The red region that’s shaped like a cigar
It just might be the smallest wine region in Australia, but it sure punches above its weight! Coonawarra is found in the Limestone Coast zone of South Australia, 380km southeast of Adelaide. This unique cigar-shaped strip of Terra Rosa soil is just 15kms long and 2km wide, sitting atop a narrow limestone ridge. And it’s this soil that makes Coonawarra one of the most significant terroirs of new world wine. The red soil is clearly visible on Google Maps as a reddish-brown streak surrounded by green fields (we bet you take a look!)
1890 was a good year… and so was 1951
The first vines were planted by a chap named John Riddoch in 1890, now regarded as a wine pioneer. Then in 1951, Samuel Wynn, identifying the potential of the unique Terra Rosa soil, bought the Riddoch cellars. The region’s destiny changed when Wynns and Penfolds lead the charge, as the Australian wine industry made the change from making fortified wine to table wines to enjoy with meals.
A cooling sea breeze
Interestingly, Coonawarra is just 60km from the sea, which means that despite a warm growing season, it enjoys a slight maritime climate similar to Bordeaux. This, and extensive cloud cover, keeps growing temperatures cool at around 19°C in January. Rain during the growing season is light; just 219mm out of 585mm annually.
Possibly Australia’s finest Cabernet
Coonawarra production is roughly 90% red, 10% white. The region is best-known for Cabernet Sauvignon and is considered the country’s finest producer of this variety. Fruit is generally picked at peak ripeness, resulting in wines that are medium to full-bodied. Wines are full of dark plum and blackcurrant fruit, with soft spice notes, firm tannins and a herbal minty complexity. Coonawarra Cabernet can be cellared for decades, yet are generally ready to drink in three to five years.
The limestone geology also favours Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Coonawarra Riesling and Chardonnay has a club of die-hard fans. The Sauvignon is known for its intensity and can age well, short-term.
The Coonawarra Cup
Held in January every year, The Coonawarra Cup is an important highlight on the country race meet calendar. This major event brings in some 3,000 punters, 650 of whom are hosted by the Coonawarra Grape Incorporated for a day of fine food, fund-raising and, of course, fabulous wine.
Coonawarra: the future
When you’re a region of only 15 x 2km with premium Terra Rosa soil and you enjoy a global reputation for producing what is possibly Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon, you probably wouldn’t change much!