Maggie Beer – the Barossa has been my secret long-term ingredient

Quince paste, pheasant paté and verjuice – food made famous in Australia by beloved country cook Maggie Beer who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of her Barossa Valley pheasant farm and two of her iconic products.

This year marks four decades since Maggie and her husband Colin launched the farm shop on Pheasant Farm in Nuriootpa and began producing well-known favourites, pheasant farm paté and quince paste.

Using fresh, seasonal produce and making the most of what you’ve got has been Maggie’s ethos from the very beginning.

“I was very lucky to have been brought up in a household in Sydney where food was truly important and my father was passionate about produce,” she says.

“Even when there was very little money we always ate well and cooked everything from scratch but with great knowledge about food. We used every bit of the animal, we cooked offal and did all the things to make the most of whatever was available. I was brought up where beautiful (food) was the norm.”

2019 marks 40 years of Maggie Beer’s famous quince paste, which Maggie says is well-accompanied by cheese.

Maggie and her husband Colin left Sydney in 1973, returning to Colin’s much-loved South Australia and settling in the Barossa Valley. Previously, Colin had trained as a commercial pilot in New Zealand but upon returning to Australia found it hard to find work due to a lull in the industry.

The couple bought a working vineyard near Nuriootpa and established as a base to establish the breeding of pheasants. However, it wasn’t until Colin won a Churchill Fellowship to study game bird breeding in Europe and America, that they came across the idea of opening a farm shop to sell both fresh and cooked birds to show how beautiful they were that they began to be serious producers.

Maggie was able to work with the birds that Colin farmed and the seasonal produce of their Barossa neighbours. Within the year, they morphed into the Pheasant Farm Restaurant and began building the foodie empire her Barossa farm has now become.

Together, Maggie and Colin had adopted a ‘waste not want not’ ethos, with Maggie cooking everything she grew and making the most of every part of a vegetable or animal; making patés, terrines, and stocks.

Despite verjuice being around for thousands of years in Mediterranean cooking, Maggie became the first in the world to commercially produce the sour juice, which is made from unfermented grapes and used in salad dressing and glazing.

Verjuice and patés remain an almost every-day staple in her kitchen.

“I use it (verjuice) three or four times a week for glazing vegetables … it’s something I use in half of all the cooking I do to brighten flavours,” she says.

“Then paté is for entertaining usually, although one of my grandchildren, Ben, who is 11, comes every day from school, he has to have a paté sandwich. All my grandchildren grew up eating paté as the norm because it’s just so good for you and it’s full of flavour.”

Australian food icon Maggie Beer.

Maggie’s success over the years has spread not only throughout the Barossa, but across the nation through our TV screens as she is often appears as a guest judge on reality cooking show MasterChef. She also co-hosted ABC TV show The Cook and the Chef alongside prominent SA food identity and chef Simon Bryant.

The title of the series places Maggie as the cook, because surprisingly she’s self-taught and has no formal training as a chef. She calls herself a “produce-driven country cook” and is passionate about using home-grown produce where possible as well as sourcing produce from local growers.

“Nothing will taste better than what you have pulled out of your own garden, that’s nirvana,” Maggie says.

“But not everyone has a garden or time for a garden, so the next best thing is what is on your doorstep and in-season, the flavour and the nutritional benefits will always be greater.”

Maggie says she owes much of her success to the Barossa region, saying it taught her the value of seasonal produce as well as using all parts of a plant or animal when cooking.

“It’s been the luck of my life coming to the Barossa. Learning of the rhythm of the seasons and beginning with our own produce and the growers in our backyard; the Barossa has been my long-term secret ingredient.”

But with success comes change and earlier this year, Maggie sold the balance of her business to long-term investment partner the ASX-listed Longtable Group. Maggie continues to be the face of Maggie Beer products and works one week per month in product development.

“It’s been the perfect weaning off something that has been my life work,” she adds.

Keen to know Maggie’s favourite winter recipe? Click here. Hint: quinces.

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Miranda sisters produce an ideal winery blend

An ideal blend of skills has placed three sisters at the helm of Lou Miranda Estate in the Barossa. Since 2005, Lisa and Victoria Miranda have steered business at the winery that carries their father’s name, but the recent arrival of their sibling Angela as winemaker, bringing more than a decade of international experience, makes the family business complete after a careful 14-year progression.

Angela, who was previously Pernod Ricard’s UK packaging operations manager, US packaging operations manager and technical operations manager in the Barossa, came back to her family’s winery at Rowland Flat in mid-February – after vintage had already started – and acted fast to ensure the family’s progression as a boutique wine brand continues.

“We’d always intended for Angela to join us, but she was reluctant to leave her previous position which saw her travelling most of the year to emerging wineries in China, India and New Zealand,” says Victoria. “Once she came back to work in the Barossa, the decision to join us just seemed like a natural fit.”

The Miranda sisters, Lisa, left, Miranda and Angela of Lou Miranda Estate in the Barossa Valley.

It’s the latest step in a long journey for Lou Miranda’s family, which moved to the Barossa from Griffith in 1991 so that the former Miranda wine brand (which was then among Australia’s larger family-owned wine companies) could access more high-quality fruit.

The big old winery building, erected in 1919, became a weekend playground for the young Miranda girls while their father and mother worked, and later became their own workplace, after they turned 18, as they each took turns serving at the cellar door.

It provided them with a useful skill set when big change came after McGuigan Wines bought the Miranda label in 2003, splitting the broader Miranda family’s wine connections.

For a while, Lou’s family continued to sell Miranda wines from the cellar door, but in 2005, they transformed the Barossa property into a separate identity as Lou Miranda Estate – and Lou’s daughters stepped to the forefront of the business, with Lisa drawing on her sales background and Victoria bringing graphic design skills.

“Dad wasn’t ready to retire, and he had no problem at all with his girls taking the reins,” says Lisa. “We had always been involved in everything along the way. We never thought of ourselves as girls facing any obstacles. We were simply this family’s next generation, moving the business forward.”

Lou Miranda handed the reigns of the boutique winery to his three daughters Lisa, Victoria and Angela.

It was daunting to start again – “We had zero customers, and now we are selling 25,000 cases per year” – but the daughters say they had Lou’s complete confidence to build the business on the back of his experience and their fresh ideas.

Their foundation was the winery at Rowland Flat – previously the Liebich family’s Rovalley winery, which had passed through several sets of hands, but still had the same infrastructure and – more importantly – large reserves of the fortified wines that Rovalley was famous for, stored in the original 7000-litre oak vats that the Liebichs had constructed in 1919.

Angela has revived her fortified winemaking skills, learned through such luminaries as David Morris (Morris of Rutherglen) and Philip Laffer (chief winemaker at Jacob’s Creek), because fortified wines still hold strong appeal for cellar door customers, and was the focus of fortified masterclasses held in the winery during the recent Barossa Vintage Festival.

Many more treasures have greeted Angela in the winery – including fruit from serious 90-plus-year-old shiraz vines (the best being reserved for the $150 Master Piero shiraz, named after Victoria’s first son), and recent plantings of pinot grigio and sagrantino grapes. “Lou was interested in adding Italian varieties but didn’t want to do the same as everyone else,” explains Lisa.

It’s a surprise for these wines to appear in the Barossa, especially a bright, crunchy pinot grigio built in the authentic Italian style around a firm acidic spine. Even more impressive is sagrantino made light and spicy with bright blueberry and liquorice flavours, rather than being heavy and overly tannic as many of these wines from Umbria in Italy are made.

Equally impressive is old vine grenache made in a lively style with juicy raspberry held in check by firm tannins; and a rich blend of old vine shiraz and mourvédre from the 110-year-old Angels vineyard at Lyndoch.

Many wine drinkers remain unaware of these changes, as the family’s popular Leone brand has primarily been noted for its value wines, and the elite Lou Miranda Estate wines are largely a mystery.

The challenge now is for the three sisters to promote these new wines through marketing initiatives that include in-home tasting parties, where a staff wine consultant presents the Lou Miranda Estate and Leone wine ranges for groups of up to eight guests in their homes.

“We have a lot to do,” says Angela, who adds that the full extent of the Miranda sisters’ work won’t be immediately evident, because the cruel 2019 vintage has produced scant volumes of fruit – including a paltry 300 litres (one barrel) of old vine shiraz. “Our best,” adds Angela with a grin, “is yet to come.”

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6 ways to spend a weekend in the Barossa Valley

South Australia’s Barossa Valley is the heart of the big, bold shiraz, quaint bed and breakfasts and more restaurant experiences than your trouser waistline can handle.

It’s a region that prides itself on producing some of the world’s best wines, and is scattered with cellar doors, cafés, restaurants, gourmet trails and visitor experiences showcasing gastronomic delights.

The Barossa Valley attracts a high proportion of interstate overnight visitors (35% of all visitors) and generates $190 million in visitor expenditure (Tourism Research Australia, 2017).

But with many towns, including Angaston, Lyndoch, Nurioopta, Tanunda and Williamstown, to explore it can be hard to decide which places to hit first.

Here’s a guide for the best wine tasting, gin sipping and cheese grazing activities to indulge in, plus something a little spooky and out of the ordinary. Hint: Ghosts in Kapunda!

The grand Yalumba just outside of Angaston.

1. Venture along Seppeltsfield Road
A must see for first-time Barossa visitors, Seppeltsfield Road is one of the most renowned stretches of road in the region and is lined with tall palm trees dating back to the 1930s.

The tourist hotspot Seppeltsfield is a must-visit, featuring a winery and cellar door, Fino restaurant, café, art gallery, craft workshops and studios and the Vasse Virgin skin care factory all in one.

Give yourself a couple of hours to explore the entire Seppeltsfield estate, including a complementary wine tasting or premium wine flight at the cellar door, and a wander around the European-style gardens.

Those wanting to indulge in something a little fancy can venture over to Fino Restaurant for a long-lunch experience while those after more relaxed, casual vibes will enjoy regional cheese platters, toasted paninis, and snacks at Benno’s Kiosk and picnic grounds.

Also, explore JamFactory shop for beautiful SA and Australian-made artworks, sculptures, vases, jewellery and homewares, and the contemporary craft and design studios. Make sure you stop by Barry Gardner the knife maker’s (mesmerising to watch) workshop.

Of course Seppeltsfield Road is home to a number of other top destinations including Whistler Wines, Seppeltsfield Road Distillers and many more cellar doors.

The Seppeltsfield estate is an all-in-one visitor experience. Photo: Seppeltsfield.

2. Explore Angaston’s main street
Angaston is a charming and well-kept country town with a small main street that will occupy you for hours.

Start by fueling up on coffee and Italian pastries at Casa Carboni in the morning (or enrol in a cooking class!) before cheese tasting and stocking up on haloumi, brie, camembert, feta and other cheesy delights at Barossa Valley Cheese Company next door.

Sit back and relax with a bowl of pasta at the cosy Wanera Wine Bar nearby and walk it off by wandering past the quaint cottages and old buildings including the magnificent grey marble town hall on Washington Street.

Finish off the afternoon by enjoying a glass of shiraz at Saltram Wines, a 160-year-old estate with old charm at the entrance to Angaston on the Angaston to Nuriootpa Road.

Matteo and Fiona Carboni are behind Casa Carboni Italian Cooking School and Enoteca. Read our story on them here.

3. Stock up on the sweet stuff at Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.
One of the Barossa’s newest and exciting destinations, Barossa Valley Chocolate Company opened just before Easter and is an all-in-one chocolate factory, cellar door, café and ice creamery.

At the centre of the facility is a mesmerising chocolate wall, inspired by the Venchi Cioccolato e Gelato in Florence, while visitors can also take wonder in watching the chocolatiers at work through a glass viewing area into the factory itself.

The range of sweet treats is extensive and includes the classics milk, dark, white and the newer Ruby chocolate, while unique additions include a salted caramel and cider truffle, as well as a signature truffle infused with sparkling wine.

The chocolate company is also home to Benni’s Café, which has a menu heavy on local produce, a cellar door showcasing Vineyard Road wines and a serene outdoor deck.

Wine lovers can take part in a specially-curated chocolate and wine pairing, while chocolate making classes will be introduced in the near future. A great visitor experience for families and people of all ages.

The Barossa Valley Chocolate Company in Tanunda is a great spot for families, chocolate lovers, wine drinkers and those just wanting to take time out for a while.

4. Spend an afternoon at Provenance Barossa
A food and wine lover’s delight, Provenance is best explored with a couple of hours to spare. The blend of Barossa businesses includes Penfolds wine sales and cellar door where visitors can taste what the region is famous for – the world-renowned Grange – as well as other premium drops.

Pop into Ember Pizza and get stuck into one of their pizzas, and finish it off with a gin and tonic around the corner at Barossa Distilling Company.

There is also artisan coffee roaster Bean Addiction to explore and Steiny’s Traditional Mettwurst’s new tasting room to check out. Stein’s Taphouse will satisfy beer drinkers with 14 craft beverages to choose from on tap, and over 80 more in cans or bottles.

Last but not least there’s Home of the Brave wine and tapas room at The Provenance where you can fill up on delicious tapas matched with drops of your choice from First Drop Wines.

There’s a lot to explore at The Provenance, you might need more than one occasion to experience it all!

Barossa Distilling Company is located at Barossa Provenance a hub of food, beverage and tourism businesses.

5. Choose SA at the Barossa Farmers Market
Chat to local producers about how their food is grown and made, stock up on fresh produce and treat yourself to something special, such as a bottle of olive oil, a pack of freshly roasted coffee or blended tea, a tub of honey, or a selection of smallgoods.

The Barossa Farmers Market is a community produce market running every Saturday (7.30–11.30am) undercover in the Vintners Sheds, Angaston. Check the website on Friday afternoons for an update on stallholders who will be present.

Head for the Breakfast Bar for a coffee by Bean Addiction and munch on a breakfast burger before browsing the stalls, many of which offer samples to try before you buy. The market is a good way of getting a taste for many local food producers and beverages in the one spot.

Sample local produce, treat yourself to a morning coffee and pastry and stock up on fresh produce and goodies at the Barossa Farmers Market. Photo by SATC/Sven Kovac.

6. Get spooked on the Kapunda Ghost Crime Tour
Kapunda is an old mining town just outside of the Barossa and is regarded as the most haunted town in Australia. It’s also home to the most haunted pub in the country, the North Kapunda Hotel.

History buffs and those into a bit of paranormal activity will be in their element, while those who are easily spooked may not!

The Kapunda Ghost Crime Tour will take you on a three-hour tour around Kapunda and into some of the town’s most haunted buildings including the North Kapunda Hotel and the Chapel Street Theatre which was once a church.

Your tour guide will recount stories from Kapunda’s famous haunted past, share tales of locals who met unfortunate endings and notorious cases that will send chills down your spine.

Held every Friday and Saturday night, the ghost tour departs from the North Kapunda Hotel and will take you into dark, gloomy places (which is all part of the fun!) including the pub’s basement which was once a morgue.

You’re not guaranteed to see a real ghost or feel a ‘presence’, but you are encouraged to record on your mobile phone and to take pictures, as technology may pick up things your eyes won’t! Spooky.

Editor’s note: highly recommend fuelling up on a chicken schnitzel at the Kapunda North Hotel beforehand!

Header image by Drea Chong.

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Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is wine region’s sweetest spot

Visitors to one of South Australia’s most famous wine regions can add a new experience to the list of must-see destinations with the opening of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.

The all-in-one chocolate factory, cellar door, café and ice-creamery at Tanunda has opened to the public in time for the sweetest holiday of the year – Easter.

The $5.5 million facility is the Barossa Valley’s first chocolaterie and cellar door and has created between 20-30 local jobs in hospitality and retail.

Owners Chris and Sandy Day travelled the world sampling the sweet stuff and drawing inspiration from chocolate meccas of Bruges, Florence, Bariloche, and Daintree in Australia before launching their own venture.

Sandy and Chris Day of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.

“The world-class Barossa Valley Chocolate Company has been inspired by the very best experiences from across the globe, from Bariloche in Argentina to Napa Valley in the USA and the Chocolate Line in Bruges, Belgium,” Sandy says.

At the centre of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is a mesmerising chocolate wall, inspired by the Venchi Cioccolato e Gelato in Florence.

Over the past year head chocolatier Amy Sajinovic has developed a range of more than 250 chocolate products, taste tested by 2500 South Australians. The range of delectable sweet treats includes milk, dark, white and ruby chocolate. A salted caramel and cider truffle has become a fast favourite, as has a signature truffle infused with Vineyard Road ‘Stan the Man’ wine.

A retail space showcases brightly packaged chocolate blocks, boxes and Easter eggs, while visitors can see the chocolatiers in action through a wide viewing window. An ice creamery serves freshly-made gelato, while the 150-seat Benni’s Café boasts a menu of locally sourced produce to be enjoyed indoors or on the deck overlooking a large water feature and surrounding vineyards.

A number of other food producers in the region are supported through Benni’s Café with produce from Steiny’s Traditional Mettwurst, Barossa Valley Cheese Company, Barossa Valley Cider Company, Apex Bakery, and more.

“As much as possible is sourced from the Barossa,” Chris says. “These are all families doing great things for SA, and together, we can put SA on the map.”

The chocolate and wine pairing experience features five of Vineyard Road’s handcrafted wines.

The Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is the latest addition to the FABAL Group, which also owns Vineyard Road Wines, some of which are made from surrounding vineyards and can be enjoyed at the cellar door. FABAL is also the joint owner of the Vasse Virgin @ Seppeltsfield skincare business.

FABAL Group CEO Chris Day says his and Sandy’s idea to pursue a chocolate venture in the Barossa was inspired by regular family trips to the Margaret River and its famous chocolate company – a destination enjoyed by young families.

The Barossa chocolate venture was also spurred by a need to value-add to their grapegrowing operations and strengthen the value of agritourism in the region.

“As grapegrowers we’ve been through drought and survived, but in 2011 just as we went to pick our grapes, deluges of rain came through and destroyed our crop,” Chris says.

“I said we had to do something to protect ourselves by value-adding to the business … agritourism is a big chunk of our future. By 2013/14 we started working seriously on Barossa Valley Chocolate Company and we started travelling around Australia and internationally to some of the best chocolate making places in the world.”

At the heart of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is a ‘fun for all’ concept ensuring both young and old can enjoy the visitor experience.

Colour, fun and frivolity are at the heart of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.

Sandy, who has a background in graphic design and fashion, was behind the design and feel of the facility, working with local architect Jamie Gladigau of JBG Architects to create an open and sophisticated design.

The chocolate packaging and displays are brightly coloured – a nod to the ‘fun for all’ motto. Large chocolate letters placed in drawers was a concept inspired by the Days’ visit to Bruges in Belgium.

“(In Bruges) I could see all this action in the corner, kids opening drawers with chocolate letters in them, and they were having so much fun,” Sandy says.

“Then last Saturday (at the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company) I saw a family with little children playing a game with the letters, it was lovely to see.”

Visitors can indulge in a specially-curated chocolate and wine pairing experience with Vineyard Road wines in the cellar door. Chocolate making classes will soon be introduced, as will the ability to hold weddings and events.

Local family business Ahrens was involved in the construction as well as electrical company Yates Electrical which installed a 100kW solar system on the roof.

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Feisty RedHead settles into new Barossa abode

The opening this week of a new 500-tonne winery in the Barossa marks a big change in how RedHeads is preparing and exporting its small batch Australian wines to a thirsty global audience.

RedHeads, the Australian arm of London-based Direct Wines Production (which trades as Laithwaite’s Wine), emerged in a very different guise in 2002.

It initially served as a communal local production site for South Australian-based “flying winemakers” who had spent vintages working at the Laithwaite family’s facilities in Bordeaux, France.

Renting production spaces in McLaren Vale, then in the Barossa, the RedHeads Collective produced a diverse suite of interesting small-batch wines for Direct Wines Production to sell to its burgeoning lists of international customers.

RedHeads’ new winemaking shed opened this month (February).

Now, 17 years later, Direct Wines Production is the world’s largest direct-to-consumer wine business, handing a portfolio of more than 1500 wines, and within this big range it sells about 25,000 dozen RedHeads wines into the UK, US, Canadian and Australian markets.

To keep apace with growing demand, the company decided to invest more heavily in its Australian wine production, and purchased an 8ha shiraz vineyard near Angaston in January 2018.

It then commissioned Barossa construction company Ahrens Engineering to swiftly erect large winery sheds in time for vintage 2019, acknowledging that this investment gained SA Government support.

Winemaker and site manager Alex Trescowthick is set to crush the first chardonnay grapes at the new RedHeads Winery on Wednesday (February 20) as the opening salvo of an expected 350-tonne vintage – well within the limits of the 500-tonne winery’s capacity.

Guests explore the new winery at the opening event.

“Quite simply, we needed more wine. We have customers calling out for it, so we needed to be able to dramatically scale up our production,” says Direct Wines general manager for production Iain Muggoch, who was in Australia for the launch of the new facility, but is based at the company’s London headquarters.

“Choosing the Barossa as our location is all about us wanting to obtain increased access to Barossa fruit.”

It has been a big transition from fostering small-scale winemaking experimentation to nurturing global reach, and the RedHeads focus began to change direction in 2014.

The original winemakers who formed the RedHeads Collective had left the fold to start their own wine brands – Justin Lane (Freddy Nerks Wines), Phil Christianson (Longwood Wines) and Adam Hooper (La Curio) being the most highly recognised – and RedHeads became a singular winemaking team that worked with individual parcels of fruit from a wide network of independent grape growers.

“For us, RedHeads was a movement – an idea that encompassed what Direct Wines wanted to achieve by selling small batch Australian wines to a global market,” says Iain.

“By taking out the middle man, we gave our customers all over the world easy access to exciting Australian wines that otherwise would only have remained in Australia.

“Of course there have been a couple of RedHead studio wineries over the years, in McLaren Vale (initially at Foggo Road, then at Chalk Hill Road) and in the Barossa (at Lyndoch, Light Pass and Tanunda), but the guiding principles remain the same.

“Initially, we provided assistance to winemakers working under corporate banners to produce their own interesting small batch wines. We’re still making limited batches, but now we’re working with a larger league of grape growers, giving them good contract options beyond what some of the giant corporations are offering.”

This results in a dizzy maze of brands produced under the RedHeads banner and sold by Direct Wines Production – up to 35 different labels, with 16 Studio wines, four in the Icon range, two “Nightmare” blends and a dozen Winemaker releases.

The majority of these have a production ceiling of between 1000 to 2000 dozen bottles (although some are as limited as 250 dozen), while about 5000 dozen bottles are produced of RedHeads’ most popular wine Coco Rotie (a playful pun on the French Rhone region that is home this style of shiraz/viognier blend, with a grinning chimp on the label).

The Coco Rotie.

“To achieve all this, we couldn’t still be squatting in other people’s sheds from year to year. We needed our own home base,” says Iain.

The new facility has been designed to allow further growth. The barrel hall can accommodate about 1000 tonnes of wine in barrel, a vast network of solar panels supplies the site’s own licensed 2mW power station, and the infrastructure footprint can be easily expanded to double the current processing to 1000 tonnes, when demand necessitates it.

The RedHeads Barossa site will undergo further transformation when it opens a cellar door tasting venue from November 1, but Iain warns that it will be different to standard wine tasting rooms.

“Nothing we do is ever going to be the same old thing,” he says, noting that private tastings can now be made by appointment.

“The modern winery visit has to provide an outstanding, engaging, truly memorable experience – and that’s what we’re in the process of creating.”

Top image: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway, left, officially opens RedHeads alongside Tom Laithwaite.

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Shiraz stamps the identity of gin from the Barossa

Australian craft gin producers have made their mark by embracing locally sourced botanicals as their defining flavours. For Seppeltsfield Road Distillers to create its own point of difference, this has meant taking a different route by embracing signature grape varieties of the neighbouring Barossa Valley wine industry.

When the boutique distilling company opened its doors to customers in late September 2018, its small range of gins included an unusual shiraz gin.

The husband and wife ownership team of distiller Nicole Durdin and general manager Jon Durdin considered that shiraz was a true Barossa flavour signature, so they went to revered boutique winemaker Dave Lehmann, proprietor of David Franz Wines, to forge a collaboration.

The Barossa Shiraz Gin.

Dave sourced about 400kg of handpicked shiraz from the Stonewell Cottages vineyard, macerating whole bunches of grapes in gin, which combined the rich plum and blackberry flavours of shiraz with subtle hints of juniper, orange and cinnamon.

It’s an idea borrowed from UK sloe gin production, but does not require any added sugar due to the intense, complete flavour profile of ripe Barossa shiraz.

Jon says Seppeltsfield Road Distillers initially considered this a small batch experiment, but its immediate popularity (900 bottles from the 2018 vintage sold out within eight weeks) set the Durdins to think this union of wine flavours and distillation was a winning concept that could be expanded.

Now, as grapes for the 2019 vintage are starting to be harvested, Seppeltsfield Road Distillers is not only planning a second batch of shiraz gin, but has also made available a second wine-accented gin, using semillon grapes – arguably the Barossa Valley’s signature white wine variety.

The Seppeltsfield Road Distillers team, Bec Henderson, left, Nicole Durdin, Jon Durdin and Scott McCarthy. Photo by John Krüger.

Sourced from Hamish Seabrook’s boutique Seabrook Winery at Vine Vale, outside Tanunda, the grapes were probably going to be left to rot on the vine, until the Durdins used them in a daring experiment, leaving the liquor to macerate on grape skins for eight weeks to extract maximum colour and flavour.

“It has such lovely, unique colour for a gin – like a beautiful barrel-aged fortified wine,” explains Jon. “And because of its sweetness from the lush semillon fruit, this gin is the most amazing cocktail ingredient.”

Interested tasters will need to make a hasty beeline for the distillery’s cellar door on Seppeltsfield Road, as only 700 bottles were produced and are selling briskly. Customer waiting lists are already being compiled for the 2019 shiraz and semillon gins, which are likely to be available from late June.

Barossa signatures attached to Seppeltsfield Road Distillery gins continue through the distinctive product labels and company logo, featuring the striking mandala artwork of Barossa artist Janelle Amos.

Seppeltsfield Road Distillers’ three house gins. Photo by John Krüger.

Having been smitten by her original works that involve arranging intricate circular patterns from various plants, fruits and food ingredients, the Durdins commissioned Janelle to create a mandala featuring the various ingredients of their signature gin.

This design has become the basis of all their gin labels, while the original photographic print of the fruit and botanicals mandala made by Janelle now hangs proudly behind the tasting bar at Seppeltsfield Road Distillers.

The appeal of these limited release gins is drawing huge numbers of people to the tasting room on Seppeltsfield Road, with an estimated 20,000 visitors in the business’s initial five months.

The business headquarters has embraced a striking architectural concept, using repurposed shipping containers clad in rich timbers to house the tasting rooms that flank a large glass-encased tower dominated by a tall German-built still.

It’s affectionately called Christine, in honour of Nicole’s forthright grandmother, taking on the mantle as the “hardest-working German lady in the Barossa” says Nicole.

The still and production process can be viewed through the glass frontage.

Having the gleaming still and production process in clear sight – even to motorists driving past the site – has proved an instant attraction, and has certainly enticed visitors to sit for a tutored tasting of the three house gin styles: Barossa Dry, which is a classic juniper style gin with pink peppercorns, lavender, and cornflowers; House Gin, which is a sweet and bright citrusy concoction that has been very appealing to self-confessed “non-gin fans”; and Savoury Allsorts, which uses star anise, licorice root and fresh thyme for a highly fragrant gin.

Seppeltsfield Road Distiller’s success has been underlined by a suite of international and national gin awards, but it has been a long road for the Durdins to reach this point.

Seventh-generation Barossan Nicole was previously a musician, playing the French horn in the SA Police Band, and later for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, travelling the world for performances, while Jon was a financial analyst who ended up in the UK steering a corporate acquisition by a UK defence company.

Their return to the Barossa – to specifically make gin in a high-profile location that would attract tourism attention – was always designed to make maximum impact, and their wine-influenced gins is a potent focal point of that attention.

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Local knowledge informs clever new Barossa tasting room

With its sophisticated wine and food presentation echoing chic European style, Vino Lokal in Tanunda offers a completely different vibe that visitors to the Barossa may not expect – and this is exactly the reaction that its proprietors, the Artisans of Barossa winemakers collective, want to achieve with its innovative new cellar door offering.

Creating the new tasting room in Tanunda’s main street is a bold step for the Artisans, which comprises five boutique Barossa wine brands that formed a collaborative marketing group a decade ago and have shared a communal cellar door tasting room overlooking vineyards at Vine Vale, just outside Tanunda, since 2011.

The winemaker owners of John Duval Wines, Schwarz Wine Co, Sons of Eden, Spinifex and Hobbs of Barossa Ranges recognise that small wine brands in Australia are under enormous pressure to connect with customers – especially when visitors travel to a wine region and are on the hunt for a unique and memorable wine tasting experience.

Their innovative shared tasting room set a new high benchmark for an informative cellar door tasting experience, yet now they have radically changed a successful operation by opening Vino Lokal.

A wine tasting flight at Vino Lokal in Tanunda, Barossa Valley. Photo by John Krüger.

“Since 2005, Artisans of Barossa has pioneered the clustering of small wine brands through effective marketing and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, but we still feel a need to stay ahead of the curve,” says Howard Duncan, Artisans of Barossa’s chief operating officer. “This will be a new positioning statement for both the Artisans and the Barossa.”

Vino Lokal, connecting the Spanish word for wine with the German term for local, re-imagines the winery tasting ritual by introducing a shift from just sampling wine, to sharing wine with food – and from standing up, to sitting down and slowing down.

The restored stone cottage in Tanunda’s main street has 50 seats across two rooms, offering twin experiences by taking bookings for tables in the Wine Room, but welcoming walk-ins for the more informal Wine Bar.

It illustrates the modern Barossa personality, underlining that a new generation of winemakers are looking to Mediterranean wine cultures for inspiration, while also respecting the Barossa’s deep German heritage and historic vineyards.

“A new history is emerging, and Artisans are very much a part of it,” says Howard. “This is not just reflected in the style of wines being made, but how we enjoy them in the company of good food and conversation.”

Good food, good  wine and good conversation is what Vino Lokal is all about. Photo by John Krüger.

Artisans of Barossa’s shift to its new location has been swift – only 100 days from realising the site was available to opening its doors for customers – but they are delighted to have created a one-stop wine enjoyment shop, familiar to global wine travellers but not yet seen in Australia.

“This is the next phase of where culinary tourism is headed in this country’s wine regions, with a more complete integration of wine and food tasting,” says Howard. “It’s the facility that will create a broader conversation about how we enjoy wine and food together.”

The Wine Room’s selection of over 50 Barossa wines from the Artisan group’s winemakers tells the changing story of Barossa wine through different categories – of dry savoury rosé, of grenache and of blends, introducing mataro and cinsault into the conversation.

Importantly, underlining a Mediterranean accent promoted by the venue name, there is a category titled Not Your Usual Barossa Suspects, showcasing locally-produced tempranillo, aglianico, sagratino and pinot noir. Even the familiar shiraz category has been fragmented into different styles of expression – savoury and textural; soft supple and elegant; rich and flavoursome; bold and extravagant.

Photo by John Krüger.

“All this is designed to take wine tasters further down the Barossa rabbit hole, and it’s an eye-opening experience to find so much variety in one winemaking region,” says Howard.

“It’s a different way of guiding people through a tasting. Rather than present a sliding scale of good/better/best, we encourage vertical tastings across artisan styles, to make comparisons and appreciate the points of difference.”

Visitors can book for Wine Skool tutored tastings, or purchase wines in flights of four, six or eight tasting pours, which can be accompanied by four bite-sized selections from a menu that also offers snacks, charcuterie, cheeses and Chef’s Plates created by Ryan Edwards, former executive chef at Appellation restaurant.

While Vino Lokal is now open for daily business, Artisans of Barossa wine tastings will continue at its original Vine Vale site until Sunday February 3, when the space will become the new tasting room for Calabria Family Wines, supported by food from Harvest Kitchen.

Artisans of Barossa will also commence building another new home from April, at Kroemer’s Crossing outside Tanunda, with plans to open in January 2020.

“We want to expand so that we can also present a great vineyard-based experience, where people can enjoy a longer, slower exploration of wine,” says Howard, explaining that Vino Lokal will also stay open, to offer two different Barossa wine, food and hospitality options.

“We’re confident the two Artisans experiences will happily co-exist. It’s an exciting time for us to keep our eyes on the horizon.”

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‘I’m grateful to be alive’: Tanunda mum drives organ donation awareness

While most people spend their 20s navigating their way through the first stages of adulthood, Barossa Valley woman Megan McLoughlin once feared she would never live to see 30.

In 2010 at the age of 29, she was suffering from acute renal failure and was given just three weeks to live.

In desperate need of a lifesaving kidney-pancreas transplant Megan was preparing for the end, and heartbreakingly, began planning her own funeral.

Thankfully, Megan was given a second chance at life through the gift of organ donation. Now, almost a decade later, the Tanunda mother-of-two who is also legally blind has made it her mission to help support regionally-based organ donor families and transplant recipients.

She established charity Herd of Hope in 2016, promoting organ donation along with the need for greater support and services for transplant recipients and bereaved donor families in country areas.

Megan’s efforts have led to her being named the 2019 SA Local Hero, and this month she will travel to Canberra alongside three other SA Australia Day Award recipients vying for the national award.

Not only has her charity work and organ donation awareness inspired many, but so too has her messages of positivity amidst more health setbacks – two cancer diagnoses.

Megan, with son Sam, 4, husband Mark, and daughter Ella, 2. Photo courtesy of Studio Barossa.

“I’m not saying there aren’t times when we get down and think life is really difficult, but you’ll always find a way out of it,” Megan says. “There is a positive every morning when the sun comes up. The day is yours.”

Born with one kidney, Megan was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of eight. Growing up in the Flinders Ranges she knew too well the challenges of travelling long distances for medical appointments.

In her late 20s, she suffered major complications during eye surgery and became legally blind. Three months later her only kidney began to fail and Megan was given just three weeks to live.

If it weren’t for the kidney-pancreas transplant it’s likely she would have died.

According to Donate Life, more than 1400 Australians are currently waiting for organ transplants, which can include lungs, heart, kidney, liver and pancreas as well as tissues, bone and skin.

South Australians can state their intention to be an organ donor on their driver’s license, however, in the event of a person’s death, their family can still have the final say.

Herd of Hope says in 2017 only 44% of families who were unaware of their loved one’s intention to be an organ donor upheld their wishes.

Megan’s friend and Herd of Hope executive Annie Allert encourages all Australians to speak with their family about their organ donation intentions so that if something happened the decision might be “a bit easier” to make.

Megan McLoughlin is the 2019 SA Local Hero. She will travel to Canberra this month for the Australian of the Year Awards.

She also encourages those wishing to donate their organs to join the Australian Organ Donor Register, even if their driver’s licence states their intention.

“It simply takes one minute,” Annie says.

“Your family can still contest it (the decision), but the national registration just makes it a bit easier … it’s less of a burden. We encourage people to have that conversation with their family.”

Through Herd of Hope, Megan has met many inspiring organ donor families and fellow transplant recipients and says it’s unfortunate that both groups must co-exist.

“Unfortunately, modern medicine hasn’t advanced to the point where we aren’t reliant on someone passing away to save another’s life,” she says.

“In an average year 53 people pass away while waiting for an organ transplant. That doesn’t seem like a large statistic unless you’re one of them. Organ donation is such a selfless act that can save many lives and the grief of other people.”

Herd of Hope has held many events and initiatives to increase awareness and support services for donor families and transplant recipients in country areas.

In 2018, the charity brought the bush to the beach when a herd of Australian Pol Hereford cattle were mustered onto Sydney’s Bondi Beach, raising funds and awareness for organ donation.

Megan McLoughlin on horse Biscuit during the cattle drive on Bondi Beach.

Herd of Hope has also raised money to help pay for accommodation for regionally-based donor families and families of transplant recipients staying near city hospitals during the transplant process.

One of its latest projects is the Tree of Hope, an emotional tree sculpture featuring hundreds of leaves engraved by bereaved donor families in honour of their loved ones. The tree is touring interstate and will arrive at the Royal Adelaide Hospital later this month before it goes to Perth.

Herd of Hope has also funded a study by the University of South Australia into the impact transplant recipients and their carers face when regionally based. In March the charity will attempt to break the world record for the most organ donor registrations received in one hit.

Besides her Herd of Hope work, being a mum to Sam, 4, and Ella, 2, and a wife to Mark, Megan also enjoys riding her horse, Biscuit, and despite her vision impairment competes in the equine sport, barrel racing.

It’s this determination to attack life regardless of her circumstances that makes Megan the true optimist.

“I’m extremely grateful to be here, there’s not a thing I would change about my life,” she says.

“My grandma used to tell me a quote when I was younger, she used to say, ‘I felt sad because I couldn’t afford shoes and then I saw a man with no feet’. That basically sums it up.”

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Gumpara offers a different taste of the Barossa

Mark Mader has always known there’s something special about a part of the Barossa where his family first planted vines on Gumpara vineyard 90 years ago. Now he has a major award for his shiraz to prove it.

Gumpara 2014 Hexen Shiraz was named second behind Penfolds’ Grange in Winestate Magazine’s 13th International Syrah and Shiraz challenge, announced in September.

In Mark’s eyes, the prestigious award is a long overdue stamp of recognition for the largely unheralded Light Pass sub-region of the Barossa where Gumpara vineyard is located.

“More sub-regions of the Barossa are being identified on wine labels as the source of exceptional and distinctive fruit, but Light Pass is one area that should be a lot more famous for the quality of what is produced,” says Mark.

He points to the unusual mix of ironstone, marble and terra rosa clay in the Barossa’s gentle north-eastern hillside soils as the reason for the intensity and length of Light Pass fruit flavours.

The Gumpara 2014 Hexen Shiraz.

Mark says the Gumpara brand name clearly explains the significance of his vineyard, which is laid out beside the North Para River and flanked by ancient gum trees.

Its position captures cool gully winds through the summer that bring a unique complexity to the fruit, according to Mark. He identifies this in the best 20 tonnes of fruit from the vineyard that he keeps for Gumpara Wines (the remaining 140 tonnes is sold to Peter Lehmann Wines).

Now Mark and his wife Mandy are keen to share and explain the story of their Light Pass vineyard when they open the Gumpara Wines cellar door to public visitors on November 24.

After many years of supporting two daughters playing high-level basketball through their teenage years, Mark and Mandy now say they’ve got the necessary time to host cellar door visitors – and enough stock to warrant a cellar door presence. While the first Gumpara wines were released 18 years ago, volumes were initially very small.

“Our growth has been cautious. We haven’t wanted to carry massive debt,” explains Mark.

“Our family has traditionally been grape growers selling to other wineries, so it was a big step for me – the sixth generation on this land – to start making wine. It’s been a great thrill to identify how exceptional our fruit is.”

The Gumpara Wines family.

For a while, Gumpara was part of a collaborative cellar door with several other boutique Barossa labels, sharing a rented shop in Tanunda’s main street, but the arrangement proved difficult to manage and stopped after a few years.

Now, an old shed on the Gumpara vineyard has been re-purposed and refitted with timbers salvaged from the 1857 Light Pass Church Manse, and a 4m Redgum slab used as the bar. It will now be open for regular public tastings on weekends, by appointment.

Visitors will be able to purchase the limited-release $240 Hexen Shiraz, named after an old Silesian “witch”, Mutter Jaeckel, who lived near the Gumpara vineyard and created homeopathic remedies for the first Barossa settlers in the 1840s.

This is the first release of this wine – the culmination of a five-year project, sourced from vines up to 90 years old. It replaces the Reserve Shiraz as Gumpara’s flagship wine, which was also a significant award-winner, taking third place in Winestate’s 2012 International Syrah and Shiraz Challenge.

The cellar door opens November 24.

Cellar door visitors seeking a more modest wine will find great value in Gumpara Victor’s Old Vine Shiraz ($32), which also registered the maximum five-star rating in this year’s Winestate International Shiraz Challenge.

Mark is confident that his small cellar door will help bring visitors to Light Pass, and feels the time is right to put this overlooked part of the Barossa on the map.

“A lot of the fruit grown in the Light Pass area has traditionally been sold to big wineries, but never identified on the bottle as a source,” he says.

“There’s a few small cellar door tasting rooms – Pete Scholz’s The Willows, Gibson Wines, Ben Chipman’s Tomfoolery Wines – but it’s not really known as a region to visit.

“I think it’s time to shine a brighter light on the place and highlight what we have here that’s special.”

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Henschke moves ahead by taking heed of history

History is of great importance to Stephen Henschke. As the Henschke family celebrates 150 years of winemaking in South Australia through six generations, the celebrated winemaker has much to reflect on – and look forward to.

For starters, there is a new cellar door at Henschke’s Keyneton winery in the Barossa, featuring the stone walls of the farm’s original grain barn, to complement the adjacent cellars constructed in the 1860s by Johann Christian Henschke.

The new tasting space will be open to visitors from early November.

Being respectful of history is important to Stephen and his viticulturist wife Prue. “We all live in a continuing history, and times are moving fast,” Stephen says.

“I delve into history to make sense of what generations of my family have achieved. I’m a serious student of the past to learn what worked and what failed. Understanding this defines the provenance of what we have with our vineyards and winery, and why ours is like no other.”

The new cellar door at Henschke’s Keyneton winery.

This care is reflected in the painstaking recent reconstruction of The Julius Room, another private tasting room at Henschke’s Keyneton winery.

The room was moved stone-by-stone from within the belly of the winery to its new home among the gardens, still with it’s forked bough supports for the roof, original timber-framed windows, and with historical family photographs and documents lining the walls.

Stephen says his passion for uncovering history has accelerated recently, as his and Prue’s three children Johann, Justine and Andreas proceed through adulthood, and with the recent arrival of first granddaughter Matilda.

“You build on history, and this is our challenge as generations change and a winery of our modest size sets itself to move into the future,” he says.

The opening of the new cellar door coincides with the release of an outstanding crop of elite new Henschke wines – including the stellar 2013 vintage of the winery’s flagship Hill of Grace single vineyard shiraz, along with new additions to the portfolio, being the 2015 The Wheelwright Shiraz, and matured sparkling wine Johanne Ida Selma Blanc de Noir MD.

The 2013 Hill of Grace Shiraz.

Presenting these wines to the media for the first time, Stephen offered examples of Hill of Grace vintages across six decades for comparative tasting, dating from 1962.

“Here it is on the table before us – my lifetime with Hill of Grace,” says Stephen.

“It’s all about memories – memories that we cherish.”

Beyond receiving global accolades for the large suite of Henschke wines, Stephen also likes to shine a light on his family’s achievers, especially those whose toil was not widely recognised during the war years, when German influence in the Barossa was frowned upon and quelled by government administrators.

This includes gifted sculptor and stonemason Albert Julius Henschke, whose 1920s masterwork, carved from Angaston marble, is the giant angels that stand as centerpiece of the National War Memorial on North Terrace, Adelaide.

He also carved war memorials in Tanunda and Freeling, but was refused a commission for the Gawler South war memorial in 1920 solely because of his German name.

Winemaker Stephen Henschke.

Stephen even embarked on a campaign to restore the original Germanic name of the small river that runs close to the Henschke winery, called the North Rhine by the area’s Silesian founders, then changed to the Somme in 1918, reflecting strong anti-German sentiment after World War I.

It was one of many German names in the Barossa changed under the Nomenclature Act of 1917, but Stephen’s rigorous public campaign saw it officially gazetted once again as the North Rhine River.

He’s not just curious about his family’s German history. Stephen has become a student of Aboriginal culture and influence throughout the Eden Valley, learning about the movements, settlements and harvesting by different Indigenous people in the long history before colonial settlement.

“Through this, I’ve learned a much deeper history, that gives me a more complete understanding about the story of this land,” he says.

Prue Henschke in the Mt Edelstone vineyard, located in the Eden Valley. Photo by Dragan Radocaj.

Stephen, who was recently invited by the University of Adelaide to deliver a public lecture in the city about what happened to the Barossa’s German descendants between the two World Wars, tells tales of Henschke history from the heart, with a mixture of awe, deliberation and pride.

The family is also the subject of a commemorative hardcover book, Hill of Grace: 150 Years of Henschke Under Southern Skies (Hardie Grant Books, $60), tracing the history of the Henschke family’s flight from religious persecution in Germany during 1841, through its continued nurturing of the Hill of Grace vines at Keyneton, planted from the early 1860s.

The book is completed by historical photographs, colour plates by Barossa photographer Dragan Radocaj, and tasting notes of Hill of Grace vintages, from their first bottling as a single vineyard expression in 1958.

“History is such an important part of who we are and what we do,” says Stephen. “We’re fortunate that we have it on the page, in pictures, and in the incredible living library of wine that comes out of our cellars.”

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