When is a wine bar not a wine bar? That's something to ponder as you stroll the grounds at Tscharke, a winery in the Barossa, and check out the wooden, German-style building nestled next to the grape vines.
This, you have to understand, is not a wine bar. Yes, you can go in and sit down and drink nice wine and eat tasty snacks and generally just enjoy yourself among salubrious company, but it's still not a wine bar. According to the Tscharke team, it's called The Protagonist, and it's a "showcase". Don't mention the B-word.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Tscharke is attempting to do things a little differently. This is a very different winery. Tscharke is a Barossa outfit that is not focused on shiraz, for one thing. It's also a popular, high-end winery that has no cellar door, and makes it puzzlingly difficult to buy its wine. It's an organic, biodynamic operation where music is played to the barrels as the wines age, and every aspect of the process is determined by the phases of the moon.
And on a tour here, the first thing you do is get in a car and drive away.
So, a belated welcome to Tscharke, despite the fact you've just left. Not everything will make sense over the next few hours. Plenty will seem a little ridiculous, in fact, a little over-thought. But once you have a glass in hand and some wine poured in it, the method to this madness will begin to reveal itself.
First, you're leaving because the first stop on a tour here is the Gnadenfrei vineyard, Tscharke's "grand cru" holding, its most prized piece of land. This is where the label's absolute best wines originate, a few minutes up the road from the main entrance. You climb out of the car here and wander up a gentle slope and then survey the vineyard and the valley floor laid out below, and gain an immediate understanding of that cherished wine word, "terroir".
This is where wine comes from. This is everything.
Bear that in mind as you stroll through the vines and listen as the biodynamic process – a theory of interconnectivity, in which everything in the universe relates to everything else, and things like pruning and watering and harvesting and even drinking wine are determined by phases of the moon – is explained. Keep it in your head as you drive back down to the Marananga winery and prepare for a tour and a taste of the product.
Nothing is what you would imagine. There's a warehouse back down by the carpark, a giant tin shed with a big sliding door that leads to a cavernous space filled with wine boxes and bottles. It's industrial in here, unloved.
But then you skirt around those boxes and bottles and head to a half-dome of concrete set into the floor, with an opening that leads to a staircase, and there, your world changes.
I actually don't want to give too much away. I don't want to ruin the surprise.
Let's just say that this is why you pay $350 a person for this experience, the three-hour "Taste the Ethereal" tour (though in classic Tscharke style it's not actually called a tour, but an "immersive exploration"). Yes, the stroll in the vineyard is fascinating and the chat with the winemakers illuminating, but you're here for the final few hours spent below the warehouse, in wine-nerd wonderland.
If you like any of the wines you try it's a good idea to buy them, because you won't find Tscharke on bottle-shop shelves, and you can't even order direct through the winery's website. Instead, interested patrons sign up for a newsletter, and on the first Tuesday of every month Tscharke sends out an order form and an "invitation to purchase".
Or, you could just call into the wine b.. sorry, the showcase, The Protagonist, in that German chalet and drink a few glasses of the good stuff. The venue is due to open in early spring, and the plan is to serve all of Tscharke's much-sought-after wines by the glass, current vintages as well as museum releases, poured into high-end stemware, served by professionals, paired with local, seasonal snacks.
Perfection. Just don't call it a you-know-what.
Tscharke's three-hour "Taste the Ethereal" tour and tasting is offered by appointment on Fridays and Saturdays, with a minimum of two and a maximum of eight participants. It costs $350 a person. The winery is open for "farmgate" sales daily, and The Protagonist is due to open in early spring.
The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism Barossa