Maintaining a focus on the future while reflecting on the foundations of the past has enabled Barossa to ride out the cycles of wine industry fad and fashion. Its cohesive community and six generations of viticultural and winemaking commitment provide a rare sense of origin and place in a changing world.
“The early 2000s is just another pendulum swing. In 1983, one of Australia’s most respected viticulturists said the Barossa would only be growing cabbages by 1990. Yet the Barossa, is still one regional name which is recognized worldwide. We still make the world’s most unique Shiraz, and the best Rieslings from the Eden Valley. We still have some of the oldest plantings of vines on the planet and an unbroken history of grape growing and winemaking to rival parts of Europe. I still see a great future for the Barossa, a future with enormous potential.”
Speaking at the 2008 Generations Lunch“My grandfather always said you have two ears for listening and one mouth for talking… so you should be doing twice as much listening and half as much talking.”
Fifth generation grape-grower
There is a generational connective tissue that holds together the past, the present and the future of Barossa. It is the link between the old, the new and the as yet unrealised.
It is a bloodline – six, and in some places seven generations, of inherited seasonal knowledge and experience and folklore. It is a shared point of origin – Silesian Lutheranism, English Anglicanism but also the vibrancy of Italy and Spain and even new world Asia come together to melt the pot in Barossa.
Barossa has always been a cohesive place, its pioneers recognising early on that regionality was mainly about taking a collaborative stance on the things that were important: protection of land, consistency of story and family.
Generational co-operation brings unity where there is fracture, and common purpose where there is a daunting mix of individual interests.
Classic wine regions are built on the efforts of generational commitment and among them, Barossa is a story of persistent family endeavor as well as corporate investment.
While the Gramps of Orlando, the Seppelts of Seppeltsfield, the Salters of Saltram and the Penfolds family succumbed to the cycles of business and were bought and sold like mere chattels by investors, their names remain synonymous with Australian fine wine.
But one multi-generational family winery still calls Barossa home – Yalumba. The oldest family owned winery in Australia it celebrated its 168th anniversary in 2017 with the launch of the $350/bottle The Caley Coonawarra Cabernet – Barossa Shiraz testifying that it remains confidently positive about the future under the guidance of the Hill-Smith family.
Tellingly, it is the growers that have weathered the years better than most family wineries.
The English and Silesian families that first arrived in the 1840s – Angas, Ahrens, Atze, Barritt, Boehm, Both, Burge, Burgemeister, Braunack, Evans, Gerlach, Graetz, Gramp, Habermann, Hage, Hahn, Haese, Henschke, Hoffmann, Hueppauff, John, Kies, Keynes, Kleemann, Koch, Krieg, Lindner, Lehmann, Liersch, Mader, Milde, Munzberg, Obst, Pech, Rohrlack, Schulz, Schmidt, Schrapel, Schiller, Stiller, Schwarz, Semmler and Zerk – continue to fill the church pews and phone books of the Barossa six or seven generations later.
But generational change doesn’t come without constantly re-setting the watch.
Back in December 2008, two hundred members of the Barossa wine fraternity: winemakers, wine marketers, grape-growers, viticulturists, coopers, tank makers and assorted tractor salesmen all gathered in a shed called Old Redemption, high on a hill overlooking Peter Lehmann Wines and the Para River.
Like so many regional gatherings that had gone before, they were there to debate the region’s future in the face of the economic ravages of a fiercely competitive marketplace and structural imbalances bloated by corporate and private interest greed during the early 2000s.
Conversation ranged from the emerging wine consumer opportunity in Asia, to the challenge of marketing a regional brand that was in danger of being corrupted. Without deserting its authentic origins and inheritance, Barossa knew it had to keep repositioning itself for a fast-changing and ever-challenging new commercial era.
So the Generations Lunch became a new Barossa tradition, now held in December prior to Christmas – the last chance to reflect and share before another impending vintage.
In an era of increasing cultural and commercial alertness, modern Australians are more inclined than ever to search and try to understand the how, why and where of origin.
In the evocative, indigenous place names of the region – Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Eudunda and Kapunda – and among the next generation of its community, Barossa continues to derive nourishment from the past that will help to shape its future.