The Barossa Vintage Festival is Australia’s largest and longest running wine tourism festival. The end of the grape harvest has always been celebrated in the Barossa Valley, traditionally with simple thanksgiving services, but in the late 1930’s Colin Gramp of Orlando and Bill Seppelt of Seppelts Wines started hatching larger plans. Unfortunately the war got in the way, but in 1947 the first formal Vintage Festival was held with a single Thanksgiving Ball to mark the harvest. Over 60 years later the Festival Ball is still a signature event, but it has been joined by over 120 other events to become the premier wine tourism festival in Australia. These events include many food and wine opportunities, art and craft exhibitions, music concerts, story telling and poetry, auctions, parades and heritage celebrations – and one of the most beloved of the latter is the Ziegenmarkt.
Ziegenmarkt literally translates to “goat market” and was a fresh produce and livestock market first held in what is now known as Goat Square, in Tanunda, in the mid 1800’s. The traditional market eventually faded from use, but in 1981 Goat Square was once again used as a market place in that year’s Vintage Festival celebrations. The tradition now continues and every Vintage Festival the quiet back-street square is turned into a crowded, bustling market place that the locals clearly have come to value.
The man largely responsible for organising the market is Chris Bitter, Executive Director of Langmeil Winery in Tanunda, and a man whose capacity for multi-tasking would be the envy of most women I know. When I first meet him, after having spoken to him by phone, he is in the midst of organising not only the market, but a Poets and Platters evening for 250 and a large luncheon, both of which are to be held at the winery over the next 24 hours – which is also in the full swing of vintage and working around the clock! Nevertheless, he generously takes the time to show me some of the produce he has in the cold-room ready for the next days market – beautiful unplucked pheasant and some very fine hares that had been digging through a vineyard only the day before.
I took Chris up on his very kind invitation to the Poets and Platters evening that night. Hosted by the South Australian Writers Centre and sponsored by Langmeil, this is one of the most entertaining evenings I have spent in absolutely ages and I don’t recall the last time I laughed quite so much. This evening of storytelling has been a very popular event in the Vintage Festival for the last eight Festivals and generally books out. I’m absolutely sure one of the features which makes it so popular, besides the fine wines and entertaining yarns, are the sensationally bountiful platters which are groaning with a selection exclusively made up of local Barossa Valley produce.
But I digress.
The Ziegenmarkt begins at 8.00 am, by which time various stalls have been set up, the truck laden with auction goods is in place and the locals are wandering in looking for breakfast. One of the features of the market are the stalls selling traditional German food. Besides the ever-popular bacon and egg sandwiches there are long queues for the delicious potato pancakes called Kartoffelpuffers and a truly Barossan dish – Rote Grutze. Rote Grutze is a very traditional German peasant dish which was made from crushed grains – oats, wheat or maize – and the juice of red berries which were gathered locally. The Barossa Valley version is made with sago and, unheard of in Germany, red grape juice and is served at most of the street fairs during the Vintage Festival.
Some of the local producers set up their stands, including Steiny’s Traditional Mettwurst, Apex Bakery and a not quite so traditional coffee van which does a roaring trade, but it is not long before the real business of the day begins – the auction.
Standing on the back of a flat-bed truck, a couple of the local characters dressed in period costume auction off the lots of local goods to a very appreciative and competitive crowd. Mettwurst is sold by the yard (an old Imperial measurement similar to a metre), there are crates of fruit and vegetables, punnets of seedlings, bags of feed, watermelons, cuttings from the famous Freedom grape vines – one of the world’s oldest shiraz vineyards, the pheasant and hares,a sheep and a suckling pig – all of which are bid on avidly by the large crowd of, mainly, locals. There are periodic breaks so that the hardworking auctioneer and the bidders can refresh themselves at the Langmeil wine stand and by 11.00 am the lots are all sold, the market is over for another year and most of the good people of Tanunda make their way up to the main street to celebrate their Town Day.
This was a truly enjoyable morning in the Tanunda sunshine and one of the things that struck me most was the strong feeling of community engendered by this event. It was very crowded and there were some tourists, but there were also a great many locals. There were many children running about and plenty of meeting, greeting and gossip by the adults – just as it would have been 150 years ago. In our rapidly moving society it is a joy to see some of the old traditions not only being revived, but flourishing so successfully and contributing to the continuous practice of the Barossa Valley lifestyle.