8 Facts About the Barossa Valley and its Wines
What do you know about the region that is synonymous with Australian wine, and how it came to receive such acclaim? As it turns out, the Barossa Valley’s history is as rich as its Shiraz. Read on to learn more about the Barossa Valley and its premier wines.
Fact #1: Its name is a misnomer
In 1837, British Colonel William Light led an expedition to the region and named it Barrosa in homage to the British victory over the French in the 1811 Battle of Barrosa––a battle in which Light fought. When the region was surveyed in 1839, it was accidentally registered with the spelling “Barossa.”
Fact #2: It has a rich history (and Germanic influence)
Most of Australia’s wine industry was heavily influenced by the British. In fact, according to the Barossa Valley website, Barossa was founded by a wealthy, philanthropic English shipping merchant named George Fife Angas who came to South Australia around 1836. However, Barossa Valley’s wine industry received much of its influence from German settlers who fled from persecution in the Prussian province of Silesia (modern-day Poland).
The Germanic influence remains to this day: in 1848, the Graetz family planted a Grenache vineyard that is known as the oldest continuously producing Grenache vineyard in the world. Currently owned and operated by Cirillo Estate Wines, the vines are described by winemaker Marco Cirillo as “not good because they are old, they are old because they’re good.” Whereas “[y]oung vines make great wines . . . they are more affected by the environment. Our old vines are part of the environment.”
Fact #3: It was once known for its fortified wines
Before it was known for its rich Shiraz, the Australian wine industry consisted primarily of fortified wines: the Barossa region’s scorching summer temperatures led to ripe grapes with high levels of sugar, which are ideal for such a style.
In the mid-1900s, the Australian wine industry shifted from fortified wines to red table wines (specifically Cabernet Sauvignon). The Barossa Valley (and its Shiraz) fell out of fashion during this time, and its wines were either used in port-style wines or distilled into brandy.
Fact #4: It now dominates Australian Shiraz
Barossa Valley’s reputation for producing fortified wines did not last for long. In the 1980s, a handful of family-owned wineries producing high-quality old vine Shiraz received the attention of the wine world. These wines held the now-beloved qualities of Barossa Valley Shiraz: a rich, full-bodied red wine with notes of chocolate and spice. Two decades later, the region is synonymous with Australian red wine; so much so that Master of Wine Jancis Robinson called the region “Australia’s quintessential wine region.”
Fact #5: It is very, very hot (and dry)
In the summer, Barossa Valley’s temperatures soar. Throughout the year, rainfall is minimal. This situation, which is called “water stress,” is often desirable for winemakers since too much rainfall can lead to oversaturated grapes and thin wine. Dryness leads to deeply concentrated grapes (particularly in the older vines) that create the valley’s most acclaimed wines.
These scorching summer temperatures in Barossa Valley lead to a quick ripening of grapes that tend to have high levels of sugar and lower levels of acidity. Since a balance of sugars and acidity is desirable in complex, well-rounded wines, this creates challenges for winemakers. To compensate, winemakers use several interesting winemaking techniques, such as limiting the time wine macerates (spends time in contact with the grape skins).
Fact #6: It’s not just known for red wine
Although the Barossa Valley is famous for its Shiraz, the region is also home to many other grape varieties, including the red wine grapes Grenache, Mourvedre (called Mataro in Australia), and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the white winegrapes Riseling, Semillion, and Chardonnay. The official Barossa Valley website claims the region is home to more than 40 varietals.