I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of my favourite things about my home state of South Australia is the Barossa Valley wine region. Not only do I love visiting this region myself, but I’ve also enjoyed taking many backpackers around the wineries through Couchsurfing.
One of my biggest frustrations about the Barossa, however, was how hard it was to get to for budget travellers. For a long time, it seemed like the only options were private tours costing hundreds of dollars, or large group tours where you had no control over the itinerary.
This is why I was so thrilled to hear that there is now not one, but two, hop on hop off buses operating around the Barossa Valley. I have previously been on hop on hop off bus tours around cities including Paris and Dubai, so I was excited to find out what it was like in my own backyard.
The perfect time to test it out arrived in the form of Tom and I’s first wedding anniversary. We got married in the Barossa Valley, so it seemed there was no more fitting place to celebrate our first year of wedded bliss than back in the home of Shiraz. We rented a lovely little cottage, the Dove Cote in Tanunda. We then decided to book a hop on hop off bus tour, to maximise the money we had for buying wine!
I spent a fair bit of time researching both of the hop on hop off bus companies, which I have written about in my previous blog post. In the end, however, the choice was more or less taken from me as we snared a great 50% of voucher from the website BookMe, making it a steal at $15 per person. We were on!
The bus! (Note, this picture is from the Barossa Explorer Facebook page, I did not take it)
You can get on the bus at any of the pick up points, but due to the very close proximity to our accommodation, we chose the Barossa Visitor Centre in Tanunda. This is a friendly little spot, manned by some enthusiastic volunteers. You are collected by the bus at the car park just behind the Centre. There are 3 pick up times from here – 10:29, 11:16 and 12:01. We got the 11:16 one, mainly because we slept in (as usual).
After our name was checked off the list and we were greeted by owner/driver Troy, we begun our route around the Barossa. Troy was friendly, and had some nice cool water waiting for us – we were very grateful, given it was 39 degrees that day! Troy also explained that we could keep any wine we bought on the bus, which was super helpful.
The first stop was at Langmeil Winery, a winery that I had heard of but somehow never managed to stop in at before. Langmeil is set in a beautiful cottage with a lovely vine-covered verandah where you can buy and enjoy cheese platters along with your wine. We didn’t do that this time, but would definitely love to return to try it out!
Like most wineries in the Barossa Valley, it is free to taste as much as you want at Langmeil. We ended up tasting about ten different varieties, while having a great chat with the lady behind the bar. One highlight of our stop at Langmeil was the unique “Tannat” wine, which I had never tried before. We ended up buying a bottle of this as well as a bottle of their nice dry Rose.
David Franz Winery
The next stop on our tour was David Franz Winery, a vineyard/cellar door that I had never heard of before. We were therefore pretty excited when bus driver Troy told us that it was currently his favourite of all the stops on the tour. Once we arrived, it wasn’t hard to see why – the winery enjoys a jaw dropping view with vineyards and hills, and your tastings are enjoyed while lazing on the verandah of the heritage cellar door.
David Franz winery does have a $5, $10 or $20 tasting fee depending on what you want to taste. While this is fully redeemable if you buy wine, I can’t help but hope this doesn’t catch on Barossa wide – there’s just something about having to pay to taste that makes it all feel a little more transactional and a little less personal. That said, I’m sure there are good justifications for why.
We did end up buying some wine, as well as having lunch including some delicious fresh King Prawns. This was all served by David Franz himself, dressed casually in a t-shirt and happily engaging in chatter with all those tasting. It was only later that we found out his is the son of famous Barossa winemaker Peter Lehmann. I just love that about the Barossa – no snobbery here.
Rolf Binder Wines
One of the things I loved the most about the hop on hop off bus tour was how many new wineries we got to experience. Another one was Rolf Binder Wines, another Barossa winemaker whose wines I’d never sampled. Luckily for us, his cellar door is just down the road from David Franz.
Arriving at Rolf Binder was a bit strange, as there was no one behind the counter at the cellar door. There was a small bell which we rang, and a couple of minutes later Rolf Binder himself rolled up… on a tractor. He hopped off and greeted us a bit like how Bernard from my favourite show, Black Books, greets his customers. This would end up being a theme of the tasting, with Rolf’s dry sense of humour being a source of great entertainment to me.
We also really enjoyed the wines (honestly, though, when don’t we enjoy the wines?) and ended up buying two, including the flagship “Bulls Blood” which is a homage to the Hungarian style of winemaking that Rolf’s father brought to the Barossa when he immigrated to Australia.
By this point, we were feeling pretty cheery and having a great anniversary! Our next stop was Chateau Tanunda, which ended up being one of our most favourite experiences of the day. We were greeted enthusiastically by Russell, who began to guide us through the extensive wine tasting menu.
Just to the side of the counter was a photo of Barack Obama and Xi Jinping enjoying a glass of Chateau Tanunda’s red, so we realised it was perhaps a bit fancy for us. However, Russell was not going to allow us to feel intimidated! He effortlessly took us through the menu, explaining what wine paired with what, and how the wine making process works. It was a fantastic experience where we both learnt a lot about wine making… and wine drinking!
Plus, the wine was pretty spectacular. We particularly enjoyed the Three Graces Cabernet Sauvignon, and so we were stoked when Russell tipped us off about some end of vintage 2009 bottles going for just $20 each. By this stage, we realised our bus was almost arriving, so had a bit of a comical moment as we ran to the counter with arms full of wine bottles so as not to miss the ride to our last stop.
We rolled up to our last stop with an armful of wines – 16 bottles in total! Luckily our kind hosts found us a spot to keep them while we completed our last tasting. We were really lucky that there had just been an expensive and exclusive tasting of the “museum releases” (read: old and fancy wines), which we got to try. Delicious! We also bought a bottle of fortified wine, which was absolutely fantastic and looks great in our fancy crystal decanter (which was $6 at an op shop!)
Less delicious was another spirit that they produce – I should have know when I was told it was ‘like Campari’ – widely known as my least favourite alcoholic drink, ever. Anyway, this drink was staggeringly bad – so bad that I had the people next to us in hysterics at my disgusted, scrunched up face. So, moral of the story – I think I’ll stick to wine in the Barossa, thanks!
I tend to think it’s pretty hard to have a bad day in the Barossa, but my day out on the Barossa Valley hop on hop off bus tour was definitely one of the best. I loved visiting new wineries that I hadn’t tried before, and the hop on hop off bus definitely hits the budget/flexibility sweet spot in my eyes. As discussed in my previous post, it’s a little complicated to get from Adelaide to the bus stop, which is a bit of a shame, however all in all I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to explore the Barossa on a budget (or just wanting more to spend on wine!).