Englishman Joseph Gilbert planted the first Eden Valley Riesling vineyard, Pewsey Vale, in 1847. During the 1930s the vineyard, like so many others in Australia, fell into disuse as a result of the severe economic hardship of the Great Depression.
It was not until the 1960s that the vineyard was replanted, the new vines propagated from the original vines, and other Riesling vineyards took hold in Eden Valley. Across Australia, Riesling became the most planted white grape variety, up until the 1990s when Chardonnay became more popular.
Eden Valley’s growers and winemakers remain loyal to Riesling, which still flourishes in the region. There is a resolute independence among Riesling winegrowers who refuse to buy into cycles of popular trends and new varieties. It is for this reason they continue to craft some of the finest, most age-worthy and best value white wines in Australia.
Chardonnay was first planted in Barossa Valley in the 1960s, with extensive planting occurring from the mid-1980s, during a time of the variety’s great popularity in Australia. Plantings were encouraged to meet a thirsty export market.
In Barossa, this noble variety produces wine with exceptional fruit character and depth. Winemakers have much to choose from in creating styles from grapes grown in the warm Barossa Valley region and the cool areas of Eden Valley. Australia’s first cool climate Chardonnay vineyard was planted in High Eden in 1972.
Semillon was one of the white grape varieties planted by the first settlers in Barossa in the 1840s and has found a natural home with some of those old vines still producing fruit. Local plantings have evolved to develop their own unique pink-skinned clone that is distinctive from Semillon found in Bordeaux or Australia’s Hunter Valley.
Barossa Valley has had a long-term love affair with Semillon, one of the textured varieties that has produced wines of distinction. There has been a noticeable increase in the finesse of these wines since 2000, as its makers have looked to techniques of early harvest, fermentation in stainless steel and focus on retaining freshness and balance. The result is wines of greater purity and varietal character. Initially subdued, these wines develop full-flavoured, toasty and honeyed characteristics with age.
Barossa has a 170-year-old tradition for producing Australia’s finest Shiraz. The early settlers in Australia planted Shiraz because it had been among the first vines brought to the country. Shiraz from France came out with Dr. Penfold, while James Busby and John MacArthur imported Shiraz, among many other cuttings, from South Africa and Europe.
From the mid 1840s, German and English settlers in Barossa found that Shiraz flourished in the region. It set big crops of large, fleshy grapes, was economical to grow, and produced excellent quality wine. One of the original vineyards planted in 1843 still produces fruit today and is thought to be the oldest continuously producing Shiraz vineyard in the world.
Barossa Shiraz became world famous in the 1990s thanks to a series of positive reviews including several “100 point wines” awarded by Robert Parker Jr of the Wine Advocate. Shiraz is an adaptable variety and is now made into a diverse range of styles – from perfumed and elegant to rich and full-bodied – as well as being used to make fortified wines, rosé and even sparkling red wines.
Although Barossa is famous for its Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon has been a classic red grape variety in the region, producing rich black fruit flavours and soft tannins – Barossa’s signature style. There is a diversity of vine age across the region, with plantings dating back to the mid 1800s. Barossa has the oldest continuously producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world.
Some of Australia’s most respected wines have been made with Barossa Cabernet, and 40 year old classics from the Orlando and Saltram cellar collections are still silky and vibrant when opened and enjoyed. In vineyards such as Penfolds’ Block 42 and the old Dorrien vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon is capable of producing wines of incredible structure, intensity and longevity.
Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon is equally rich in history as it is in flavour, and definitely a variety to look out for either as a varietal wine or in a blend with Shiraz.
Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold brought new Grenache cuttings from the south of France to South Australia in 1844. The ability of Grenache to produce high yields when given plenty of irrigation in warm climates made it the most popular Australian grape variety until the 1960s. It was the basis of most fortified wines, as well as a component of many dry red table wines. But only rarely did the word Grenache appear on a wine label.
Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon replaced many Grenache vineyards in Barossa in the 1960s and 1970s and the variety seemed destined for obscurity in the region, but in the late 1980s a visionary group of winemakers decided these old, dry-grown vines, which had contributed so much to the establishment of Barossa as a wine-growing area, deserved renewed respect. Fortunately, this means some plantings from the 1850s are still thriving today.
The significance and quality of Barossa Grenache far outweighs its small production figures. This versatile grape is used to produce single variety and expertly blended red table wines, as well as fortified and rosé wines.