although I did taste a couple of the Flagship wines as I figured this was a special opportunity. While Shiraz is definitely the focus (including single region wines from six different regions and single vineyard wines), we were able to try a yet to be released white from the Flagship series as well as a Rare Muscat in one of the coolest bottles I have seen.
After Two Hands, we drove over to Langmeil, which is literally around the corner from home and was the first Barossa winery I visited on my first visit to the Barossa in 2007. We met Cellar Door manager Jonathan for a tour around part of the vineyard. We started in the blacksmiths forge and I learned that my street is named Christian Auricht. He was a blacksmith and founded the village of Langmeil in 1842. The other old buildings on the property were home to the butcher, baker and cobblers shop and I learned that Langmeil Road was actually the main street. The original “Freedom” vines were planted in 1843, and is believed to be one of the oldest surviving Shiraz vineyards in the world.
I was also excited to hear about the Orphan Bank vineyard. Vines planted in 1860 were transplanted from what is now the Langmeil housing estate (where I live) in 2006 and replanted on the Langmeil site. We were also lucky to see the new underground cellar being built in the old water tank. A local carpenter has built a beautiful circular rack around the walls and the wheel from an old machine for crushing grapes has been transformed into a stunning light fitting.
After our tour and history lesson, we escaped into the warmth of the cellar door for a platter of Barossa produce (including mettwurst from Steinys and cheese from the Barossa Cheese Company ) and a tasting. While Kamal was taken through an extensive tasting, I limited myself a taste of the Sparkling Shiraz (such a Barossa specialty and often referred to as Barossa Berocca), and the Valley Floor, Orphan Bank and Freedom Shiraz. The history buff in me loved that I was trying wines from such old vines, and while they don’t necessarily make better wines, the history behind them does make them very special.
Our final stop was Rockford Wines. I have driven past several times, but hadn’t been in to visit. We were met by Operations Manager David who gave us a brief history of Rockford as we enjoyed the afternoon sunshine in the courtyard.
In 1971, winemaker Robert O’Callaghan purchased the property and set about collecting various bits of machinery and old granite tanks and set up a winery that David told us was described by a journalist at the time as “a new 100-year-old winery”. It really did look like a museum, with a small window that grapes are hand loaded in through, the old crusher (the wheel of which was the same as the one now part of the light fitting at Langmeil), granite tanks and the iconic basket presses. All the reds are made on-site and I am definitely going to visit next year during vintage. There were so many great stories and things to see – from the new basket presses made by a customer who became a friend that are now exported around the world, to the very old solera storing fortified wine and the impressive barrel stacks.
After soaking in the history and stories, we went up to the Stonewall Tasting Room. Being the last stop for the day, I tasted more than I had at Two Hands and Langmeil, but I did work on the art of elegantly spitting. I tasted my first 2015 Vintage – the White Frontignac that had been released that day. I really enjoyed it, probably as it was quite light and zippy and at about 8.5 per cent, I could see it becoming a summer favourite. The Riesling and Semillon were also great and it was interesting to try the Alicante Bouchet – which looks like a rosé but is actually a red-fleshed grape. The Sparkling Shiraz was the first Rockford wine I had tried on my first visit to Adelaide in 2000, so of course I had to taste, and I would have to agree with it being seen as one of the benchmark wines of its type in the region. A tasting at Rockford wouldn’t be complete without tasting the Basket Press Shiraz, which was very enjoyable too. Finally, after managing to taste and spit without embarrassing myself, we finished with the 2005 Shiraz VP, a fortified wine that is made from a friend’s family vineyard before we farewelled Kamal who headed off to Adelaide, while I returned the ute back to Teusner.
It’s probably fairly obvious that I am no expert when it comes to wine – I can pick varieties, I can usually pick a couple of key flavours and I can tell if a wine is from an older vintage, but mostly, I either like it or not. I think the thing I enjoy most about wine tasting is the stories behind the wine. Apart from having the chance to taste some pretty special wine, I really enjoyed seeing the diversity in the wine industry in the Barossa. There is such a range of wineries – from large-scale big name brands to small batch producers, wineries with long histories and new players – and something I realised was that they are all important and all have a role to play in ensuring the longevity of the industry and the region. The other thing I have come to appreciate the longer I am here is the importance of the grower. I think before I moved here, I thought of most wineries owning and working their own vineyards, but the reality is, the region is made up of hundreds of growers and vineyards, many of which have been in the same family for generations. In some ways, they are the unsung heroes, perhaps overshadowed (at least in the average wine drinker’s mind) by the brands and big name wine makers. One of the great things about living here has been meeting the grape growers and seeing that at least in this part of the world, they aren’t just faceless or nameless farmers but an integral part of the winemaking life of the Barossa.
With a husband that works at a tasting room (Artisans of Barossa, which is a group of 7 like-minded wineries, including Teusner), we probably haven’t done as much wine tasting here as I would like. So after my day out with Kamal, I’m going to aim to go and visit a new spot every couple of weeks, if only just to learn more about the history of the Barossa and the importance of winemaking to the region.