ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - With my love for musical theatre, you shouldn't be surprised that I booked a tour of the Barossa Valley wineries with a company called Life Is a Cabernet.
Luckily, the organization lived up to its jaunty nickname and gave me and my wife an entertaining, as well as an informative day.
Ralf Hadzic is the guy in charge and it's worth the price of admission to spend a day with him. Raised half in Texas, half in Adelaide, he spends most of his time taking out personalized tours of the Barossa (see photo, courtesy Wine Australia). That's when he's not living his other life, as the head videographer for Jimmy Buffett, when the Margaritaville Man is on the road.
While carefully gliding his black Mercedes out of Adelaide, heading northeast towards the Barossa, he entertains with stories of working for Buffett, "who makes a million dollars a day, whether he gets out of bed or not."
He also is a strong advocate for the unappreciated treasures of Southern Australia, sadly pointing out the statistic that only 9% of all visitors to Australia get to that region. And having spent a charming three days in and around Adelaide, I'd like to see that number wildly increased. (More about Adelaide in Star Travel in the future.)
Hadzic doesn't have a formualic drill. He gets to know each guest and finds out what they are hoping to achieve on their day in the Barossa and takes it from there. We told him we were looking for a handful of unique wineries, some great scenery, interesting food and a sense of the place's history. He gave us all that and more.
The full depth of the Australian wine industry is unknown to many of us in Canada, some of whom probably think it consists of Yellow Tail and little more. But there are literally thousands of wineries across the country and the majority of them are in the southern region. The Barossa Valley, with its undulating hills, contributes most heavily to the Shiraz family of wines, with 755 grape growers and over 155 wineries.
The advantage of going to a smaller venue with someone like Hadzic is that you meet the owners themselves and get an up-close and personal understanding of what they have to offer. After sampling, at Rockford, my wife went crazy for a sparkling Black Shiraz and at Elderton, she insisted we bring back their single vintage Command Shiraz, both of which will make worthy additions to our wine cellar.
There was a great lunch as well as some fine food shopping at Maggie Beer, the woman who singlehandedly is bringing back the ancient young-grape-vinegar called verjuice as a cooking tool. We also toured the enormous Seppeltsfield Wineries (see photo), with vineyards that date back to 1851 and heritage buildings almost as old.
All in all, a memorable day, brought to an exciting end when Ralk suddenly stopped the car.
"We just ran over a brown snake," he said calmly, despite the fact that it's one of Australia's most poisonous. "I just want to make sure he didn't wrap himself around the undercarriage of the car."
We held our breath while he bent, looked and poked.
"All good," he announced smiling. "No worries."