The town welcome signs say it all: ‘Marananga – Slow Down’.
The tiny western Barossa Valley village deserves the messaging. Too many people drive right on through in a blink, heading for the major tourism, winery, restaurant and arts attractions of Seppeltsfield another couple of kilometres down the road of the same name. The locals call it, affectionately, Palm Avenue – their picture-perfect tourist drive.
There are some classic Barossa reasons why you should slow and stop in Marananga: a couple of wineries right there in the middle of the hamlet, Two Hands and Greenock Creek Wines, as well as the gin temple Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers and, to the east, The Louise accommodation, Appellation restaurant and wine bar complex, all of which associate closely with the village.
But there’s another side to Marananga which travellers mostly don’t see. It’s not an underbelly thing, because it’s there in the bricks and mortar – the landmark Gnadenfrei Lutheran Church, then next door the Marananga Brass Band Hall and local tennis courts.
There’s no pub, general store, nor post office. That’s it. Blink. But there’s something special here that instils an overwhelming pride in the business and resident folk – population 104 in the latest Census count.
The entire Barossa has it, says resident Cathy Wills, and Marananga has a special dose of it.
“It’s a small community setting with an authentic character that’s come from generations of people working together in wine, through the church, the band as well as the Seppeltsfield Road Business Alliance (which connects and supports traders along its entire length),” Wills says.
“We’re all invested in keeping the community together, from generations before and now.”
Pride of place is the Gnadenfrei Lutheran Church, its name a reminder of the village’s Silesian settler origins in the 1850s. During the First World War, German township names were changed as they were considered to have enemy connotations. Many Indigenous names were used instead, with Marananga an accidental conversion after the Adelaide Hills village of Lobethal rejected it and the state nomenclature committee assigned it to the Gnadenfrei school. The name stuck, even though the word Marananga perversely had no Indigenous language connection to the mainly Ngadjuri nation in that part of the country. The name was imported from the language of the Murray River nations near Overland Corner, its meaning reportedly referring to a well where water could only be drawn by hand.
The Gnadenfrei church’s central place in Marananga’s community life continues today via two important village connections – the town’s brass band and a wine show that focuses uniquely on the western Barossa ridges sub-region.
The Lutheran churches of the Barossa were instrumental in the proliferation of brass band music, with the tradition carried on now by the Tanunda, Nuriootpa and Marananga groups, which play at special church services right through the Valley, as well as community parades, festivals and Christmas.
The Marananga Brass Band also performs an annual concert, this year as part of the Barossa Vintage Festival on April 17 at the Tanunda Showhall. The repertoire includes a singalong of traditional tunes including the drinking songs Roll Out the Barrel (aka Beer Barrel Polka) and Trink Trink Bruderlein Trink, sung in German.
For visitors outside of festival time, the Marananga Brass Band also rehearses on Tuesday evenings at their band hall in the township – you’re welcome to drop and listen.
The band is 25-strong with members ranging from primary school children to grandmothers and several octogenarians. The multi-generational connections are a special part of band life, member Brian Phillips says.
“The young members have been very important because it’s a way of them getting involved in the community through the music and the organisation,” Phillips says.
“In terms of the wider Barossa also, the bands are crucial in the region’s ongoing community life.”
The village pride that stems from having one of the remaining few bands carrying its name also extends to the district hosting its own wine show, the only sub-regional wine show in Australia.
Allowing entries only made from 85% fruit grown west of Moppa Rd and west of the Para River, the show was begun by the church congregation wanting to support the tiniest producers in the area whose volumes were too small to enter larger shows.
Now bigger producers like Seppeltsfield and Hentley Farm participate on an equal standing as the little guys, including the church itself with its own small batch blend of donated red varieties, named appropriately “Mixed Blessings”. And, like public band practice, the wine show holds a Saturday night tasting where you can taste the entries and drill down deeply into the unique character of the Barossa’s western ridge wines.
Without doubt, the beverages of the area are its major attraction, and around them a strong community support alliance has grown, highlighted by a new Barossa Vintage Festival event on April 15, the Marananga Meander – an afternoon stroll joining Two Hands Wines, Greenock Creek Wines and Seppeltsfield Road Distillers.
Three groups will start at each venue, tasting wines or gin at each stop with local food platters and snacks before taking a short walk to the next stop where the movable feast continues. The camaraderie of the three-way tour reflects the small community’s greater ties, says Two Hands’ Pippa Merrett.
“There’s an enigmatic thing about the western ridge side of the valley,” Merrett. “Let’s face it, we don’t have a pub or a post office, but we have great food, great wine, great gin which is everything you need to come and have a hedonistic and exciting time.
“When you get here you can slow down and get a real sense of the place and the community.”
Marananga Brass Band Concert: April 17, 7.30pm-9.30pm, Tanunda Show Hall. Adults, $23.50.
Marananga Meander, April 15, 1.30pm-5pm, Seppeltsfield Rd, Marananga. Tickets, $105.
Tickets and information from barossavintagefestival.com.au
Tastes of Marananga
Two Hands Gnarly Dudes 2019 Shiraz, Barossa Valley, 13.8% alc, $30
You’ll walk past the Gnarly Dudes Vineyard next to Two Hands cellar door in Marananga – it’s one of a range of predominantly western ridge source sites for this warm-hearted experience. This is a clever balancing act that takes the familiar elements of Barossa Shiraz, sweet ripe crimson and blackberries, even the smell of ripe summer fruit trees with dusty leaves, over a toned backdrop of woody forest and cedar oak, weaving an elegant style with subtle tannins and delicious restraint when it comes to power and weight. 93/100.
Greenock Creek 2020 Grenache, Barossa Valley, 15% alc, $30
In all its western Barossa district glory, Grenache bush vines have brought a varietal essence-like character to this wine. Its earthy-meets-compressed-fruit fragrance is almost intoxicating to begin, with typical blood-lip, saline notes then mixing with sweet chocolate-like feels in the palate with moreish tomato umami braise suggestions in the finish. Given its 15% alc rating, the wine has a tempered middle to fuller-bodied feel with power, energy and length to spare. 93/100
Seppeltsfield Rd Distillers Savoury Allsorts Gin, 41.5% alc, $66/500ml
This is one of a flight of gins to explore on the Marananga Meander served in half pours with a garnish bar that will include rosemary, in-season pink peppercorns, citrus and apples. Gin choices include a London-dry style called Barossa Dry, the House Gin with floral and citrus notes, and this star-anise toned variation with layered licorice aromatics that ease into a smooth and long, savoury leaning style. Works well with tonic; the gin remains dominant and a delicate grapefruit note develops mid palate. Try it with rosemary as well. 92/100