In a potter’s studio at a winery on the Barossa Valley’s famed Seppeltsfield Road, a ceramicist has been experimenting with local clay. She dug the clay by hand from a stash nearby, which had remained untouched for more than 100 years.
Having not yet sucessfully mastered turning using local clay, Eva Tscharke shapes items, such as 'crocks' (earthenware pots with lids) and old-fashioned saltcellars, from Adelaide- and Victorian-sourced clays. "These traditional ceramics are forgotten items, not something you see often any more," she says. 'Once upon a time, though, every kitchen had them."
Eva is passionate about keeping alive what she describes as "a dying art". The only professional potter in the Barossa, she is following in the tradition of Samuel 'Potter' Hoffmann, a ceramicist who immigrated from Germany in 1847. Like Hoffmann, Eva was born and raised in Germany, but came to Australia in 1995. The clay she has been trialling is Hoffmann’s, dug from a secret stash beside a local creek. He used the clay to produce much-needed kitchenware for his family and fellow immigrants.
"Everyone in the valley would’ve used handmade jars, jugs and plates," says Eva. When Hoffman wasn’t potting, he was planting grapes, some of the first in the valley.
As soon as you arrive in the Barossa, just one hour’s drive from Adelaide, the signposts hint at the strong German influence, withwineries such as Seppeltsfield, Kalleske, Henschke, Bethany, Peter Lehmann and LiebichWein established by early German settlers or their descendants. German immigrant Joseph Seppelt planted the vineyards surrounding the Tscharke property on Seppeltsfield Road in 1851. By the turn of the century, the Seppelts were the largest wine producers in Australia. The region quickly gained acclaim for its red varieties – shiraz, grenache, mataro and cabernet sauvignon – followed by whites – riesling, semillon, chardonnay and gewürztraminer – which emerged during German settlement.
Eva and her husband, winemaker Damien Tscharke, are part of a new generation making its mark on the valley. At the same time, the couple holds tradition dear, ever conscious of the region’s rich cultural history. Raised and still based in the Barossa town of Marananga, Damien is regarded as a promising young gun winemaker.
The sixth generation to work the family property on Seppeltsfield Road, he is also the family’s first winemaker. "We’ve always had vines, but my father and grandfather grew grapes as part of a mixed farming enterprise," he explains, "and they sold their grapes to local winemakers." Damien, who studied oenology at The University of Adelaide, is keenly aware of his German heritage. "My dad spoke only German until he was six and my grandparents spoke German exclusively, as did many families in these parts," he says. Damien maintains his family’s older plantings, but has gone out on a limb, introducing some grape varieties previously unseen in the valley. "There are a number of microclimates within our vineyard, which inspired me to plant grapes that my father and grandfather hadn’t considered, such as tempranillo, montepulciano, graciano, zinfandel and savagnin," he says.
Likewise, fellow winemaker Troy Kalleske, of Kalleske Wines, does things differently to his German ancestors. Troy is the seventh generation on his family property, with vines dating back to 1853, but he is the family’s first winemaker. Named Winemaker of the Year in 2008 by the Barons of Barossa, Troy has planted new varieties, including durif, viognier, zinfandel and tempranillo, and employs organic and biodynamic farming practices. Wine writer Max Allen, in his book The Future Makers: Australian Wines for the 21st Century, identifies Kalleske as 'a model for the future of the Barossa: there is a deep respect for the seven generations of history, but it is combined with a willingness to try new things".
Innovation and risk of this nature have been key to the Barossa’s long-term success, says Angela Heuzenroeder, the author of Barossa Food, who grew up in the area and is an authority on the history of the region’s food. "The German settlers were rural people, incredibly self-sufficient and forward-thinking," she says.
Many of these settlers came from Silesia (now primarily a part of Poland), a rural community in the Oder River valley, which was known for its white wines. Suppressed and persecuted when they opposed King Frederick William III’s decree to unify the Lutheranand Reformed churches, about 200 'Old Luthera' Silesians, led by Pastor August Kavel, boarded two ships in Hamburg in July 1838 and arrived in Port Adelaide four months later.
George Fife Angas, an English-born philanthropist and industrialist who was sympathetic to the group’s religious plight, funded their passage and settlement. Keen to source good labour to build the state of South Australia, he provided land for the settlers in the hope they would contribute to his vision and introduce a part of the old world to the new.
Many of these settlers were craftsmen with skills in stone, wood and clay, which enabled the construction of the stone Lutheran churches still seen across the Barossa. The town of Bethany was established by immigrants in 1842, and the Lutheran manse (a pastor’s residence), on the grounds of the Bethany Wines vineyard, remains intact more than 160 years after it was built.
While the men arrived with useful trades, the women brought their culinary skills. "They brought their culinary traditions, many of which still carry on today," says Angela, whose book details the evolution of food in the Barossa. "However, they adapted them to what was available locally, and they established new traditions that are particular to the valley." Angela points to wheat, for instance, grown and used to make bread rather than the traditional rye, and grapes used as the fruit base in streuselkuchen (a yeast-based crumb cake). The tradition of German baking continues, with cakes and biscuits, such as streuselkuchen, bienenstich (a yeast cake filled with custard and topped with honey and crushed almonds) and honigkuchen (honey biscuits), available at bakeries throughout the valley. Other traditions brought and adapted by the Germans include saure gurken, pickled dill cucumbers preserved in vinegar with local grape leaves, and artisan smallgoods. Chef Sophie Zalokar, who grew up in the valley and served her apprenticeship under Maggie Beer at Barossa Pheasant Farm Restaurant, remembers the January pickling season well. "Dill cucumbers are a big part of preserving the summer glut," she says. "I remember the smell in the valley and seeing the roadside signs: 'Saure gurken for sale’. Dill cucumbers go hand in hand with mettwurst [cured and smoked pork sausage], my favourite being the garlic variety from Schulz Butchers."
Smoking meats and producing smallgoods is a prevailing German tradition in the Barossa. Schulz Butchers in Angaston and Linke’s Central Meat Store in Nuriootpa are long-established family butchers still producing mettwurst, sausages and smoked meats (both hot- and cold-smoked), including lachsschinken (cold-smoked pork loin). When the German settlers arrived, some built their own private external smokehouse or internal schwarze küche (black kitchen), which was a fireplace in the centre of the home that was tall and wide enough to hang meats high above, allowing slow smoking. Each year, German families engaged in schweineschlachten, a Barossa Deutsch term (a dialect of German that was oncecommon in South Australia) for pig slaughter and the preparation of smallgoods over two days. The father slaughtered and hung the pig, butchering it the next day, and the women of the family collected the blood and prepared the meat and casings for wurst. Black pudding, white pudding, mettwurst and presswurst (cubes of pork encased in stomach, boiled in broth and weighted down before slicing) were popular then, and remain so today, available from Schulz and Linke’s.
Traditionally, saure gurken, wurst and bread were common lunchtime fare during vintage (the harvesting of wine grapes), when grape-pickers picnicked among the vines. Today’s grape-pickers continue the tradition, enjoying meats made using similar recipes and authentic methods, according to Virginia Weckert, co-proprietor of Charles Melton Wines. Virginia also serves lunch to patrons at her cellar door using local produce, such as duck terrine wrapped in Schultz’s streaky bacon, and rillettes made by Saskia Beer (Maggie’s daughter), who has a successful smallgoods business in the Barossa.
"There is a big emphasis on supporting local producers," says Virginia. 'We are a close-knit community and we support one another by buying local, shopping at the farmers market on Saturdays and coming together to celebrate, whether at the Barossa Vintage Festival or the Tanunda Show."
The biennial Barossa Vintage Festival (next scheduled for April 2013) features the Zeigenmarkt in Tanunda’s historic Goat Square. Based on a traditional Barossa market, it celebrates the region’s German food heritage with slabs of streuselkuchen and bienenstich on offer, bowls of rote grütze (a cold red-berry soup) and an entertaining old-fashioned auction of livestock and local produce.
Not surprising for a community with a healthy respect for technique and tradition, there are annual prizes at the Tanunda Show for the best bienenstich, rote grütze and saure gurken. Home cooks, producers and artisans take the competitions very seriously. That is, until the winners are announced, and then everyone celebrates, sharing the year’s best baking, bottling and pickling with wine, just as their German ancestors did.
The hit list
Try the garlic mettwurst and the award-winning bacon that’s cured in traditional brine and
smoked for two days. 42 Murray St, Angaston, (08) 8564 2145, schulzbutchers.com.au.
Linke’s Central Meat Store
On Saturday mornings, be prepared to join the long queue of locals lining up to buy delicacies like lachsschinken (cold-smoked pork loin). 27 Murray St, Nuriootpa, (08) 8562 1143.
Sample bread, cakes, pasties and honigkuchen (honey biscuits) baked in a wood-fired oven that’s been continuously lit since 1924. Elizabeth St, Tanunda, (08) 8563 2483.
Pick up some alternative varietals by Damien Tscharke at the cellar door and visit Eva’s ceramics showroom. Seppeltsfield Rd, Marananga, (08) 8562 4922, tscharke.com.au.
Certified organic and biodynamic, the oldest grapes on this farm were planted in 1853. 6 Murray St, Greenock, (08) 8563 4000, kalleske.com.
The winner here is the 2008 Barossa Shiraz, which picked up a silver medal at the 2011
San Francisco International Wine Competition. Bethany Rd, Tanunda, (08) 8563 2086,
Stay & play
The Lutheran stone church on the Charles Melton vineyard has been restored and converted into self-contained accommodation. Krondorf Rd, Tanunda, (08) 8563 3606, charlesmeltonwines.com.au.
Stay in an authentic Barossa mansion at this National Trust property built in 1856. Angaston
Rd, Angaston, (08) 8564 2061, collingrovehomestead.com.au.
Barossa Vintage Festival
Australia’s longest-running wine festival will be held again in April 2013 at various Barossa venues. barossavintagefestival.com.au.
The agricultural show "where Barossans have met to show and share the best of their region for generations" is on again in March 2012. Tanunda Recreation Park, Tanunda, tanundashow.org.au