Coonawarra - wines and vines facts

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Brand’s Cellar, Coonawarra, South Australia

Brand’s Cellar, Coonawarra, South Australia [©Limestone Coast Tourism]

Morning mist in the vineyard, Coonawarra, South Australia
The Hollick winery, cellar door and restaurant complex, Coonawarra, South Australia
Zema Estate, Coonawarra, South Australia, specialises in handcrafted quality wines
Rymill cellar door and winery, Coonawarra, South Australia

Location

The Coonawarra wine region is located in the far south-east corner of South Australia, approximately 60km inland from its coastline, and 380km from Adelaide. By car, it is a comfortable five hours drive from either Melbourne or Adelaide.

The region is famous for its tiny narrow ribbon of red terra rossa soil, less than 30 kilometres long from north to south, and barely 2 kilometres wide.

Coonawarra is one of five premium quality wine regions that collectively make up the Limestone Coast zone. The remaining Limestone Coast regions are Mount Benson, Padthaway, Robe and Wrattonbully. A sixth region of Penola is in the interim stage of determination.

Coonawarra boasts a long viticultural history dating back more than a century. After protracted wrangling over sites and soils during the 1990s, the Coonawarra GI was finalised on 6 January 2003, when the name was entered in the Registrar of Protected Names. The term defines the region’s physical boundaries and proscribes its use under Commonwealth of Australia law (Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980).

History

Vines were first planted in Coonawarra in 1890. Since then, wine grape production has evolved through three distinct phases. The first lasted until World War One and was largely the result of pioneering work carried out by Scottish immigrant John Riddoch and those who acquired his ill-fated Penola Fruit Growing Colony.

Between the 1930s and the early 1950s, Riddoch’s cellars were converted to a distillery and the region not only saw large-scale abandonment of table wine production, its total vineyard area declined by almost one-third.

In 1951, Samuel Wynn added his name to the list of Coonawarra vignerons. The region then embarked upon a steady program of vineyard expansion and rationalisation that has continued until the present.

Today, Coonawarra is home to 16 wineries and 23 cellar door outlets. Production volumes range from small scale and family-owned to large scale and corporate. Wynns Coonawarra Estate is the region’s largest player, producing close to 400,000 cases of wine annually.

Climate

Barely 60km from the coast, Coonawarra is subject to maritime climatic conditions, with 13.8°C-14.8°C (mean maxima) winters, and 24.7°C-27.3°C (mean maxima) summers. The region’s location at latitude 37° South can provide very warm ripening periods. Their potentially adverse effects are often moderated by cloud cover.  

Coonawarra’s vineyards are planted along a modest limestone ridge, setting them apart from the surrounding flat and unremarkable landscape. In all, the region is less than 60 metres above sea level. Heat summation figures here vary little from Coonawarra’s long-term average of 1430 units.

Coonawarra’s mean January temperature is officially recorded as 19.6°C, almost a degree cooler than that of Padthaway, 80 kilometres to the north.

The region has an average rainfall of 640mm, of which 222 mm falls during the region’s growing season (October to April). Supplementary irrigation mitigates the region’s naturally high rates of evaporation. Overhead sprinkler systems on some sites also help to reduce the hazards associated with spring frosts that can be quite severe here during October.

Coonawarra wines are characterised by vibrant colours, clearly varietal aromas and flavours, and lingering natural acidities. Grape tannins in red varieties – even in Cabernet Sauvignon – are typically fine and supple.

Regions

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

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