The Barossa Valley, South Australia

February 8, 2009 – The Barossa Valley

It’s Valentine’s Day as I write, and I’m reminded why I try to keep up to date with this travel journal. In just a week, details have faded. But here goes…

We left Port Elliot on the second-hottest day of the South Australian heat wave and were sorry to leave the cooling breezes of that beautiful spot. [Two days later the state of Victoria burst into flames. Google has set up a Web site to track the news from the worst bushfires in decades.]

On our last full day there Mandy and Brenton came for a visit. Mandy brought me a bag full of children’s books by Australian authors (Mem Fox, Margaret Wild, and Colin Thiele). I was captivated by every one of them.

That evening a couple David and Jeannette met on one of their many long caravan tours dropped by. Ivan and Jenny spend 8-9 months of the year traveling the Australian bush, away from what they call “Plastic Australia”. Their take on Australia’s environmental challenges is informed by firsthand knowledge of this vast land. (The same could be said of David and Jeannette, who have undoubtedly seen more of Australia than all but a tiny percentage of the country’s population.)

Back in Adelaide, heat had driven thousands of tiny ants to seek sustenance and water inside the house. I tried hard to feel empathy for them but was grateful to the deterrent David and Jeannette sprinkled on their trails.

We spent the next two days glued to the computer, trying frantically to catch up with e-mails and all the financial and tax miscellany that had come in while we were offline. Then, on our last day in Adelaide, David and Jeannette took the day off to drive us out into the famed Barossa Valley. They invited long-time friends, Jill and Don Cant, to join us so we all car-switched through the day in order to visit with everyone.

The day was a sentimental journey for Robin, who spent part of his childhood in the area.

Robin standing by Gumeracha school, where he went to first grade and later taught on a teacher exchange
Robin standing by Gumeracha school, where he went to first grade and later taught on a teacher exchange

One of the first stops was Robin’s favourite. In this photo he is standing by the window of a classroom in the school where he spent a year on a teacher exchange. But his connection with the village of Gumeracha is much older since this is the same school where he and David went to first grade. Every corner and hill of the town holds memories.

David and Jeannette sharing a Kitchener bun
David and Jeannette sharing a Kitchener bun
David and Robin on the Whispering Wall
David and Robin on the Whispering Wall

The next stop was in Williamstown for morning coffee so the first photo is of David and Jeannette sharing a Kitchener bun, a deep-fried, sweet confection filled with jam and whipped cream.

From there we went on to the Barossa Reservoir. It wasn’t built to be a whispering wall, but when it was completed that characteristic became quickly evident. A person standing at one end and having a normal conversation with a mate could be heard clearly by someone standing at the other end. Robin brought tears to my eyes when he walked to the far end and pledged his lifelong commitment to me, standing at the other.

Sign by the creek that gives this winery its name
Sign by the creek that gives this winery its name

Those of you who enjoy Australian wine will recognize the name of one of the best sellers in Canada, Jacobs Creek. [Curious note: you have to enter your birth date before going onto the site, where, in theory, only those of legal drinking age are allowed.] David stopped at the actual creek so I could take a photograph of the sign that appears on the company’s advertising. The winery has been designed as a tourist destination, with wine tastings, a fine restaurant, and expansive views out over the vineyards.

Jacobs Creek vineyards
Jacobs Creek vineyards

We made other stops along the way – at the Yaldarra Winery, the Peter Lehmann Winery, at Collingrove Homestead, and at the Barossa Sculpture Park on a hill that overlooks the Barossa Valley. All were wonderful, but as Jeannette rightly anticipated, my favourite stop was at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.

Maggie Beer's Farm Shop
Maggie Beer's Farm Shop

The place is a foodie’s heaven. Much of the food prepared in the kitchen is grown organically on Beer’s own farm. We ordered the ingredients for a feast and ate it in a room adjoining the kitchen where her cooking show is filmed. We were there in time for a demonstration session, sliced mushrooms sautéed in butter and verjuice, the unfermented grape juice Maggie splashes into many of her signature dishes. We even got to don aprons and have ourselves photographed in the demonstration kitchen.

David, Cathryn and Robin in Maggie Beer's demonstration kitchen
David, Cathryn and Robin in Maggie Beer's demonstration kitchen

And the food…ah, bliss. We nibbled her rosemary and olive oil crackers and crusty French bread, topped with vegetable and meat patés and terrines, duqqah and olive oil, pickled figs, grapes, and salad and all washed down with some of her own wines.

Picnic feast at Maggie Beer's
Picnic feast at Maggie Beer's

There was so much more to the day that I hate to stop here, but this entry has gone on too long already. Just remember that name when you come to Australia: the Barossa Valley. Plan to stay a while and eat and drink your way through some of the best South Australia has to offer.

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