From the tasting team

Legacy everlasting: Dave Brookes on the Barossa

By Dave Brookes

13 Nov, 2023

In celebration of the Barossa’s stellar showing in this year’s Companion, Dave Brookes looks at what drives the region’s unrivalled success.

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The familiar echo of the Barons of the Barossa toast rings true this year as we celebrate the history, diversity of wine styles and achievements of Australia’s most famous wine region.

From the national treasure that is the fortified wines of Seppeltsfield to the precision of Eden Valley riesling, the Barossa hits home runs at every base and is in a purple patch of particularly strong vintages.

It comes as no great surprise that the Barossa now holds the most 5-star wineries of any wine region, as of the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion. This year the Barossa picked up a whopping 50 x 5-star wineries, followed by Margaret River (40) and the Yarra Valley (39). An incredible 32 per cent of Barossa wines scored 94+ points – they are indeed in fine form.

Dave Powell in the vineyardNeldner Road's Dave Powell.

We are all conscious of the fact that many of this country's iconic wines spring forth from the famous soils of the region. From Max Schubert's inkling that the series of gentle rolling sand dunes over the rich red-brown soils of the Northern Barossa may produce a special wine to the region’s place in the Penfolds Grange wines of today, there has always been something extraordinary happening within its boundaries.

From its part in great multiregional wines to the country's most famous single-vineyard wine, Henschke’s stellar Hill of Grace, the Barossa’s bounty of ancient vines and climate serves it very well on the world stage. One thing that stood out when crunching the numbers for the new wine guide was that 66 per cent of Barossa Valley wines reviewed for the 2024 Companion were priced at $50 or less, showing that there is solid value to be found in the wines from the region.

I lived in the Eden Valley for 12 years and I miss it dearly. The last eight years were spent in a stone cottage, built in 1842 on the wonderful Hutton Vale farm on the slice of land between Henschke’s Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone vineyards.

The smell of the air and the difference in light when the seasons change, the shock of the fields of canola driving down Gomersal Road, smiling at the sight of the date palms on Seppeltsfield Road, watching sunset from the deck at the Steingarten vineyard and just getting lost on the dirt roads, it burns itself into your memory and in all honesty, no matter how far away from it I find myself, I never really leave it.

Tom WhiteTom White from Curator Wine Co.

What I love is that outside of the world-famous, established names of the region, there are constantly bright new labels and wines bubbling to the surface, with young winemakers innovating and experimenting, giving new life and fresh takes of one of the world’s great terroirs.

On the back of the region's stellar performance in the new Companion, I reached out to some locals to ask them what makes the Barossa tick. When quizzed as to what makes the Barossa so special and what making wine in the Barossa has taught him, Neldner Road winemaker Dave Powell replied, “Barossa wines have a richness and generosity of fruit that has always appealed to me and in many ways, I feel that making this style of wine suits my personality.”

Tom White from Curator Wine Co adds, “Firstly the place itself, the Barossa is amazingly beautiful and really harsh all at the same time. I really love the shiraz up here and the history associated with the area. The different soils in all the subregions are so interesting and create such vastly different and complex wines they are an absolute playground of opportunity.”

Up in the Eden Valley, Stephen Henschke says, “The Barossa is home to some of the oldest continuously producing vineyards in Australia and the world. It is unlike anywhere else – the rich history, tradition and strong connection to the early European settlers who planted the first vineyards.

Prue and Stephen HenschkePrue and Stephen Henschke.

“The Barossa’s Eden Valley has some of the oldest riesling and shiraz vineyards in Australia, with a winemaking history stretching back to the mid-1800s. This region is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the winemaking families who have cared for these vines for over 170 years. As a sixth-generation family-owned winery, tradition is very important to us. Just as earlier generations have done, Prue and I want to manage the Henschke vineyards and winery so they can be passed onto the next generation in a better condition than we inherited them.”

When asked about the future of the Barossa, Dave – never short of an opinion – quips, “After being in the Barossa for over 40 years and experiencing the ups and downs...I have faith that the Barossa still has a vibrant future. However, I am somewhat concerned about the ‘new’ style of wines coming out of the area that in my opinion do not offer that generosity of fruit that makes the Barossa unique. We will also face some challenges in the vineyard as the climate becomes warmer and drier and I believe that the Eden Valley wines of the Greater Barossa will become increasingly important.”

Tom from Curator adds, “A lot of people are doing great things with grenache but personally I’m in the shiraz camp and I’m liking the refinement a lot of people are making to their shiraz. I’m not convinced about the ‘earlier to drink wines’ as there’s an abundance of structure with grapes up here that needs a bit of time to develop in bottle and that shouldn’t be ignored in the quest to quickly release wine or wine styles. I do also like a bit of whole-bunch action in my shiraz, that is one other area of increased interest I look forward to exploring deeper in coming vintages.”

Dave BrookesDave Brookes.

And from Stephen, “The future is bright. Eden Valley riesling and shiraz are world-class and will continue to play a central role in the region for generations to come. There is no mistaking the signature Eden Valley elegance, extraordinary flavour, purity of fruit, acid balance and excellent ageing potential of these wines.”

When quizzed on influence, Dave was quick to reply, “The most influential winemakers in my career are no doubt Robert O’Callaghan and Chris Ringland. Also, most of the great producers out of the Rhône Valley and recently I’ve been impressed by the wines from Pete and Mel Raymond of Garden & Field.”

Tom, who moved to the Barossa from McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills, is influenced by Gemtree, S.C. Pannell Wines, Shaw + Smith and Penfolds. His favourite Barossa wines are Rolf Binder’s Bulls Blood Shiraz Mataro and Hanisch Shiraz, Sons of Eden shiraz and riesling, First Drop Mother’s Milk Barossa Shiraz and “Dan Standish’s gear, when he lets me buy it.”

Stephen is a big fan of the wines of Rieslingfreak, Eden Hall and Brockenchack, which are all very fine choices from the Eden Valley.

There is no doubt in my mind that the wines of the region have never been better, with a diverse range of wine styles from natty to blockbuster and fresh new faces joining the ones that we know and love. I look forward to sharing my findings with you all as I unearth new gems from my favourite place. Glory to the Barossa!