Barossa is one of the six wine-producing zones of South Australia, and arguably the most recognised name in the Australian wine industry. Barossa wines have attracted more international awards than any other region in the country.
It is divided into two sections: the western Barossa Valley (effectively the warmer valley floor) and on the eastern side the cooler, higher altitude Eden Valley, both of which have a distinct Geographical Indication (GI) formalised in 1997. Grape growing conditions vary immensely across the wider Barossa zone and this is reflected in the markedly different wine styles produced here.
Shiraz accounted for 56 percent of all plantings in the Barossa zone in 2017, focused on the Barossa Valley floor. Barossa Shiraz has traditionally been made in an intense, powerful, expression, and is arguably Australia's most famous wine style. Riesling is particularly prominent in the Eden Valley, and can also reach quality levels comparable to any other global region.
Other very high quality Barossa wines are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Semillon and Viognier. Additionally, GSM-style blends have earned high acclaim, as Grenache and Mourvedre (also known as Mataro in the region) perform extremely well in Barossa's warm and dry climate. Recently the zone has also been a hotbed of experimentation, with new vine varieties such as Tempranillo and Zinfandel making their mark on local and international markets.
The Barossa zone lies northeast of Adelaide Hills and is a compact geographical unit with a variable landscape of gently elevated terrain and flat valley floors. The overall climate is hard to categorise as conditions vary – not only due to the elevation but also because of the inland locations and the coastal influence. The valley floors are very hot during summer, with temperatures often exceeding 95F (35C). This, along with scant rainfall and limited natural water in the soil, makes irrigation essential. On the other hand, the higher areas are cool with distinctly high diurnal temperature variation, which helps to bring out the best from the aromatic varieties as well as assisting a high degree of phenolic ripeness in the grapes.
The Barossa takes its name from the Barrossa Ridge in Andalucia, Spain. The latter was the site of a British victory over the French during the Napoleonic Wars. The former aide-de-camp of the victorious British commander was appointed Surveyor General of the new colony of South Australia in 1836, and named this area, though the spelling was mis-recorded by an official.
The area was settled by English and Silesian settlers; the former were typically more wealthy and more likely to farm sheep and cattle. The Silesians experimented with various crops including tobacco before finding the climate suitable for wine grape growing. By 1900 Barossa was the largest wine-producing region in Australia.
Throughout the 20th Century the region endured various slumps, often when world events caused a slump in Imperial/Commonwealth demand. For much of the 1960s and 70s demand was focused on sweet sparkling wines, but from the 1980s the Barossa began to gain widespread fame for its blockbuster reds.