Cabernet is king in Coonawarra

Coonawarra’s agricultural history began in the mid-1800s when settlers recognised the potential of the flat, fertile plains for sheep farming and fruit growing. Enterprising Scottish settler John Riddoch planted Coonawarra’s first grapevines in 1891, thirty years after establishing a lucrative sheep farm at Penola. Thanks to the work of pioneering work of people like David Wynn and Bill Redman today Coonawarra is, perhaps alongside Margaret River, Australia’s most famous cool-climate region for Cabernet Sauvignon.

The grape varietal has found a home in the terra rossa soils of Coonawarra, producing rich, firmly structured red wines that are renowned around the world. But the region is by no means a one trick pony, producing a diverse range of varieties and styles. And the established winemaking families have been reinforced by a new generation of winemakers in recent years, continuing the tradition of elegant cool climate winemaking and bringing the region to a new audience.

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Coonawarra snapshot

Coonawarra is only 100 kilometres (60 miles) inland and so a predominantly maritime climate prevails in the region, with dry and moderately cool summers ripening most grape varieties to perfection. Its maritime location does not, however, prevent the occurrence of spring frosts that are occasionally quite severe. The extensive cloud cover that moderates the most important ripening period temperatures also sets the region apart from others. While not unique to the region, the terra rossa of Coonawarra is Australia's most famous soil. Vivid red in colour, it is either friable subplastic clay or a shallow friable loam derived from and lying on top of a bed of soft limestone. 


The terra rossa strip is just one-kilometre-wide and runs for 12 kilometres northwest through Coonawarra. This tiny stretch of land is among the most valuable – and controversial – patches of earth in Australian wine. But rather than creating a climate of elitism this is a region where the production of world-class wines is woven into the community. Coonawarra is home to well-established names that have endured and continue to succeed alongside newer names that are reinvigorating the region. And while Cabernet holds the Coonawarra crown, there is a lot more to this classic region than first meets the eye.

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Total vineyard area
37° 31'S
Growing season rainfall
Mean temperature (Jan)
Heat degree days

Cabernet Sauvignon

Coonawarra is considered to be the pre-eminent producer of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia creating medium to full-bodied wines with cassis, blackberry, plum and dark cherry flavours. Firm but plush tannins the very best versions can age gracefully for decades.


Does not have a long tradition in Coonawarra but has been a very successful blending partner for Cabernet Sauvignon and makes interesting, elegant varietal wine.


Up until the 1950s Shiraz was the main variety grown in Coonawarra, so it has a long history in the region. The style is medium-bodied with spice and raspberry-toned fruit. A Coonawarra tradition is to blend Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Top varieties grown in Coonawarra
  • Coonawarra experiences a maritime influence due to upwelling of cold ocean currents at certain times of the year
  • Cold winters and cool summer night temperatures
  • Consistent cloud cover contributes to temperature reduction
  • A flat region famous for its terra rossa soils
  • Thin iron-oxide based top soil over limestone

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