The holy grail of mixing family fun and enjoying the finer things is not a myth.
There’s a little haven of happiness nestled in Woodside, where you can indulge in exceptional wines and tasty treats and relax, knowing the kiddos are welcome, too.
Image credit :: Richard Lyons
Barristers Block is a breath of fresh air — sitting under trees that overlook rows of vineyards, glass of wine (or bubbles) in hand, with maybe some dips or a stone-baked pizza. The vibe’s always buzzing at this laid-back, boutique Adelaide Hills cellar door, with live entertainment most weekends. Best of all, the kids are warmly welcomed to hit up the giant sandpit, say hello to the alpacas, deer, chickens or geese or play leisurely games on the lush lawns.
In December 2019, Barristers Block celebrated 10 years of this beautiful cellar door, so I had a cheeky vino with Jan Siemelink-Allen, the one-woman band behind the popular venue and wine label, and left feeling inspired by the power of the roar of a single mama.
James, Jan and Lachlan | Image credit :: Richard Lyons
A rocky start
At 63, Jan has faced some enormous hurdles in her time but has kept her family at the heart of every move. Originally from the Adelaide Hills and with farming genes running through her blood, Jan moved to the South East with her parents in her final year of school, where she eventually met her husband.
It wasn’t unusual for her two young sons to see her on a tractor or tending to animals on their farm, but the family was hit hard by the recession in the late 1980s and 1990s and her marriage broke down. She returned to Adelaide with James and Lachlan, then aged nine and 11.
The cards were stacked against her, with banks not viewing a single mum as a good candidate for a loan. During this stressful time, Lachlan became seriously unwell and Jan feared losing him. “I was already set to work hard but the thought of losing Lachlan put everything in perspective and I knew I’d do anything to make sure my two boys had every opportunity. I think there’s a power in Australian women — we’re resilient and refuse to give up,” she says.
She shifted into wine sales for one of the top wine companies and invested in a joint venture that sadly, went sour, resulting in a lengthy, stressful and costly court case. Not one to take it lying down, Jan challenged the other parties and won.
A new adventure
When Jan’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, she knew she needed to be self employed to care for her. She began to position the property that she held in trust for her sons at Wrattonbully, on which she and her then-husband had planted Shiraz and Cabernet vines, and affectionately named the vineyard Barristers Block — a little cheeky nod to the legal battle. When her mother passed away from cancer in September 2006, Jan laid all her assets on the table and bought the Woodside property. She was determined to create a place that welcomed families, including single mums like herself.
“It’s family service, nothing glitzy or glamorous… it’s casual, happy, fun! I’m so proud of our agricultural heritage, which will always be the heart of the cellar door. I love that I’ve brought my sons up here and now have grandchildren running around the property too.”
A lot of elbow grease
It’s truly a labour of love, with Jan regularly making the eight-hour roundtrip between the Wrattonbully vineyard and the cellar door in Woodside. Plus, overseeing domestic sales, export, wholesale, retail… and you’ll see her on weekends at the cellar door, doing wine tastings or handing out pizzas.
Image credit :: Richard Lyons
Her sons have her back, with James (a partner in his own accounting firm) doing Jan’s accounts and Lachlan joining the company after the recent bushfires. “It’s taken courage and hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been shit hard at times, but everyone has their ups and downs and I’ve had a lot of fun along the way. I’m so proud of what we’ve created. “We started out making pizza in a tiny oven and I’d hand deliver it to the table. Now, we have 22 staff and are booked out every weekend. I never expected the popularity, so have copped a bit of criticism here and there. At the end of the day, I’m a farmer turned vigneron and now I’m fronting up hospitality, so I’m always learning but I love that people embrace what we’re offering.”
Lachlan and James | Image credit :: Richard Lyons
The heart of it all
Although very much a story of one woman’s success, Jan openly credits her achievements to those around her. “What you can do as an individual is one thing but what you can do as a family is wonderful — that’s everything.” Although she barely has an hour to herself each week, Jan prioritises time with her boys, her grandchildren and extended family. She is an incredible example of one woman achieving against the odds and is a powerful advocate of supporting others to carve out their own success.
“The best thing about womanhood is being surrounded by other women — sisters, aunties, friends — who can back you. We learn from having a go and making mistakes, we get through by doing it together.
“We could take a leaf out of the book of the French — they celebrate age, experience and wisdom as things of beauty. There’s so much beauty in a life of challenges and triumphs, a life well lived.”
A good drop
Jan’s passion is poured into every bottle. “Wine’s an agricultural product — it doesn’t just fall off a truck. It’s dictated by the seasons lining up, plus what I put in, so it’s getting that balance spot on. Get it right and it brings people together to share an experience. That, to me, is the art of living.”
Her Wrattonbully vineyard produces award-winning Shiraz and Cabernet varieties, and the cool-climate Adelaide Hills vineyard is perfect for their Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Fiano, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Jan’s down-to-earth manner flows through to their wine tastings. “There’s nothing pretentious. If you’re interested, we’ll chat in layman’s terms.”
A love story
The stunning property has two separate spaces that can cater for an intimate gathering of 50 guests or up to 150 (licensed) people. The garden and hay shed see some jaw-dropping weddings, but you won’t see a line-up of brides — one wedding per weekend is Jan’s rule of thumb.
“We’ve got no interest in becoming a wedding factory — I want them to be relaxed and personal, perfectly tailored to you,” she says.
A great vibe
You won’t be disappointed by a visit at any time, but Barristers springs to life with numerous events throughout the year. Keep your eye on the calendar during Winter Reds, Crush Festival and public holidays, plus their Bubs and Bubbles events, which are a hit with big and little kids alike.
A quick retreat
Perfect for a little Hills getaway, the Vigneron Villa welcomes up to six guests, with three luxurious bedrooms and two bathrooms. Chill on the verandah, indulge in a glass of vino by the fire or even borrow a bike to go for a spin.
A resilient mama
In the weeks after interviewing Jan, Barristers Block was greatly impacted by the Cudlee Creek bushfires in December 2019. Jan lost 100 percent of her Adelaide Hills vineyard and although flames came within 20 metres of the cellar door, it was fortunately saved.
While the experience has been traumatic, Jan’s outlook has been true to form, saying, “We lost every vine on the property and it will take years to recover but we’re so conscious of those out there who are hurting and have lost even more. We will rally and help our neighbours. The best way to support Barristers Block and the fire-affected regions is to buy our wine, visit the regions and support South Australia.”