Plains Folk

The Barossa


By their sausages ye shall know them. Because sausage is a cultural, as well as culinary, statement. At our house this winter we never managed to get the scrapple made, because we couldn’t agree on which family recipe to use. Head cheese, that’s another question at our house, but it’s a yes or no question. I say yes, she says no.


Undoubtedly the most famous sausage in all of North Dakota is that proffered by Stan’s SuperValu of Wishek, a fine product indeed. My personal favorite comes from the Langdon Locker, but I check out the sausage in any town I visit.


And so it is the scent and savor of Mettwurst that fills my mind when I think about the Barossa. This is the foremost wine production region of Australia, and I should be thinking of all sorts of subtle flavors and aromas, but what preoccupies me is those sticks of hard, garlicky, beef sausage made by the Barossa’s German butchers. As I write I can see them hanging like ornaments in the Barossa Farmer’s Market, and they are making me hungry and homesick.


Homesick for a place 8000 miles away from home? Yes, because to begin with, the Barossa was settled up as wheat country. This is a fine agricultural valley with a semiarid climate that invited wheat culture by those who plowed it, who happened to be Germans enthusiastic about farming.


In general the settlement of Australia was an Anglo-Celtic enterprise. The Australian frontier did not attract the rich variety of European immigrants as did that of the North American plains. South Australia was a planned settlement by English folk. The Barossa was named for the British victory over the French in 1811. A veteran of that European campaign turned up as the surveyor of the South Australian settlements.


One of the English founders, however, George Fife Angas, envisioned a plan to settle the Barossa with German farmers. The plan was basically the same as that of land promoters up and down the American plains—go recruit some European folk with agricultural experience and the hunger for land. German settlers poured into the Barossa frontier in the 1840s, about the same time they occupied the southern plains frontier of Texas. They took up farming, established Lutheran churches and schools, published German-language newspapers, and succeeded handsomely. All of this sounds so familiar to me. And thank God, they still remember how to make Mettwurst, but I guess I’ve said enough about that already.


I haven’t said much about the signature product of the Barossa, its wines. The settlers brought cuttings with them, and soon the Barossa produced plenty of wine for local consumption. Late in the 19th century capitalist promoters began to pull together the grape growers and establish commercial wineries, such as the spectacular Chateau Tanunda, in the little town of Tanunda. There are scores of wineries, many of them world-class, studding this landscape of German Lutheran farmers. Their presence and their products make the exploration of the region’s history a delight in every way.


If you’re looking for a product of the Barossa you can buy in the US, here’s my personal pick: Penfold’s Bin 128, an excellent Shiraz sold at a reasonable price. It hails from the town of Nuriootpa, in the Barossa Valley of South Australia.


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