Wine and the City – Barossa Edition

Have you ever had one of those ‘pinch me’ moments? For me, my skin bears pink markings from last week; an invitation to taste 340 wines from the Barossa plus a pre-release peek at the upcoming vintage of Henschke’s Hill of Grace.

At twenty-seven, from the outside I appear to have my stuff together. But between you and me, this is all smoke and mirrors. Rewind hours earlier, I’m running late – a handful of Cheerios for breakfast and an 8 for 8 red light strike rate down King William Road.

Then the dilemma faced in modern society – punctuality or caffeine. I decide on the latter. My justification – a caffeine-deprived Tijana is a worse first impression than being tardy. Plus, an endearing offering of the iconic Balfours Frog Cake will win over the Sydney guests jetting in for the tasting. Genius.

Slight obstacle, the forementioned delicacy is produced by Balfours and I’ve found myself in the Villi’s Bakery carpark. The South Australian equivalent of ordering a Big Mac at Hungry Jacks… So the next best thing, Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee. Their long-running tag line “It’s a Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee or it’s nothing” never being more true!

Arrival time 8.35am. Five minutes late, the time it takes one to order a coffee. Pulling up to the impressive $5 million Barossa Cellar, I’m hoping my recently purchased, eggshell white skirt will help me look the part.

Entering the room – well grafted rows of Barossa wines line the solid oak tables. Having immediately digested the sheer magnitude of this tasting, I grab my four Riedels, a spittoon and help out opening the first twenty bottles, with a century target for the day. Grenache at 9am, this is no Mimosa breakfast.

An hour goes by, we are on our first spittoon empty and to be frank I don’t know what I was worrying about… Bucket at arm’s length, I tread with caution. It’s not until I reach the sink that a crack is discovered in the spittoon and a drip pattern on the floor. Pain washes over me, I’ve been hit – my skirt a canvas of spatter.

After cleaning the crime scene of my murdered ego, I return to the task at hand. Seven hours of tasting later and I’ve drawn several conclusions – wear black, a handful of Cheerios is not a sustainable breakfast and my spirit grape (the vinous spirit animal) is Grenache. We have multiple personalities, reveal more over time and work both independently or in group environments. Shame only one of us is all the rage at the moment.

I would prefer to emulate the 2020 John Duval Wines Annexus Grenache. Deep ruby with an eggplant cast, a seductive black cherry and musky plum perfume, met by equal vigour on the palate; a vixen of elegance and poise. Instead, tye die skirt and a mouth bearing resemblance to an amethyst geode, I personify the more youthful, consumer friendly expression of the variety – not to be taken too seriously. Perfectly acceptable for a Tuesday night BBQ, but when you’re meeting with one of the First Families of Wine… the Henschkes?

Walking into their cellar door I must commend the warm and hospitable nature of Stephen, Prue and Justine. Not even Fritz, their sausage dog, bat an eyelid. My teeth were proof of wine tasting vigour – an embodiment of their 2017 vintage: “a vintage graced by vitality”. My background in marketing applauded a phrase that so aptly reflected the wines. Vitality for me is a humble display of strength, energy and purposefulness – impressive in a region dominated by over 15% alcohol wines.

After our intimate tasting, Justine and Stephen take us to the literal ‘fruits of their labour’ – The Hill of Grace site. A wonderful anecdote on the Gnadenberg Church bell tower, located on the fringe of the vineyard, was told how in 1902 Pr Hossfeld wrote to the German Kaiser, Friedrich Wilhelm II, inviting him to donate the metal for a church bell. Due to the poverty prevalent in many German churches at the time, the request could not be met. However, a donation from Moritz Andretzke resumed the project and a tower, to the height of 65 feet, was built by Ernst and Gotthard Henschke. Back in Germany the price of metal fell and a larger bell than originally anticipated arrived. To accommodate the bell, modifications were hastily made to the bell tower.

In a way, it’s a testament to how the Henschke family operates, adaptive with functionality at the core. A reflection of their vineyard management practices and the ‘bell’ of it all… the fruit. This is just one of the many stories that chart the rich history of the Barossa.

Returning to The Barossa Cellar, and the scene of the crime, I can’t help but take it all in. A $900 bottle of wine, 150 years of family history, the novice decision to wear white and a cellared vault with the capacity for 100,000 bottles. Louis Pasteur once said, “a bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world”. However on this trip of enlightenment there was one more key lesson to be learned. A family size packet of Smiths original crinkle cut chips is the perfect way to finish off the tasting of a lifetime.

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