Wolf Blass Winery Visitor Centre with Keith Conlon: In the Barossa Valley region of South Australia
The Wolf Blass Winery Visitor Centre is one of the Barossa Valley’s newest and most popular attractions. It’s a mix of old bush and classy contemporary architecture and it’s very symbolic. No wonder, when you’ve got 5-million dollars to spend you can really lash out.
On arrival a giant canopy fashioned into the shape of soaring eagle wings greets you. They represent the Wolf Blass trademark - the Wedgetail Eagle and they tower over the entrance to the impressive circular building. Made from eleven tonnes of stainless steel they seem to be saying, ‘prepare for take off - you’ll enjoy the ride’.
Our departure lounge is conveniently located right on the Sturt Highway on the northern edge of the Barossa Valley. It’s ideally placed for interstate passengers enroute between Adelaide, the Riverland and Sydney and it’s also within easy reach for the locals - just past the Nuriootpa turn-off.
The story behind the gliding eagle that hovers over its circular nest begins a long way from here. Rewind to the 1950s and East Germany - home of a brilliant young winemaker, Wolfgang Blass.
He was making his mark in sparkling wine but was less than impressed when he tasted an Aussie Red - “I can do something out there,” he said. “I can make a landmark in Australia.”
He sure did! And when the new multi-million dollar Visitor Centre that bears his name was opened in late 2004, Wolf’s unparalleled success was officially acknowledged. At the opening spoke of his arrival to the Barossa in 1961. “This valley has never been the same!” he said.
Ain’t that the truth. In the 1950s, most of its grapes were going into average brandy, port and sherry. But Wolf Blass, the masterful blender and brash marketeer was one of the new breeds who helped transform the Barossa Valley into a world famous wine tourism destination.
It’s unfair to call this simply a cellar door - the intention is to give you more.
“When people come in here we can give them the whole wine experience,” explained the Centre Manager, Jill Mader. “From picking a bunch of grapes in the vineyard, tasting those grapes, tasting some juice during vintage and then the finished product. It’s a while experience we deliver here.”
Jill and her staff direct greet some visitors who are so keen they come straight from the airport. In all, sixty thousand people will savour the centre’s pleasures in its first year.
Of course, there’s no shortage to select from. All of Wolf’s famous colour-coded labels are here. From the popular “entry level” Red label through to the highly fancied Platinum - the pick of the crop, literally.
The silverware’s on show too - like the three consecutive Jimmy Watson Trophies for the Black label. And the two International Winemaker of the Year gongs.
Not bad for a young immigrant who started in the 60s making Pineapple Pearl - a sweet sparkling cheapie…
After that he was Australia’s first winemaking consultant driving around the Valley in his old Volkswagon Beetle - and soon, he began hitting Aussies where it counts - in the mouth!
Then, in 1966 he bought his own special patch of Barossa dirt. The old galvanized shed where it all began is still out the back and inside are the makings of a museum that Jill says will be a modern day shrine to Australian wine.
“We have people who walk in the door and it’s like they’re in awe,” she said. “They’re here. They’re where the wine they drink at home is made…”
You can arrange one-on-one tastings or a special session in private room.
Inside the new circular building, Adelaide architect, Drew Dowie has come up with his own special blend. He’s used the warmth and colour of Western Australian Limestone for the wall, the floors are planks of Spotted Gum salvaged from Queensland woolsheds and the huge stretches of Oregon beams are from - you guessed it, Oregon.
There’s no escaping the Wolf Blass trademark. In the centre courtyard stands another magnificent eagle - this one bronzed in full flight. It has become ‘the’ photo spot.
“Bilyara is the Aboriginal word for eaglehawk or wedge-tailed eagle,” explained Jill. “It’s a very, very strong image.”
That’s why Wolf took the name Bilyara for his original winery on this very spot and the eagle’s sparing wings are all about the incredible flight that followed.
The Wolf Blass Visitor centre is an hour north of Adelaide on the Sturt Highway just past the Nuriootpa turn-off. It’s open daily.
Find out more about Wolf Blass Winery
Wolf Blass Visitor Centre
97 Sturt Highway, Nuriootpa
Open 9.15am - 5pm Mon - Fri, 10am - 5pm Weekends & Public Holidays
Ph (08) 8568 7311