The wines produced in the Coonawarra in South Australia are unique for the Terra Rossa soil in which they grow, a soil type specific to this region. The soil which is rich in iron, silica and nutrients sits on top of a bedrock of limestone and this combined with pure underground water creates the terroir soil renowned for red wine.
This wine region is around 375 kilometres south east of Adelaide, making it a great excuse to have a weekend away to discover. There are more than 30 wineries to visit with most of them along one stretch of road, the Riddoch Highway. This is where it gets tricky! To my mind this is a dangerous piece of road and you feel a bit like you’re playing chicken every time you want to get on and off the highway to visit a cellar door. My advice would be to not hesitate while you are looking for wineries and if you see a sign for one just turn in! Being a highway you can have cars and trucks barrelling along behind you and slowing down isn’t an option. You are best off to just enter where the winery signs are and decide if you want to stay or not once you’re off the main road.
Having said that, we visited a few different wineries on one day and weren’t disappointed with any of them. Here are three of my favourites.
Patrick of Coonawarra
This family owned and operated winery was established in 2004 by winemaker Patrick Tocaciu. The winery today is run by his son Luke Tocaciu and the range of wines produced includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz that the region is most well-known for as well as Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling varieties. The cellar door is a really spacious and friendly place to stop in and taste from the Patrick of Coonawarra range or their other range, Mother of Pearl. You can also try their own Appellation Cider.
This winery has a lovely garden outside with sculptures and picnic areas and is very family friendly.
You know you’re in for something special as soon as you start driving along the Plane tree lined avenue that leads you to the entrance of the architecturally designed Rymill Winery. This winery was established in the 1970s by Peter Rymill, the great grandson of John Riddoch, founder of the Coonawarra.
The wow moments keep coming as you follow the road to the cellar door with an imposing statue of a pair of rearing stallions come into view. The next thing that grabs your attention are the ornamental grape vines that wrap around the poles and cover the pergola of the three storey building. The bright red tones of the leaves are particularly striking if you visit in autumn. Another feature before entering the building is a pond containing large Chinese goldfish. All this and you haven’t even stepped inside the winery yet.
Once inside the cellar door the tasting room is at ground level then you can also take a self-guided tour a further 2 floors up. The top floor has views over the grounds and lawned area below where you can enjoy a platter of your own making from goodies purchased inside, and play some lawn games while you enjoy a bottle of one of the wines. From this top level of the building you also get an overhead view of the magnificent stallions sculpture. The second level enables you to see the wine making process from grape to glass as workers toil away below.
The range of wines includes sparkling, whites and rose through to the big reds. As is the theme with this thoroughbred loving family some of the wines have equestrian names too including ‘The Yearling’ and ‘The Dark Horse’.
Balnaves of Coonawarra
This family owned winery was established in 1975 and was the pick of the bunch for me (on this visit). It has a very welcoming atmosphere starting with a large lawn area where you can picnic or play lawn games provided by the winery. The lawn is next to a pond which also has a covered deck area to sit and enjoy the views. There is a huge rose garden containing more than 900 bushes to wander through and stop and smell the roses, literally.
Inside the wine room you can relax in front of an open fire while you sample wines or sit at the tasting bench and get friendly and personalised service. Everyone is taken care of here, even the designated driver who while they may not be partaking in wine tasting, can help themselves we were told with a grin, to as much ‘sky wine’ (water) as they wish. This is a winery where you can linger for quite a while, enjoy a picnic box full of cheeses and gourmet seasonal produce while enjoying the grounds and of course those reds.
Cheers to another great South Australian wine region, we really are spoilt for choice.