Where it all began.
First time I visited Barossa Valley was probably 10 years ago. I wasn't much of a wine drinker back then, even now I still consider myself a moderate alchohol drinker, I am a quality over quantity sort of guy. So my knowledge about wine is still not as in depth comparing to food. I knew a few wine labels from this region here and there, I can appreciate a fine drop according to my palate, but I would never know why, how or what is growing in the region. And I am sure many of you would agree that most often we choose wine by its label design instead of colour, smell and taste of the wine.
After touring Jacob's Creek wineries in Adelaide Hills and Coonwarra regions, my wine journey continues to north east of South Australia, to the valley which not only one of the best wine region in Australia, but one of the best in the world. This is where Jacob's Creek wine it all began, I am heading to the Barossa Valley.
Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre
It took 4.5 hours drive from Coonawarra to Barossa Valley and I finally arrived at Jacob's Creek Visitor Center. This modern contemporary building was built in 2002. With its environmental design that attracts over 150,000 visitors through the door each year, at the 2010 awards, the center was voted the Best Major Tourism Attraction for the third year in a row. The center has a small interpretive gallery with a few artifacts on display where you can learn about the history of Jacob's Creek wine. But more importantly, you can enjoy wine tasting or have a scrumptious lunch at their award-winning Jacob's restaurant.
I am meeting the Jacob's Creek team from the Barossa Valley office for lunch and they promise I will get to try some of their best wines from their 'Super Supreme' range.
We start off with a massive grazing plate enough to fit an army. The sharing platter is piled with local charcuterie and house made produce served with pita bread. The beetroot and shiraz dip is a delightful surprise, the earthy spiced sweetness work really well with the ham and salami. We graze and we toast with the most highly acclaimed Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling, named after the iconic vineyard sits on the highest part of the Barossa ranges. I am very much looking forward to the private tour of the Steingarten vineyard tomorrow.
We all feel that it is wise for us to skip the entree after the massive starter and straight into mains. The food here are presented elegantly with the flavour to match. The Orroroo kangaroo, native pepper leaf and yam bean pie intrigues me, it looks beautiful on the plate with tomato relish and roast baby vegetables, but my mind is set on the tomato braised Fleurieu Peninsula lamb shank. Slow braising guarantees falls-off-the-bone tenderness on the lamb shank, in rich Moroccan tomato sauce and a smooth pumpkin mash, tendrils of parsnip crisps on top add the crunch.
After a long drive and a late lunch, all I can think of is a nanna nap. We cancel the native walk for tomorrow and decide is best for me to check into the Jacob's Estate cottages and have some rest.
Jacob's Estate Cottage
The cottage is literally a stone throw away from the Jacob's Creek visitor center. William Jacob, Colonel Light's assistant surveyor, who surveyed this area along with other areas around Adelaide back in 1837. He fell in love with Barossa and built the colonial cottage right next to the creek, which of course named after him - the Jacob's Creek.
The colonial stone house has been renovated into a comfortable accommodation. Unfortunately the cottage is not really open for public, but mainly used by Jacob's Creek Wines to entertain visiting wine writers and very important guests.
I feel privilege to stay in Jacob's cottage that is full of history, but I would be lying if I am not at all nervous and a little bit scared to stay there alone. I joked about Jacob may come back and pay me a visit at night, but Renee, the assistant manager reassures me that it will be a comfortable stay. Then she adds, "But if you see a white figure at the bridge near the creek tonight, just don't go there." Hmm... thanks?
Before I know it, it's time for me to get changed and ready for dinner in a nearby town called Tanunda.
Ferment Asian Restaurant
Despite Barossa Valley is one of the world' best wine regions, it is rather limited when comes to food with most restaurants close at 9pm. Tonight we are having dinner at Ferment Asian, the most raved about restaurant in Barossa Valley this year. Opened only over a year ago, Ferment Asian has created quite a buzz in this small little town.
Chef owner Tuoi Do and husband, Grant Dickson who works for Rockford Wines, have created a dining experience of modern Vietnamese cuisines that matches with the great wines from this region. Most of the dishes highlights the fresh produce sourced from South Australia and some of the fresh herbs are actually picked from Tuoi Do's parents herbs garden.
We order two entrees to share, the Hanoi spring rolls are deep fried to a golden crunch with pork mince filling, served with classic Vietnamese nuoc cham dipping sauce. The Saigon sugar cane prawn skewers are a favourite of mine, firm prawn mince packed with fresh herbs are grilled on sugar cane sticks that lend sweetness to the meat.
For mains, two items on the menu catches my attention - beef cheeks, and pork belly. The tender braised organic beef cheeks soaked up the hot and sour herbs dressing has transported me back to Vietnam instantly. This dish marries so well with the intense fruity flavour of the Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling. The second dish of Hanoi style caramelised Barossa Berkshire pork belly is irresistibly addictive, each mouthful is a naughty sensation of fatty pork belly that lubricates my throat all the way down to my belly effortlessly.
The desserts here are simple with an Asian twist. The chocolate and lemongrass mousse is not as rich as I'd have hoped for with a very subtle hint of lemongrass. We also find the texture of the mousse reminded us of YOGO tub yoghurt. The spiced caramel pear is poached perfectly, soft enough but still holding its shape, served with a scoop of chilli chocolate ice cream that has just enough chilli to leave a tingling sensation on the back of the throat. The lime brulee is delightful sweet and sour from the lime, but I do find the two slices of dried pineapple a little kitsch and really don't add much to the dessert.
Two meals within few hours, it is time for me to head back to Jacob's cottage and the slumber awaits.
Jacob's Creek Steingarten Vineyard
The night spent at Jacob's cottage was surprisingly comfortable and I slept like a log (Thank god no visitor during the night). I am refreshed and recharged, looking forward to another eventful day ahead. James Keane, Orlando Wines PR and Promotions Manager will be my tour guide for the day. First stop, we head up the hill to visit the iconic Jacob's Creek Steingarten Vineyard.
Again, no access to the public, the Steingarten vineyard is established high up on the Western edge of the Barossa Ranges. Its name means 'Stone Garden', as this hill is literally covered in rocks and pebbles, makes it a challenging growing condition. Not to mention the strong wind swept up from the bottom of the valley up to the hill sends shivers down my spine. I can barely stand on the viewing platform to admire the vineyard before I have to jump back into the car to take a shelter.
We have a toast of the Steingarten Riesling right in front of the vineyard. James takes a few sip then waves his wineglass and showers the vineyard with the wine. "It is a ritual we often do by giving some of the wine back to the soil and hope for a better harvest next year."
Orlando Wines Sensory facility
I've tasted the wines, learned about the vineyards how the grapes were grown, now is time for me to check out what's going on behind the scene and put my senses to the test at the Orlando Wines Sensory facility. It is an industrial site, with over 300 employees, this place is the heartbeat of all Orlando wines, including Jacob's Creek. Everything takes place in this HQ, most of the grapes are delivered from different regions to be processed here at the factory. And inside the sensory lab is where the wine will be tasted, designed and created by a team of sensory analysts. They give me a quick tour of the sensory facility and coincidentally a senior winemaker is conducting a workshop with a group of sales managers from different offices to learn more about their own wines.
James hands me over to sensory analyst, Shane Hanna, and he will be talking me through how a wine is made by giving me a few sensory tests.
At the sensory facility, they will usually conduct these tests with the employees and also volunteers, then they will use the results and feedback they received to produce a better wine that suits the market and the target audience. Shane tells me that to understand the flavour of a wine does involved a combination of experiences from the senses of smell, taste, touch and sight. Most wine drinkers will definitely start by looking at the colour of the wine, whether is clear or cloudy, each shade tells a different story. Taste and smell obviously are the most acute to study a wine. Then touch, but in this context, will be about the texture, body, tannin, alcohol and temperature of the wine. We can tell whether the wine is light or heavy, full body or thin, crisp or rich.
There are two jellies for me to taste on the first test, I knew it is a trick but my mind still convinced that the red jelly tasted like raspberry and the green one is lime. Shane can assure me that both jellies is lime flavour, and one is dyed with red food colouring. Next test is sniffing jars with cotton wools with different scents. There are some lot easier to identify than the other, including freshly cut grass lawn.
Shane takes me to the sensory lab for the last test. It's the real deal, it reminds of knowledge test at RTA to get a driver's license. One row of the booths are fitted with normal lights whilst the other row is fitted with red lights, so you can't tell the colour difference in red wines under those lights. To make it even harder, the wine will also be tested in clear and black glasses, so you really can't see what you are tasting and purely rely on smell and taste.
Shane has set a simple test for me, I have to pick the odd one out of three wines in both clear and black glasses. It is difficult to tell the colour difference under the red lights, but by swirling the wine around the clear glasses and looking at the patterns does give me a better idea which is which. Obviously that's not going to work on the black glasses but I'm amazed how suddenly my smell and taste senses perk up and become more sensitive.
Shane then reveals the two wines that I've been tasting. Both the wines are pretty close taste wise, but I'm glad I got both answers correct. I can definitely taste the difference in the Jacob's Creek reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that is lot richer with a smooth finish comparing to the Classic which has more tannins, leans towards fruitier and spicy notes.
It was a good exercise, very informative and educational. I definitely have learned a thing or two about wine. Perhaps you might like to give the sensory experience a try next time when you are here at Jacob's Creek in Barossa.
1847 Heritage Vineyard
My Jacob's Creek wine trail is sadly almost over but before I leave the valley, I have one last place to visit and the trail leads me back to where it all started - the very first vineyard planted by Johann Gramp, the founder of Orlando wines back in 1847. Johann Gramp was only 28 year old when he arrived here all the way from Bavaria. He was the one who planted the very first commercial vineyard in the Barossa Valley. From Johann Gramp's first vineyard to a world class wine region - it's a remarkable story.
I feel privileged to have visited this vineyard and to have a special lunch with the Jacob's Creek team inside the heritage building which used to be Johann's home.
This heritage building had been renovated and refurbished many times since Johann lived in. James told me during the renovation to extend the front part of the house, they discovered the old window framing structures of the original house were still visible after chipping away the cement wall. Hence they decided to keep the wall as it is. Under the building is a wine cellar which is accessible from the side of the house. Some fine china and a cedar cupboard belonged to Johann Gramp has been repossessed and now remains in the house.
Today's lunch we are joined by Senior Winemaker, Nick Bruer, and he will be talking about food and wine matching. He has also personally hand picked a few wines to match with the courses.
Veronica Zahra, the executive chef of Jacob's Creek, who has specially designed the lunch menu for this special occasion. Everyone's been telling me about Veronica and what an amazing cook she is. Veronica is self-taught and used to run a catering business before joining Jacob's Creek Wines. She still thinks herself as a cook and not a chef. She couldn't believe when she received the phone call almost 10 years ago telling her that she got the job as the executive chef at Jacob's Creek Wines without any qualifications.
Veronica likes to cook Nouvelle cuisines and she loves food history. Every time when there are special guests visiting at the vineyard, she will do the research to find out about their background, the food they eat and then design a menu for them. She tells me that she had to cater the Jacob's Creek sales team from China who visited recently, she went to extreme lengths to design and cook them a Chinese banquet. No doubt it was well received and applauded. So I am not surprised that she had already checked up on me and designed a menu playing to my weaknesses.
Before sitting down for lunch, we are offered pre-lunch canapes of snowpeas stuffed with chevre from Adelaide Hills Udder Delights, topped with roast green capsicum and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The tangy goat cheese matches really well with the Jacob's Creek reserve sauvignon blanc from Adelaide Hills which is fresh and crisp with lovely citrus and tropical fruit characters.
Then we move on to entree, Veronica has definitely googled about me and knows I have a soft spot for pork belly. A thick slice of glorious slow roasted tender pork belly is capped with a crunchy tile of crackling, served with caramelised pear, bacon, rocket salad, and a light verjuice sauce is poured at the table.
Nick has picked two wines to match with the entree and encouraged us to discuss the pairing. He has chosen 2010 Barossa Reserve Riesling and 2008 Adelaide Hills Reserve Chardonnay. Our table is leaning towards the creamy Chardonnay with nutty flavour to match with the pork belly, but my palate prefers the crisp, citrusy Riesling that easily cut through the rich pork fat. Personal preference I guess.
For main, Venorica showcases her Nouvelle cuisine cooking skills and served us a big hunk of Coonawarra Angus beef eye fillet with mushroom farce and Albufera sauce. "I made my own Albufera sauce from a very old recipe which uses chicken liver pate to thicken the sauce," Venorica added. The beef is cooked to medium-rare perfection, the juicy meat soaked up the rich sauce like a sponge, every mouthful my heart skips a beat. It is seriously a heart stopper.
Another two wines to debate, 2009 Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Reserve Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir. To be honest, I'll be happy with either of them to go with the beef. But I am a Pinot kinda guy, so I can be biased.
Then dessert, Venorica hits my C-spot this time, the chocolate! She went all out and created a decadent chocolate trio tasting plate! From lightest to the richest, a profiterole filled with jaffa mousse with an orange and vanilla anglaise, chocolate ganache with caramel sauce, and finally siponata cake with chocolate sauce. They are pretty sweet to eat them all, that's why Nick has chosen the 2008 Reserve Barossa Shiraz rather than a dessert wine to match with the dessert. I personally love Shiraz and I think the rich dark fruit and spice peppery flavours work extremely well with dark chocolate.
The whole experience with Jacob's Creek Wines has been incredible and rewarding. Thank you to the Jacob's Creek team for this great opportunity, and thank you so much for your time showing me around, opening the doors to let me take a part of Jacob's Creek Wines history with me.
Jacob's Creek Visitor Center Barossa Valley Way, (between Rowland Flat and Tanunda townships)
Rowland Flat SA 5352
P: (08) 8521 3000
Ferment Asian Shop 1/24 Gawler Street
P: (08) 8391 4641