The Coonawarra wine region is located in the greater Limestone Coast of South Australia. A view of the Coonawarra map will reveal its world famous ‘cigar shaped’ strip of red (Terra Rossa) soil that has been an internationally defining feature of the Coonawarra vineyards. Coonawarra wineries owe their location to the first plantings by pioneer grape grower, John Riddoch, who first put vines into the earth in the region in 1890. While the fortunes of the region changed, and much of the original plantings were set aside, the industry was revived in 1951 when another pioneer, Samuel Wynn, bought the original Riddoch cellars.
Coonawarra red wine is the famous staple of the region, with its Cabernet Sauvignon often said to be Australia’s best examples made from the grape variety. Coonawarra cellar doors and wineries tend to be defined by Cabernet Sauvignon grown and made in the region.
Where is Coonawarra?
Coonawarra is located north of Penola in South Australia. Coonawarra vineyards are readily accessible by road, though the drive from Adelaide will take around four hours and the drive from Melbourne a little longer. The closest airport to Coonawarra is located in Mount Gambier and serviced by flights daily.
Coonawarra wine region is located only 60 km's from the sea resulting in a quasi-maritime climate. Coonawarra vineyards enjoy a warm growing season, but cooling breezes and consistent cloud climate mitigate heat, making the region substantially cooler in growing conditions than expected. Winters are considered cold in Coonawarra.
Unique Characteristics of Coonawarra
Coonawarra vineyards are planted to approximately 90% red grapes and 10% white grapes. Its red wine is typically medium to full bodied, deeply flavoured with dark fruit and given complexity from chewy tannin, herbal and eucalyptus characters, suggestions of mint and has the potential to age well over decades. Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is the signature variety, and is often powerful even with medium weight.
Coonawarra white grape varieties are a little less popular and celebrated, but Coonawarra Sauvignon Blanc has had some attention for its intensity and ability to age short term. Riesling and Chardonnay likewise have a small dedicated fan base, often generous in flavour and more traditionally styled.
Wines to try in Coonawarra
The Coonawarra wine region is intrinsically linked to Cabernet Sauvignon. While Shiraz and Merlot are also significant plantings, the local industry has forged a strong identity with their Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Coonawarra wine region is arguably considered the preeminent producer of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia. The wines are generally picked at full ripeness to produce medium to full bodied red wine, that are distinguished by dark fruits, soft spice, a firm tannin profile, and minty-herbal complexity. The wines grown on Terra Rossa soils are typically gently savoury and display some earth-like mineral characters. They are approachable in three to five years, but will also cellar for decades in Coonawarra's best vintages.
Must See Coonawarra Wineries
With over 120 years of vintages, the wineries of Coonawarra have a fair bit of history to draw upon. The longest standing continuous wine producer is Redman, with the fourth generation of Redmans now working the land. The 1950s saw the resurrection of Riddoch winery by Samuel Wynn, which brought the prestige producers Wynns into the Coonawarra wineries family. Most Coonawarra wineries with enjoy a high profile. Notable names include:
- The Ridge - Penley Estate
- Pandora's Box - Pepper Tree
- Wynns - Riddoch
- Parker Estate - Willowbrook
- Right Side of the Tracks - Optica Blue
Key Coonawarra Wine Event
Coonawarra Vignerons Cup
The Coonawarra Cup attracts over 3000 visitors, of which, up to 650 guests are hosted by members of the Coonawarra Grape Incorporated. The hosted members are treated to a full day of fabulous food, fund-raising auctions and most importantly fantastic Coonawarra Wines. The Cup is regarded as a major highlight on the country race meeting calendar and is held in January every year.
The future of Coonawarra Wine
The future of the Coonawarra wine region is undeniably linked to the adherence of wineries producing Cabernet Sauvignon. While innovation is occurring in Coonawarra vineyards and wineries, there is a default position of fine-tuning the already high quality offering of Cabernet Sauvignon as the regional hero. While location is a hindrance for wine tourism, the Coonawarra wine region continues to be significant on the wine map for its increasingly excellent wines from one of the world’s most unique strips of geology.