Words by Belinda Willis
South Australia’s Barossa wine region is delivering virtual happy hour tours of its renowned wineries in a bid to grow its global reputation amid COVID-19 restrictions.
Barons of the Barossa Grand Master Louisa Rose, with glass of Riesling in hand, was the first to deliver a Facebook live story from The Barossa Cellar on March 20, hosting a virtual tour of the new regional wine museum that is the only facility of its kind in Australia.
Now some of the best-known names in the wine business are joining forces to connect with the world through virtual winery tours, tastings and behind-the-scene question and answer sessions, after cellar doors were forced to close as part of COVID-19 virus restrictions.
The reach has also grown by 48 per cent, with wine lovers from across Australia, United Kingdom, United States, Italy, France and Hong Kong tuning in to learn more about Australia’s most famous wine region.
The Barossa has the longest unbroken lineage of winemaking and grape-growing families in Australia, some entering their seventh generation.
Hay said many were happy to get in front of the camera to share their passion over a glass of wine.
“We go live at 5 o’clock three days a week and it’s an open platform for them to talk and engage with people, we’ve had virtual tours, winery tours, talking about the vintage and winemaking process, barrel turnings and behind-the-scenes question and answers,” Hay said.
“Now I’ve got people booking in to host the happy hours, my next available spot is in mid-June.”
Louisa Rose, who is also chief winemaker at renowned Barossa winery Yalumba, used the initial live story to introduce the recently completed $4.5 million The Barossa Cellar, which is home to Barossa Grape and Wine Association and thousands of bottles of wine donated by local wineries.
High-profile group of wine industry personalities Barons of the Barossa drove the cellar project, buying the three-hectare site between the townships of Tanunda and Angaston in 2016.
The stunning new building features an impressive Grand Hall running through its centre designed to host wine events, workshops, meetings or tastings.
The cellar holds Barons of Barossa’s 3000-bottle collection including from iconic wineries such as Henschke, Penfolds, Rockford, Yalumba, Greenock Creek, Peter Lehmann and Grant Burge.
Hay said the variety of live online events varied and were designed for viewers to drink wine at home alongside makers and growers, and to be able to ask questions during the tours.
“Our brand platform is to be a little piece of respite from conversations related to COVID,” she said.
The series so far has included Troy Kalleske from Kalleske Wines in Greenock walking virtual guests around the property his family has farmed since 1853 while talking about the high-quality of the most recent vintage and showing how his wines are made.
Kalleske Wines has won multiple awards for its range of organic and biodynamic wines and overall commitment to environmental sustainability.
Husband-and-wife team Derek Fitzgerald and Kirsten Harvey from Paisley Wines were also keen to experiment with new ways to promote the region.
They answered questions from their own kitchen bench at an online tasting of their boutique wines.
Hay said there had also been tours of Chateau Tanunda and a chat with John Hughes and Mark Thomas from Riseslingfreak.
“We thought there’s this great opportunity to start talking about more in the Barossa and understanding that people want to get to know the people behind the wines,” she said.