Thursday, May 17, 2012

Barossa Bound

There are some days when you just need a friend like Marco. Marco is the name we've given to our GPS system and we brought him along to help us make our way through the back roads of Oz. Once we were off the main highways, it was pretty clear that we weren't in Kansas anymore. It was also clear that it would have taken us a whole lot longer to find our destination in the Barossa.

With Marco's assistance, we managed to find our way to Wroxton Grange - a working farm/vineyard, B&B and our home for the weekend. I knew that we'd only be able to scratch the Barossa's surface over a weekend but our three nights was a longer stay than we were affording ourselves in any of the other wine districts we were visiting. There probably isn't a better known brand than "Barossa" when it comes to Australian wine and I was just hoping to get a more complete sense of place so that I can experience that sense of communion with all the Barossa wines I know we'll continue to drink back home in Vancouver. I certainly knew, in advance, that there would be a continuous array of familiar names - and favourite wineries - coming our way over the weekend.

I can't say that Marco pointed out one of our first highlights of the Barossa but, as we were navigating our way through the roads of Eden Valley, Boo noticed a gum tree that was chock-a-block full of white cockatoos. We stopped the car and jumped out to the surprise of a couple locals who were blasé about what's likely an everyday occurrence for them. A bit of a sudden noise sent the mass of birds into flight. It was a neat little thrill and a nice welcome to the region.

Our arrival time was such that we likely wouldn't be able to visit more than a single winery - maybe two at most - this afternoon. To make things even a little more difficult, one of the first things I learned is that, while there are around 150 wineries in the Barossa, half of them are so small or are such tightly run family operations that they don't have cellar doors for visiting. That fact could make it tough to accomplish my goal of discovering a number of small wineries that I'd likely never run across at home. Luckily we were tipped off to a different option - and a grand one it was.

Native Barossan, Kate Milroy, has devised a means to showcase wines from some of the finest small producers in the region and team those wines up with locally sourced food and live music. Kate's past association with producers and her love of wine resulted in her lining up with ten winemaking teams that she feels not only make some outstanding wines, but also represent the next generation of Barossan winemakers. Part restaurant, part social gathering place and watering hole, Bibu Barossa also provides a cellar door for ten boutique wineries that currently don't have a cellar door of their own.

It took no convincing whatsoever for Boo and I to arrange to meet with Kate for an extensive tasting, to be followed up by dinner. Our only problem was that Kate served up so many different wines - and was so full of stories and information about the wineries - that we didn't really get past the whites and rosés before she truly needed to change her hat from cellar door ambassador to restauranteur.

We managed to sample wines from nine of her ten winemakers - missing only Purple Hands. We even manage to lift a glass of their house white - a Savagnin that was made by one of the ten wineries; however, they don't say who the winemaker was so that they don't appear to play favourites by featuring one of their team as a house wine. Boo and I both thoroughly enjoyed the rare varietal that originated in the Jura region of France. Accordingly, our Bibu visit provided a bit of a bonus for me in that I get to add another varietal to my Wine Century Club tally - that's two in three days, having added the Tarrango grape just the other day.

In addition to the Savagnin, we sampled a tasty cross section of white varietals - Semillon, Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling - followed by a trio of rosés and started in on a few of the reds. The producers we tasted were Diggers Bluff, Hart of the Barossa, Magpie Estate, Seize the Day, Soul Growers, Tim Smith Wines, Trevor Jones, Tom Foolery and Z Wines. I hadn't heard of any of them prior to visiting Kate and Bibu; so, here I'd managed to find ten new producers with our first stop.

Knowing that we'd barely started on wines of the red persuasion, Kate suggested that, rather than ordering a bottle of wine for dinner, we let her pour a flight of wines by the glass to match our dinner courses. As much as I'd have liked to add another bottle to The List, her suggestion made eminent sense. She started us with a pair of Shiraz glasses - a 2007 Seize The Day and a 2009 Hart of the Barossa, the latter being one of the few fully organic producers in the region. These were followed by a couple of blends - Digger's Bluff 2006 Watchdog, a Cab/Shiraz, and Tomfoolery's Shiraz/Mataro (Mourvèdre) called Skullduggery. We finished up with a rare Fortified Cab Sauv from Seize The Day.

In addition to the fine wines, we discovered a new taste sensation that we have to try and duplicate at home! Our main course's side salad incorporated haloumi cheese croutons. I seriously could have eaten and entire plate of them for my entrée. Ooops, that should be "main." Down under, "entrées" are appetizers - and an appie of the croutons wouldn't have been nearly enough.

Bibu Barossa had only been up and running for a little over four months but Kate seems to have created a lovely buzz in Tanunda and surrounds. She was certainly running at capacity on our night. If it weren't on the other side of the world, I'd definitely be a regular.

I was sorely disappointed, however, that I had to leave without being able to load up on a slew of wines. I'd have no problem filling up a case or two. No doubt about it. We had to settle for two lonely bottles - and our grand total to bring home with us is quickly rising already.

A big thanks are due to Kate and her hospitality. We can only hope that the rest of our Barossa stay is an entertaining and as enjoyable.

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