Exploring the culinary delights of the Barossa Valley on this self-guided tour is sure to give you an appetite for more, writes Stephanie Clifford-Smith.
Everyone in the Barossa Valley has a firm view on the best place to buy bread rolls with caraway and salt crust and who sells the finest dried apricots. And that's before you broach the subject of wine.
The region's rich culinary tradition dates to its establishment by its first European settlers. Once here, the German immigrants were determined to hang on to their food culture and were too poor to move anywhere else. Through necessity they grew much of their own produce, smoked their meats and made their bread and preserves.
That legacy lives on, not just in the excellent German smoked and baked goods available around the valley but in the culture to make your own. The Foodland supermarket in Tanunda sells industrial quantities of bread-making flour in 20-kilogram sacks for home use, the breadmaker being one of the region's most popular kitchen appliances.
Tourists wanting to tap into the food and wine scene in the Barossa can follow the Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail, a route through the valley where there are 24 vineyards and many food shops. It allows the visitor to explore on their own and is ideal for people with a car who don't wish to join a guided tour.
To do the trail, visitors can pick up a map and get on their way. They can also do the $65-VIP version, receiving a hamper with local produce, a booklet of coupons that can be swapped for more foods as well as special deals at wineries and shops. It's a fun concept: collect a hamper from the visitor centre containing the beginnings of a picnic - cheese knife, napkins, cheese board, dried apricots, olive oil, dukkah, biscuits ... all local stuff, plus the coupons.
Some vouchers can be exchanged for more picnic items, such as bread rolls from one of four bakeries to accompany the olive oil and dukkah already supplied. Another can be swapped for a tub of quince paste at Maggie Beer's Farm shop and at Seppeltsfield Wines the $5 charge for a cellar door tasting is waived when a coupon is produced.
The booklet provides map references, addresses and details the options. I went the VIP way and found it's important to plot a strategy because the valley's a big place with coupon swap spots spread far and wide. While the cheese coupon can only be exchanged at one place in Angaston, the one for a bottle of wine can be redeemed at one of 10 vineyards, accommodating a range of preferences - mainstream to boutique, as well as vast geographical meanderings.
There's a good map showing suppliers, which helps decide whether it's viable to get the olives from Truro and the wine from Rowland Flat and still picnic before sundown.
To make the most of it, tourists should collect the kit one day, research the options and tackle the trail the next. Or do what most people do and spread the experience over several days.
Jaci Thorne from Barossa Tourism says the trail gives structure to a visit. "The Barossa has over 80 cellar doors and over 40 restaurants. This trail helps people narrow down the options, especially if they only have three or four days to spend, she says.
"It takes people all around the area and doesn't focus on just one town. It gets them moving and experiencing the whole breadth of the region."
And that breadth is enormous. The valley is 14 kilometres wide and appears at first glance to be fairly flat. But there are gentle foothills surrounding it and mini valleys within. This geography with its resulting meso-climates as well as the many soil types is what makes it such a diverse winegrowing area and endlessly interesting to explore.
There is something ethereal about the light here, especially in the late afternoon. Once the glare of the midday sun has subsided, colours take on a new intensity. It's as if a film of dust has been wiped away, showing the brilliant chartreuse of young vine growth and throwing clouds into dramatic contrast as the sky's blue deepens.
A beauty of following this trail is the incidental views encountered along the way, even if the primary mission is food and wine. Turning onto Seppeltsfield Road on the way to Barossa Valley Estate, the line of date palms along the road are aesthetically stunning and surprising in an area dominated by grapes and native plantings.
It's a view only bettered on the way back, with the beautiful Lutheran Gnadenfrei Church and its pale, square-profiled spire standing out above the palms.
With diversions like this, many might miss the butcher component of the trail, which is a little thin at this stage. There are no butchers participating as yet, although there's a stick of mettwurst in the VIP hamper. Otherwise the meaty links are a bit tenuous with Turkey Flat vineyard offering tasting on the site of the Barossa's first butchery, the original chopping block on display.
There's also a smokehouse at the Moorooroo Park Vineyard open to visitors. "Our challenge was to find outlets open seven days a week and that rules out most butchers," Thorne says. "But we're revising things at the moment and have a few butchers coming on board who'll have interesting stories to share with visitors."
Cheese gives cellar tour added flavour
THE Barossa Cheese and Wine Trail, another self-drive option, was established four years ago. Visitors collect an insulated pack with crackers, knife, a little oak chopping board, map, various local cheeses and off they go.
"We wanted to showcase the cheeses of the region as well as giving people a unique experience," says Victoria McClurg of Barossa Valley Cheese Company. "Instead of just visiting a cellar door and drinking, we're slowing the process down by matching the wine with cheese and giving people a chance to think about what they're doing."
The map divides the valley into regions, each one offering around six vineyards to visit. So tourists could go to, say, Cockatoo Ridge Winery, taste its Eleanora Botrytis teamed with the Ballycroft Annulet, a nutty, gouda-like cheese, which they've brought along in their pack. Then, depending on time, go to another vineyard in the Tanunda region or go further afield, maybe to Turkey Flat in the valley's foothills to pair their Marsanne with the creamy BVCC Wanera washed rind.
At first, it's a little strange fronting up at cellar doors and unpacking a mini cheese plate but vineyard staff have seen it all before and are very welcoming. It's fun to analyse the characteristics of the wine and cheese and ponder how the partnership was formulated. Of course there's no need to stick to just the one pairing. You might even come up with a marriage of flavours you like more.
The writer travelled courtesy of the South Australian Tourism Commission