Coonawarra Wine Region
Coonawarra is renowned as one of Australia’s finest wine regions and is particularly known for producing world class red wines especially Cabernet Sauvignon. Its secret lies in a magical marriage of rich red terra rossa soil, limestone, pure underground water and a long cool ripening season for the grapes.
Coonawarra was founded over a century ago by John Riddoch, a ‘larger than life’ Scottish migrant, gold miner, trader, pastoralist and parliamentarian. In 1861, only ten years after arriving in Australia, Riddoch purchased the 35,000 acre ‘Yallum’ sheep run just west of Penola for £30,000. He then rode the booming wool process of the 1860s and, amazingly, twelve years later, he and his brother had amassed 123,000 acres of land and owned 1110,000 sheep.
Always a visionary and entrepreneur, Riddoch established the Penola Fruit Colony in 1890. He subdivided 1000 acres in to 10 acre blocks, planted vineyards, supported small growers, and built his landmark triple gabled winery (now Wynns’) in 1896. The name ‘Coonawarra’ was formally adopted at Riddoch’s suggestion, in 1897. The Coonawarra siding was opened in 1898 and facilitated commerce and communication in the region.
John Riddoch died aged 73 in the Federation year 1901 and Coonawarra struggled as a winemaking district for the next fifty years. Most of the grapes were used for brandy or fortified wine making. Samuel and David Wynn’s purchase of Riddoch’s winery and many of the original estate vineyards in 1951 signaled a resurgence and success for fine red table wines from Coonawarra.
Other early winemaking enterprises including the Redman and Brand families, Mildara and Lindemans all worked hard to realise the potential of Coonawarra wines. Coonawarra has the oldest recorded vineyards in the Limestone Coast, three hectares of Shiraz planted in the 1890s. There are very few plantings from the early 1900s until 1970. During this period vineyard plantings were dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz and the current dominant white varieties, Chardonnay and Riesling were also planted. Significant vineyard expansion occurred in the 1970s and the 1990s.During the expansion in the 1990s the vineyard area in Coonawarra more than doubled to in excess of 5000 ha. The most recent records have the total vineyard area in Coonawarra at 6005 ha
Today Coonawarra is recognised as a premium wine region with vineyard land that is prized like a precious gem and producing world class wines noted for their style and longevity. The Coonawarra wine region contains the two townships of Coonawarra and Penola and is home to 130 grapegrowers and 25 wineries having cellar door sales outlets, mostly open seven days a week (except Christmas Day) and you will be warmly welcomed for tastings. The cigar-shaped strip of ‘terra rossa’ is finite, only 10km long and 2km wide, and is all but taken up by vineyards.