The Barossa Valley is beautiful and full of contradictions

If I reach back through the decades I can find myself in the Barossa in Penfold's Kalimna Vineyard with John Duval, then the company's chief winemaker and in charge of producing its most fabled wine - a red known as Grange.

The Barossa Valley - one of my favourite places.

The Barossa Valley - one of my favourite places.

He aims his boot at a gnarled old shiraz vine, which gives way at ground level and is left hanging from the supporting trellis.

"Who'd plant vines out here?" he asks, before answering the question himself: "We would, because the vine I've just kicked over represents the heart of Grange, the very essence of a great Australian red."

The answer to why the vines are so good lies partly in the scrubbiness of the adjoining golf course, which incidentally has been developed by members into one of the state's finest. The rough is scrubby, because we're at the very northern edge of the Barossa, where the valley gives way to scrub - to almost desert. I seem to remember the greens being sand, but that could just be my mind playing games.

A few hours later, we're in the town of Nuriootpa, known to the locals simply as 'Noori', at the enormous Penfolds winery. I say "enormous" because that's exactly what it is. This, and the Jacob's Creek winery in neary Rowland Flat, represent industrial-scale winemaking.

That's the Barossa's conundrum - it's both industrial and boutique, capable of being home to some of my favourite wines and wineries, yet home also to monolithic giants that represent the opposite end of the winemaking spectrum.

And I must confess to being a devout lover of its boutique end, even if some of that end - represented by the likes of Seppeltsfield and Yalumba - isn't all that 'boutique' after all.

Yalumba - a piece of Australian history.

Yalumba - a piece of Australian history.

I love the valley's style - most of the time. I love its wines, its characters, its history. its produce, its villages, and its village-like atmosphere. I keep being drawn back to it, and thoroughly enjoy being drawn back to it, and to constantly discovering new aspects of it.

I love being surrounded by casks of port from every vintage since 1878, when Benno Seppelt, eldest son of Silesian-born Seppeltsfield founder Joseph, laid down a barrel of his best to commemorate the opening of the family's new cellar. There are European wineries with older wines than this, but nowhere is there a collection that can match the Seppeltsfield continuum.

I find the cask of 1949, my birth year, and am rewarded with a taste. The wine is a deep golden tawny colour and sticks to the side of the glass. Attempting to describe such an elixir in terms of other flavours is simply doing it an injustice. Let's just say that it's complex, multi-layered and absolutely delicious.

Probably the best place to appreciate the strength of the valley's food culture is the Barossa Farmers Market, held each Saturday morning in Vintners Sheds on the outskirts of Angaston. It's a lively, friendly place where bakers, cheesemongers, smallgoods manufacturers, butchers, olive growers, breeders of game birds, orchardists, gardeners and purveyors of various condiments trade cheek by jowl and compete with each other in spruiking the invaluable role of the Barossa as one of Australia's great premium food bowls.

But to fully appreciate the Barossa's history - at to realise why cricket will never be the same since the elimination of the Sunday rest day - take a stroll through the Yalumba cellars.

And do have lunch at Maggie Beer's Farm Eatery. Australia's favourite foodie and cook has certainly maximised leverage of her substantial talents and knowledge. Everything seems to be gorgeously packaged and branded with her name. Visitors could easily spend a couple of hours browsing the shop and spending a small fortune. The food is everything you would expect - rustic, full-flavoured and hearty. And there are also regular cooking classes.

You'll soon see why I love the valley so passionately - and why I keep being drawn back to it.

  • For information about travelling to the Barossa Vallery, visit www.barossa.com.
This story The lovely and perplexing Barossa first appeared on The Canberra Times.