Six Fascinating Facts About Barossa Valley & Wine

Six Fascinating Facts About Barossa Valley & Wine

Tom Lloyd

What do you know about the area that has become synonymous with Australian wine, and how it came to be so well-known?

As it turns out, the heritage of the Barossa Valley is as rich as its Shiraz. Continue reading to learn more about the Barossa Valley and its world-class wines.


Fact #1: Its name is misleading. 

British Colonel William Light led an expedition to the area in 1837 and named it Barrosa in honor of the British victory over the French in the 1811 Battle of Barrosa, in which Light participated. When the area was surveyed in 1839, the spelling "Barossa" was mistakenly reported. 


Fact #2: It has a long tradition (and Germanic influence) 

The British inspired the most of Australia's wine industry. According to the Barossa Valley website, the town of Barossa was established by a rich, philanthropic English shipping merchant named George Fife Angas, who arrived in South Australia around 1836. However, the wine industry in the Barossa Valley was heavily influenced by German refugees fleeing persecution in the Prussian province of Silesia (modern-day Poland).

The Germanic presence is still felt today: the Graetz family planted a Grenache vineyard in 1848, which is regarded as the world's oldest continuously growing Grenache vineyard. Cirillo Estate Wines currently owns and operates the vines, which winemaker Marco Cirillo describes as "not good because they are ancient, but old because they are good." Whereas "young vines make great wines... they are more influenced by the climate." Our old vines have become a part of the environment.” 

Fact #3: It used to be popular for its fortified wines. 

Prior to being known for its rich Shiraz, Australia's wine industry was largely comprised of fortified wines: the Barossa region's scorching summer temperatures resulted in ripe grapes with high levels of sugar, which are suitable for this type.

The Australian wine industry transitioned from fortified wines to red table wines in the mid-1900s (specifically Cabernet Sauvignon).
During this time, the Barossa Valley (and its Shiraz) fell out of favor, and its wines were either used in port-style wines or refined into brandy. 

Fact #4: It now controls the Australian Shiraz market. 

The Barossa Valley's success as a producer of fortified wines did not last long.
The wine world was drawn to a handful of family-owned wineries cultivating high-quality old vine Shiraz in the 1980s. These wines possessed the now-familiar characteristics of Barossa Valley Shiraz: a smooth, full-bodied red wine with chocolate and spice notes.

After two decades, the area has become synonymous with Australian red wine, so much so that Master of Wine Jancis Robinson referred to it as “Australia's quintessential wine region.”

Fact #5: It is very humid (and dry) 

Temperatures in the Barossa Valley skyrocket in the summer.
Rainfall is small during the year. This condition, known as "water stress," is also ideal for winemakers because too much rainfall will result in oversaturated grapes and thin wine.
Dryness results in highly concentrated grapes (especially in older vines), which produce the valley's most acclaimed wines.

The hot summer temperatures in the Barossa Valley cause grapes to ripen quickly, resulting in grapes with high levels of sugar and low levels of acidity.
Since a combination of sugars and acidity is desired in nuanced, well-rounded wines, winemakers face difficulties.


Fact #6: It is home to a one-of-a-kind varietal. 

The Semillion of the Barossa Valley is a descendant of the Semillion of Bordeaux, France. However, it should not be confused with this grape these days because it has cloned itself and grown a pink skin that is exclusive to this area.
Though the wine has historically been fermented in oak barrels, winemakers have recently started to use stainless steel fermentation to achieve a more crisp look.