Coonawarra – the other red wine region

Like the aromas and flavours of top notch cabernets?

By Mark Smith
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Fine wine from the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia

Fine wine from the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia [©Limestone Coast Tourism]

Coonawarra vineyard views, South Australia
Winemakers taking a break in the Coonawarra wine region, South Australia
Terra rossa soil over limestone produces high quality fruit in Coonawarra
Wine barrels in the Coonawarra wine region of South Australia


South Australia’s Coonawarra has been producing internationally renowned cabernet sauvignon since the middle of the 1890s.

Back then, John Riddoch’s ‘carbinet’ grapes fetched £7 per tonne, almost as much as an acre of land in the district. That canny Scot realised there was more to be made from the fruit grown around here than from any one of the Victorian goldfields that caught his eye.

Of course, there’s more to Coonawarra than award-winning cabernet sauvignon. The region produces some of Australia’s best dark berry and plum Shiraz. Katnook Estate’s annual Merlot Mastery is the only red wine masterclass of its kind in the country.

If you’re into getting down and dirty, stop by DiGiorgio Family Wines off John Riddoch Avenue and check out their open soil pit. Get a good close look at the roots of a grape vine and marvel at the contours of this fabulous red earth.

Coonawarra’s 24 plus cellar doors are all conveniently located. Few stray from the straight and narrow of its celebrated Riddoch Highway. Koonara in the main street of Penola hire bikes and helmets to visitors who enjoy ‘wind in the hair’ touring across gentle travel ways. Chauffeured cars and coaches provide less challenging opportunities to visit vineyard cellar doors and watering holes.

Coonawarra’s terra rossa is famous for its regional produce. From pasture-fed meats to picture perfect berries, this part of the Limestone Coast is a gourmand’s delight. Potatoes grown here produce two crops a year.

Meet the locals at the Limestone Coast Food Group’s regular Farmers Markets. Fill your tuckerbag with a selection of emu mettwurst, venison snags, or a little duck under the table. Local traditions of pickling, preserving and jam-making carry fruits of the season’s labour to larders around the globe.

If you time your visit for the last Friday of the month, you can enjoy a feast of fine foods cooked by the region’s farmers, grape growers and winemakers. They gather at the old Coonawarra Memorial Hall. Work off the excesses with some petanque at the piste.

The region’s keen history buffs measure time by the aeon. It took 26 million years to create the majesties of this rugged expanse of coastline and red earth. Drop by Naracoorte Caves National Park and experience South Australia’s only World Heritage Site. Re-create the years of your childhood as you squeeze by the fossil-lined dampness of its quiet tunnels and passageways. Admire cathedral spires among the park’s 26 caves of stalactites and stalagmites.

Search for the clues of some long-gone megafauna. Your Indiana Jones can step back in time at the Wonambi Fossil Centre. Lend a hand as they climb procoptodon’s family tree.

Coonawarra and neighbouring Penola host a range of well-known festivals and events throughout the year. The Arts Festival, Cellar Dwellers, Coonawarra Cup, and Coonawarra Cabernet Celebrations and Barrel Series Auction draw a constant stream of visitors to the region. Log on to to find out what’s on offer.



  • Coonawarra (SA)
  • Limestone Coast (SA)
  • Mount Benson (SA)
  • Padthaway (SA)
  • Penola (SA)
  • Robe (SA)
  • Wrattonbully (SA)

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