The original Barossa Vintage Festival was a single event – a Thanksgiving Ball to celebrate the end of harvest and the end of WWII. It was conceived by Bill Seppelt of Seppelt Wines and Colin Gramp of Orlando Wines. Australia’s longest-running wine festival, it is held every two years and now has a week-long calendar of events including wine workshops, heritage events and, significantly, church services. The Barossa’s Lutheran leanings reflect its German heritage.
Gramps and Seppelts were among the wine-making families tracing their origins back to the early settlers. Each year grape growers had gathered after vintage for the “vintage payday” – originally at Seppelt’s and later at Gramps Orlando Winery. This gathering was the forerunner of the Barossa Vintage Festival, which was ultimately inspired by the thanksgiving festivals Bill Seppelt had seen in Europe.
It was a significant year for the region. The 1947 vintage had been a particularly successful one in South Australia, setting the scene for a celebration. It was also the year that the first ‘modern’ Barossa red was produced in the region. In the years leading up to World War II, most Barossa wines were fortified – ports, sherries and brandies – but in 1947 Colin Gramp produced his Orlando Special Reserve Claret with a blend of Shiraz and Cabernet grapes. He called on knowledge he had acquired from visits to wine-making areas in France, Germany and California to begin making distinctive table wines.
The Barossa Vintage Festival expanded over the years. In 2004, an off-year for the biennial festival, the Valley hosted Barossa Slow. The region had been the first to embrace the Slow Food movement when the local convivium was founded by cook Maggie Beer in 1995. Among the events held over a weekend in April was a harvest thanksgiving service, followed by a traditional lunch served under the gums in the churchyard. Here the church ladies were happy to discuss the merits of sliced versus grated cucumber in the traditional cucumber salad, challenge the verdict of the judges in the previous day’s Tanunda Show Dill Pickle competition or tell you who made the best Rote Grutze (a red pudding made of sago and boiled down grape juice).
The 2019 Festival program included such events as the Ziegenmarkt, (goat market), the Vintage Festival Parade, the Festival Ball, a street party (Strassenfest) and the Barossa Wine Auction.