The Barossa Valley is the smallest of the regions mapped, yet after Adelaide it is the one which people outside the State most readily associate with South Australia. It is renowned for its premium wines and German heritage.
The range on the eastern side of the Valley was named 'Barrosa' by Colonel William Light after the Spanish battle site of the Peninsular War, but a drafting error turned it into 'Barossa'. Extending about 25 kilometres north-eastward from Lyndoch to Stockwell, the Valley makes a distinct structural break in the Mount Lofty Ranges. It is floored with Tertiary and Quaternary sediments, mainly silts and sands on which the relief is gently undulating and the soils highly productive.
Most of the better land in the Barossa Valley and Range was purchased, in seven Special Surveys in 1839 and 1840, on behalf of George Fife Angas by his financial agent in South Australia, Charles Flaxman. Angas encouraged settlement by dissenting religious groups and was soon leasing and selling Barossa land to German immigrants. Twenty-five Lutheran families settled at Bethany in 1842. Next year others settled nearby at Langmeil, which grew into the town of Tanunda.
Over the next twenty years more small German groups arrived and although there was a leavening of English, Irish and Scots, the valley became the German Lutheran 'heartland' in Australia. Traditional styles of dress, food communal festivals, buildings and farm implements and practices persisted into the twentieth century, and a hybrid speech, 'Barossa Deutsch', developed with German and English words. Schisms within the Lutheran community, and the arrival of later migrants from Germany, led to the founding of many separate churches. No comparable area in rural Australia is so dotted with the steeples of little churches, most of which are still well used and immaculately maintained. The early settlers also loved music, and began a tradition of signing societies or Liedertafel, and well-supported town bands.
The early farming was mixed, with an emphasis on wheat growing. Successive generations of young Barossa farmers moved out to help settle the new wheat-farming frontiers. They went to the north of the State, then to the Victorian Wimmera and later to the Murray Mallee and Eyre Peninsula.
The wine industry began as a sideline when Johann Gramp planted vines at Jacob Creek in 1847 and produced his first wine in 1850, after which the industry grew slowly until late in the nineteenth century.
South Australia had the good fortune to escape the phylloxera disease which devastated the Victorian and New South Wales vineyards in the 1880s and 1890s. Plantings in the Barossa expanded rapidly and, with interstate tariffs removed after Federation in 1901, it emerged as the foremost wine-producer in Australia. Today it has the country's largest area of non-irrigated vineyards and in 1981 grapes accounted for over half the value of the region's farm production.
There are over thirty wineries in the Barossa and the adjacent grape-growing districts of Keyneton and Eden Valley. As a result of the major financial restructuring that has occurred in the Australian wine industry in recent years, most of the larger wineries are no longer local, family concerns. There is a tendency for wine-producers to develop their own grape production, whether inside or outside the region, rather than to remain reliant on the product of independent growers.
The highly productive farm economy has promoted a density of settlement which is rare on non-irrigated land in Australia. There are three towns of about 2000 people, three smaller towns and several distinct clusters of rural settlement. Tanunda (population 2621) is the traditional German centre. Nuriootpa (2851) is the regional service centre. Angaston (1753) has the Yalumba Winery and a large dried fruit processing and packaging plant. Nearby is a marble quarry, a cement works and Lindsay Park, one of the State's most successful horse-breeding and training complexes and the original home of George Fife Angas.