As one can be expected of a person who cannot hold her liquor, my colleagues found me sitting on a bench trying to sober up after having my 22nd sip of wine. We were on the second vineyard having a wine tasting activity because apparently, that’s how Australians roll. It was my first time to do this and I went at it eagerly, making up for the time in which I failed to do this in Bordeaux—a pity as it is one of largest wine regions in the world. Weeks prior to this trip, a colleague asked me which activity I fancy so we could do it when I visit Adelaide. I told her that I’d be interested to do wine tasting. It turns out Adelaide is the perfect place to do it, to be exact in the wine region of Barossa Valley.
We took a long drive to the valley, me riding on the back of the car, keeping mostly to myself while my colleagues were lost in random conversation. Barossa Valley can be found 60 kilometres northeast of Adelaide. It is regarded as one of the finest wine regions in Australia with over 150 wineries and 80 cellar doors. The industry is old, they have been producing wine for over a century.
Maggie Beer Farm
Before drinking ourselves silly we had the mind to fill our tummies first with a sumptuous lunch at the Maggie Beer Farm. A visit to this place was an utter delight. You go there and enjoy their fresh and delectable food, you could buy products and even sample some of them (which I indulged rather shamelessly and unapologetically with the burnt fig jam), you can watch turtles bobbing up and down on the lake, and if so desired, you may even stay for a night.
Our stomachs were filled, thus continued the day’s agenda. As we journeyed, I mostly kept my eyes on the side of the road, to enjoy the idyllic view of the countryside. The roads are wide and open, the sun was still high but not that warm as it was the last days of spring. I sat through the drive in silence, but my mind was busy coming up with adjectives in appreciation of the beautiful scenery.
We parked in front of a building with the word Provenance emblazoned on the upper façade. I thought it was the name of the vineyard, until we went in and I found out it’s called Penfolds.
Penfolds traces their beginnings in 1844 founded by a couple, Dr. Christopher and Mary Penfold. The company became the largest winery in South Australia in 1920 under the stewardship of the couple’s daughter, Georgina.
A great part of Penfold’s success is credited to its first chief winemaker, Max Schubert who started in the company as a messenger boy. He is the man responsible for the famous Grange wine, which was turned down by the top management the first time he presented it to them. Today, Grange is regarded as one of the best wines ever produced by Penfolds.
We had our wine tasting activity at Penfolds Barossa Valley Cellar Door, built in 1911. We were greeted by a wine steward, a tall man in black who also served as our host for this activity.
He lined up wine glasses on the bar and steel cups where we could pour or spit unfinished wine. There is a list of wines featured on this wine tasting, one as old as 2013, and the most recent, 2018. All in all, we sampled a total of 13 wines. He provided a brief description for every wine that we were about to taste, but I, a person not fully knowledgeable about wine, couldn’t fully appreciate his dialogues. I made sure to taste every drink that he poured on my glass yet despite my best effort, I couldn’t pick a favorite.
Back on the road, I heard my colleagues discussing that the wine steward described one of the wines as having a similar taste with kerosene. I didn’t catch the remark, would have cringed if I did. Wine expert or not, it’s weird to use use such a description for a wine. But I am no wine connoisseur, I could be wrong.
The next cellar that we visited provided a much more pleasurable experience. Rockford Wines Cellar Door is in Krondorf Road—I thought the name of the place sounded German, turns out it is. We learned that Barossa is home to German immigrants who moved to South Australia in 1838.
Rockford was founded in 1971 by Robert O’Callaghan. They use traditional equipment and procedures in their wine-making. While the Penfolds cellar door is modern, Rockford sits on a courtyard surrounded by infrastructures made of stone. These buildings are said to have been around since the early settlements in Krondorf.
Of the two cellar doors, I have enjoyed my time more at Rockford as the wines that we tasted here were more to my liking. I also think that the host, Becca, who is much more engaging than the first wine steward greatly contributed to the experience. She smiled a lot, talked animatedly, and shared amazing stories behind each wine that she was presenting.
We sampled 9 wines and this time, I had a favorite, the 2019 White Frontignac. It is the earliest variety that Rockford harvests each year. It tasted somewhat similar with green apples, a little bit sweet, crisp, with a clean finish, we all loved it. And the best thing about is, it is not even expensive, only AUD 20.50 a bottle. I wasn’t alone in my opinion, my colleagues also picked this as the best tasting among all the wines that we had that day.
I didn’t expect that I’d end up a little tiddly when I only took a sip of each wine. I had been reading up on wine appreciation of late so I just learned that you are not supposed to swallow, but spit the wine during wine tasting. No wonder I ended up drunk.
I’m also taking this as a sign that I should work on my alcohol tolerance. My colleagues seemed amused when they spotted me resting in one corner. Because of this, they allowed me to ride shot gun on our trip back to the city.
As I write this, I have just finished half a glass of a cabernet franc. I have developed a taste for wine, and I credit it all to this Adelaide trip. I now have this small ritual of drinking a glass each night while reading. I find that it helps me relax and sleep. Now that my interest is piqued, I am making an effort to educate myself about wine. I constantly search the Internet about it, slowly building up my stock knowledge.
Next time I visit another cellar door, I’d be prepared. Hopefully, by then I won’t be the first the person to get drunk.