Barossa Valley, Adelaide, South Australia

The Barossa Valley & A $975 Bottle Of Wine

Derek Australia 37 Comments

Barossa Valley, Adelaide, South AustraliaThis post is a rare one for me, as it discusses something that I seldom do – take a tour. Yes, a tour, as in an organized excursion complete with vehicle, tour guide and a scheduled pick-up time.

Ever since I began traveling, as far as I can remember, I’ve only participated in two fully-organized tours. And oddly enough, it wasn’t even two different tours, but actually the exact same tour that I happened to go on twice, with some 13 years elapsing in between the two experiences. Even odder is that this tour is not exactly one that anyone would ever guess, as it has nothing to do with any world-famous sight and it surely doesn’t take place in a region that most people tend to visit during their lifetime.

WAY BACK IN 1998

I hopped off the bus in the center of Adelaide, Australia, as inexperienced a traveler as the world has ever seen, ready to start a 6-week celebratory adventure now that my semester abroad studies had ended in Melbourne.

With no guidebook and no clue where to go, I began trekking across the central business district until I finally came upon a hostel. It was quite a shabby place, but one with a friendly Swedish girl working behind the reception desk, and not wanting to roam the streets any longer, I decided to throw down my backpack for a few nights. After checking into a dorm room, the girl at the desk started asking me what my plans were for my stay in Adelaide. I had none and so she quickly recommended I join a tour to the Barossa Valley wine region the following day. Even without any independent travel experience, I was still somewhat weary about organized tours in those early days, but the truth is, when an attractive Swedish hostel worker is trying to convince you to do something, you’re going to end up doing it, no matter what the price or itinerary.

So just like that, five minutes after arriving at the hostel, I was signed up for the Groovy Grape Wine Tour. It was probably the easiest commission that girl had ever pocketed.

Interestingly, I loved every minute of that tour and even to this day can remember the exact details of almost everything that took place. The guide’s name was Dallas, the other participants included two Dutch girls, three Brits, an Indian couple and a Canadian guy, one of the family-owned wineries we visited was located inside of a barn, we ate a BBQ lunch at a location overlooking the valley and we were over an hour late returning to Adelaide because we were all having too much of a good time tasting port wines at the final winery we visited.

When I returned to the hostel that evening, slurring my speech and probably smiling a little too widely at the Swedish girl, I thanked her for the recommendation, blabbered something about the $50 tour price being money well spent and then proceeded to pass out in my bed until the next morning.

Groovy Grape Tour, Adelaide, South Australia

Jacobs Creek Winery, Barossa Valley

ADELAIDE 2011

Fast forward to two days ago. I arrived back in Adelaide, this time via a flight, and chose to stay at the (slightly) more upscale Wright Lodge, a most pleasant budget establishment where I was greeted by Simon, the very polite receptionist. (I’ll admit that I had hoped the Swedish girl from 1998 was now not only employed at the Wright Lodge but that she hadn’t aged at all either.)

Simon didn’t even attempt to pressure me into booking any tours, and even if he had, I’m not so sure I would have agreed to anything so easily. Also, there really was nothing to pressure me into as I had already booked my Groovy Grape Wine Tour before arriving.

That’s right, on my first full day back in Adelaide, you can imagine my excitement as the Groovy Grape mini-bus pulled up in front of the Wright Lodge at 7:45am, just as scheduled.

I stepped on board, greeted the guide and the two other passengers that had already been picked up, took my seat and prepared to relive “wine tasting 1998”.

GROOVY GRAPE TAKE 2

Well, this time around, the day was nice.

The guide, whose name I’ve already forgotten, barely even spoke to us passengers, the wineries were completely different and clearly used to endless tour groups stampeding through their halls, many of the wines we tasted ended up being dumped in the spittoons instead of being finished and the BBQ lunch took place in a car park.

However, the other participants were friendly, the guides in each winery did provide some interesting information, some of the wines were enjoyable and despite taking place in a car park, the BBQ involved quite an impressive feast.

And, just as it did back in 1998, the tour ended with a visit to a winery that specializes in port wines (or ‘tawny port’ wines as they’re now known), which happen to be my personal favorite variety of wine.

So luckily, the enjoyment factor of this tour increased a great deal during our lengthy stay at Seppeltsfield Winery, allowing me to achieve a level of happiness that was admittedly quite close to that experienced back in 1998.

THE TAWNY PORT WINES OF SEPPELTSFIELD

While standing around the tasting bar, we began by first sampling a fruity Rosé and a most interesting sparkling Shiraz before we moved on to the good stuff – a 3-year old, 5-year old, 10-year old and 15-year old tawny. The combination of wine and brandy, stored in oak barrels, produces such a delightfully warm flavor as it ages, and given that I rarely find myself in a part of the world where tawny port is readily available, I soon found myself finishing the glasses of those around me who surprisingly did not enjoy the taste.

Seppeltsfield Tawny, Barossa ValleyAnd then, only seconds after taking my final sip of that 15-year old perfection, the kind woman behind the tasting bar unlocked a special drawer and suddenly pulled out the mother of all tawny port wines. Right there before me, bottled with such exquisite style and practically pulsating with sweetness (I have no idea what that means), sat the famous Seppeltsfield 100-year old tawny. Since 1878, Seppeltsfield Winery has stored away one barrel of every year’s vintage, which is only to be opened 100 years later. As a result, since 1978, this winery has had a 100-year old tawny to sell every single year, making it the only winery in the world to achieve this feat.

Sure enough, and thanks in part to the seventh tasting of tawny that I convinced the woman behind the counter to pour into my glass, I soon found myself seriously contemplating purchasing that bottle of 1910 Tawny. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and even went so far as to lightly trace the number ‘100’ embedded into the label with the tip of my finger.

The fact that the bottle was only 375 ml (the size of a soda can) and that it cost a cool $975, actually seemed appealing at the time. And when I compared this bottle to the 131-year old tawny that was on sale for $1500, the 100-year old version seemed like quite a bargain.

However, as I sit here writing this post today, that $975 is still safely stored in my bank account as I decided not to make the purchase after all. And who do I have to thank for convincing me not to purchase that bottle?

A big thank you to budget airline Tiger Airways and more specifically, their strict baggage restrictions! Considering that I am flying back to Melbourne today, that bottle of tawny would not be allowed on board my flight and surprisingly, despite all of the wine I drank during the tour, I was able to remember that before pulling out my credit card.

So, back to Melbourne I go, without that bottle of prized tawny, but quite possibly as the only person on the planet who has taken a Groovy Grape day tour to the Barossa Valley twice.


Has anyone else been to the Barossa? Or to Adelaide? Any other tawny lovers out there?

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Comments 37

  1. Erin

    Living in Adelaide currently, I can say its not the most exciting city, but with the March festivals, the art events and the relaxed feel, I enjoy it 🙂
    If you come back to SA, some places you might consider are on the Yorke Peninsula – tiny towns with friendly people and beautiful, clear beaches. Wallaroo, Kadina and Moonta (the Copper Coast) have fantastic history, and Innes National Park is always great to stay at.

  2. Globetrottergirls

    Great story! We love wine tasting tours – but they are pretty dangerous, I have to say… you always end up buying some wine because you are so tipsy 😉 We did one in California last year, luckily they didn’t have a $975.00 that we ended up buying…

    1. Earl

      @Globetrottergirls: They can be very dangerous. I have two friends who went on a wine tour recently and in their tipsy-ness ended up signing up for a non-refundable 2-year contract where they pay for two cases of wine to be delivered to their house every month!

  3. Adam

    This post totally cracked me up. I love how detailed you are in all your descriptions. I imagine you walking around, notebook in hand, noting down everything in order to construct a compelling narrative in vivid detail when you sit down to write a blog post.

    Keep rockin’, Earl.

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  6. Lauren Fritsky

    Did you see the largest rocking horse in the world on either of your visits?

    Went to Barossa last year after our ferry to Kangaroo Island got canceled and we needed something else to do. Didn’t go to your last spot, but saw some other nice wineries and enjoyed the scenery.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lauren – I did in fact see the largest rocking horse in the world, on both visits! What a bizarre ‘sight’, if you can even call it that. It looked a bit neglected this time around though, so I’m not sure if it has been attracting the number of visitors they had hoped for 🙂

  7. Darrin

    Earl, I don’t know what I would do with a $975 bottle of port. Would I even drink it? If you had opted to purchase it, what occasion would you open it? Would you share it?

    1. Earl

      Hey Darrin – I have no idea when I would open such a bottle either, although I would most definitely share it. I did some research and one of these bottles (a 100 year old tawny from about 10 years ago) sold for $15,000 at an auction in Japan, so that’s always an option 🙂 But my guess is that I would just pull it out one random night, share it with whoever is around and that would be it…

  8. Maria Staal

    Great story, Earl! I never went to the Barossa, but did visit the Clare Vallley (north of Adelaide) a few times.
    I can understand your love for port wine. I don’t drink much alcohol, but if I do, it’s often port. Might have been tempted by the 100-year old bottle myself. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thanks Maria! I’ve never made it to the Clare Valley but would imagine it would be quite a nice place to visit, even if one doesn’t drink too much wine. And at least now I know what we’ll be drinking if we ever meet out there on the road one day…two glasses of port!

  9. Theodora

    Aw, jesus god, Earl, there’s a London merchant banker hiding somewhere inside you…

    So glad you didn’t do it. So, so glad. The markup and marketing percentage gets higher and higher the more expensive a bottle goes.

    1. Earl

      Haha Theodora…yeah, it was quite a good idea in the end not to purchase that bottle. It was funny actually because another guy on the tour almost bought a bottle of 99 year old wine, which was $250 less just because of that one year difference!

  10. Dina

    The Swedish girl part is funny 🙂
    I’m not a wine drinker, but even if I were, and rich, I probably won’t buy it either. I can’t even tell the difference between regular coca cola and the vanille coca cola, I don’t think I can tell difference between wines!

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – I normally can’t tell too much of a difference between varying qualities of wine, but when it comes to tawny port, I really enjoy a swig of the good stuff. If you can’t differentiate between coke and vanilla coke though, you might want to stick with the cheap stuff 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Brooke – That is very true…I’ll certainly find much better ways to spend that money during my travels. That’s almost two months of good living in Asia!

      And I’ll be heading up to Sydney soon so it looks like I’ll make it to the next tribe meetup 🙂

    1. Earl

      That’s a disturbing thought Phil. However, it still might be a good enough reason for me to go back and double check that it wasn’t her!

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Yeah, I’m quite happy that I kept my credit card in my pocket as well. And as for the Swedish girl, sadly, my smile didn’t get me anywhere with her 🙂

  11. Gillian @OneGiantStep

    I quite enjoy tours such as these. A chance to see the country side, sample some wines (and food, hopefully) and chat with others is a pleasant way to spend the day. Not sure I would have resisted the port though!! Cheers!

    1. Earl

      Hey Gillian – If you don’t think you could resist the port, then I strongly recommend avoiding Seppeltsfield Winery. That was the most tempting bottle I’ve ever come across!

  12. Karol Gajda

    Haha! Fantastic story Earl. I didn’t do any tours in Adelaide, but I did have a good time in the city the few days I was there. The free city bike rental was used extensively. It’s a city that doesn’t seem to get much attention (and people actually told me not to go there), but I like it. Next time I’ll be sure to do the Groovy Grape tour. 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Karol – You’re right about Adelaide not getting much attention and several of my friends also told me it was a waste of time to spend more than a day in that city. But I’m a fan as well, especially of all the parks that surround the central business district on all sides. I didn’t make use of those free bike rentals but along with the free buses and trams in the city center, its quite impressive what this city offers.

      Throw in all of that good wine and it’s not a bad place to spend some time at all!

  13. ExplorerDad

    Yes grew up in Adelaide and on visits back usually a trip to the barossa, mclaren vale or other nearby wine region is mandatory. For any visitor it should be a highlight of visiting Adelaide. There is also some great B&Bs in the wine regions now…. Cheers Andrew

    1. Earl

      @ExplorerDad: Thanks for the comment! Some friends of mine did stay in a B&B in the Barossa and I would have loved to do the same, but with my last minute planning, it was a bit difficult to organize. And I do agree that a trip to any of the wine regions is mandatory when visiting Adelaide.

  14. Andrea

    Oh how we know the lure of those exxy bottles…especially in Barossa Valley. Those are more John’s style of wine than mine but we loved our time there. Sounds like you had a great tour…very cool that you checked it out.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andrea – Those bottles are quite powerful, almost too powerful. Thankfully I don’t live over here so I’m not tempted too often!

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