Barossa Valley Chocolate Company CEO Chris Day says he’ll be giving SA more chocolate before he expands his business interstate or overseas.
Sweet dreams became a reality for Barossa Valley Chocolate Company
On a family holiday to the picturesque WA town of Margaret River, Chris Day got the idea for his very own chocolate oasis.
It was the 1990s, and Chris was busy setting up a vineyard for the agribusiness FABAL Group that he founded a decade earlier in the WA town.
With his children and then-wife in tow, Chris made a pact with his kids: if they helped with the plotting of the new vineyard being built, they could visit the Margaret River Chocolate Company.
“It was just unequivocally a good business,” Chris tells CityMag over the phone.
“I banked the idea for the spot in the back of my head. Fast forward 15 years, and I and my wife Sandy had been touring around the Yarra Valley and again loved the concept of Margaret River.
“We thought our state’s most important wine region, the Barossa Valley, should have a chocolate company as well, even though Margaret River gets three-times the tourists that the Barossa gets.”
Chris and Sandy went about turning their dreams into a reality. The couple travelled the world finding ideas for their chocolaterie, stopping off in Belgium, Italy and Argentina. They even took a chocolate-making course to learn as much as they could about the process.
In 2016, they snapped up a site in Tanunda on the edge of a dam, which would become the home of their new chocolate business.
To the couple, the end product’s taste was vital. They asked 2500 locals to taste-test their chocolate and provide feedback before opening their doors.
Three years after purchasing the Tanunda site, the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company opened in April 2019. The site includes a chocolaterie, cellar door, ice-creamery and 150-seat café, and is set beside the Tanunda vineyards.
Designed by JBG Architects, the 1375sqm building features stone fireplaces, a wooden deck overlooking a lake and references to the couple’s global travels. Chris says what he wanted to create was a “beautiful venue” that was “unique to SA”.
The complex employs about 35 full-time-equivalent staff, including seven chocolatiers. The company makes about 80 tonnes of chocolate product per year, but Chris says the state-of-the-art kitchen is capable of producing 200 to 400 tonnes.
“We didn’t want to be a competitor to anyone out here,” Chris says.
“We really just wanted this beautiful venue to be another reason for the family to visit the Barossa for the day. So you could go to the Barossa for some wine tasting and spend some time at Maggie Beer’s and then call into the chocolate company.”
One of the most notable nods to Chris and Sandy’s travels is the venue’s flowing chocolate wall, inspired by the Venchi Cioccolato e Gelato store in Florence, Italy.
“We walked in and young kids, and even their parents, were just mesmerised by the chocolate fountain and the beautiful pralines,” Chris says.
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They also visited Bruges, an international chocolate hotspot with 20 different chocolate shops. This was where they got the idea for A–Z drawers full of solid chocolate letters.
“In Venice, they had barrels filled with chocolate, and chocolate and wine over there really goes together. Chocolate wasn’t taken too seriously and it was always about the family, the fun and the product.”
Chris says the venue sells chocolate that “empowers the cocoa farmers”. He says they have a range of single origin chocolates from around the world as well as chocolate from the Daintree, where the beans and the chocolate are made in Australia.
The same values apply for the café. The venue’s chef Aaron Hill ensures the menu utilises as many local suppliers as possible, including using Maggie Beer fruit paste, Barossa Valley cheese and bread from Apex Bakery in Tanunda.
One of the most popular aspects of the business for tourists is the wine and chocolate pairing experience. Chris says this is “a killer”.
“You can do it with the standard reserve wine or the super premium wines or the ultra premium wines, so you can have your choice,” he says.
“It’s a bit of fun, and also kids can come in and we offer a chocolate and Bickford’s cordial pairing with chocolate.”
Aside from selling chocolate on site, they also sell products out of Tony and Marks and the Southern Providore at Adelaide Airport. Chris says it’s all about keeping the wholesale to a “very select group”, which also includes Qantas.
During the first wave of COVID-19 shutdowns, when the venue was closed to visitors, the company set up an online store.
“After the most recent lockdown we saw an uptick on sales from our online store and that really hasn’t slowed down, which is encouraging,” he says.
Chris says he plans to expand the business into McLaren Vale to cover demand in the Fleurieu Peninsula.
“We’ll be in McLaren Vale sooner rather than later, but in terms of moving interstate or overseas, I’d be interested in expanding into other states. But we are really just focussed on SA for now,” he says.
“We want to focus on what we can do at the building instead of branching out far and wide.
“Our chocolate is pretty good, is what we are trying to tell you.
“We are not knocking our competitors, but the bottom line is we are just trying to be spectacular, and we are not trying to be a Haigh’s or a Bracegirdle’s.”