Barossa is a wine region located in South Australia, around 50 kilometres northeast from Adelaide. It is formed by two sub-regions: Barossa Valley and Eden Valley.
Due to the famous grape Shiraz being the most significant variety in the region, Barossa was once called by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson “Australia’s quintessential wine region”.
“Barossa” was actually named incorrectly due to a transcription mistake in 1837, when Colonel William Light choose to name the area he was surveying after the battle of Barrosa, in Spain, in which he successfully fought the French several years earlier.
Barossa Valley began its path to becoming a wine region around the 1840s, when English businessman George Fife Angas became the largest land owner of the region. The 11,300 hectares were reported to be particularly suitable for viticulture, which was helped by the Aboriginal people’s using fire to drive animals from the scrub and regenerate the vegetation for many years previously.
Angas played a pivotal role in the arrival of several German immigrants from Prussia. He helped organise the first ships for Lutheran farmers and tradesman who were escaping religious persecution in Silesia, today’s Poland. It was reported that almost 500 families reached Barossa to contribute in establishing the colony.
The German influence can be still seen to this day, among the first vine cuttings imported to the region were Riesling, a German wine grape from the Rhineland.
Up until the 1970s, Barossa’s wine industry developed steadily, becoming a specialist in the fortified wines Australians were used to drink, also favoured by a warm climate that was particularly suitable for ripening grapes.
The 1990s represented a turning point for Barossa Valley’s image, with a new style of full-bodied wines coming vigorously onto the stage. A return to traditional winemaking techniques, more focus on the provenance and rarity of old vines, as well as a deeper application of studies about soil types, were among the elements that pushed the drinks media to discover Barossa wines. In particular, Barossa Shiraz became so well known it consolidated its own unique and internationally recognised style.
Despite some debate about its climate being continental, Barossa shows quite strong Mediterranean features, such as hot and dry summers followed by mild winters, as well as a proximity to the south coast.
Temperature levels show high maximums, tending to be warmer on the valley floor, which cools down slightly on the surrounding hills. The region can count on a high number of sunshine days, which reflects on low rainfall and humidity.
This kind of climate influences red wines to become fuller-bodied, while the whites tend to be stronger in alcohol.
There is approximately 14,000 hectares of vineyard area in Barossa, for which production is over 90% of the dark-skinned grape varieties. The region produced about 50 million litres in 2017, which is about 5% of total Australian production.
An interesting fact can be observed in domestic consumption. While Australia generally exports 60% of production, Barossa sold around 22% of its wines overseas.
The value of exports in 2017 accounted for $128 million (£71m). China was the largest market, with a 27% market share, followed by the UK (18%) and USA (14% of total volume). Turnover wise, while China predominance is relatively constant, curiously, the US slightly overtakes UK, as Americans tend to prefer the more expensive wines of Barossa.
Red grapes dominate Barossa, with over 90% of planted vineyards in the region. Among them, Shiraz is the most representative grape, with a share of about 70%. Cabernet Sauvignon is a distant second at 15%.
Syrah, originally from France, has a whole new dimension in Barossa’s warmer climate, today becoming known as the signature wine of the region.
White wines are a minor percentage by comparison, with Chardonnay and Sémillon by far the most prevalent, the latter producing a very peculiar pink skin-colour in Barossa. However, the first cuttings brought to the region were actually Riesling.
The typical Barossa Shiraz generally delivers ripe blackberry, dried currant and mocha aromas. Tobacco and earthiness are not uncommon either, nor are meaty notes like beef broth and beef jerky, or even black pepper.
Because of the warm climate, alcohol levels tend to be quite high, starting at around 14% ABV and continuing upwards.
Despite their intense fruitiness, the highest quality wines from the Barossa Valley are known to develop positively over many decades.
Penfolds is not only the most famous producers in Barossa, but perhaps the most famous in Australia. The authority of the estate is such that Penfolds wine have regularly been used as a key performance indicator for the wider Australian economy.
Torbreck is a relatively young producer, but has established itself within Barossa’s landscape rapidly. From its foundation in 1994, the estate has specialised in wines made from Shiraz, the key features of which are powerful and aromatic notes. Torbreck rose to international fame in 1996, with the second vintage of its flagship wine Runrig Shiraz.