Since John Riddoch decreed in the 1890s that his blockers plant Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra has remained true to these classic varieties.
By the mid 20th century Coonawarra’s total vineyard area had declined to only 300 acres with just 10 acres of Cabernet, but this became the nucleus of the 1960s boom and the impetus for the huge vineyard expansion over the following 30 years.
The region’s terra rossa soils, climate and modern winemaking techniques have culminated in distinctively modern styles of Cabernet and Shiraz that are approachable when young, medium bodied, with rounded lingering palates and great aging ability – perfectly suited to modern cuisine.
New varieties and clones have also been introduced, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot and as these vineyards have matured the wines have also evolved.
The region is now being re-energised through generational change. Sam Brand and Dan Redman are dedicated fourth generation Coonawarra winemakers while a cluster of viticulturist and winemaker sons and daughters – Pete Balnaves, George Kidman, Nick Zema, Frank DiGiorgio, Dru Reschke, Steven Lynn, Emma Bowen, Luke Tocaciu and Mike Wetherall – are assuming their parent’s mantle to begin a second generation.
Other small wineries such as Steve and Emma Raidis’ Raidis Estate and the Trotter family’s The Blok are also contributing to the region’s diversity and some larger long-term companies have evolved with new owners.
However, family ownership is still the back-bone of Coonawarra.
Increasing global demand for Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, especially from serious wine collectors, and a new generation of Australian wine explorers keen to visit and taste the less travelled regions, means the future for this small patch of terra rossa soil seems as bright as it did to John Riddoch in the 1890s.
BRAND MANAGER, PATRICK OF COONAWARRA
“I love Coonawarra Cabernet…it is world class without any exaggeration.”
“I’m not a winemaker or a viticulturist and I haven’t been here for generations…after working in the UK I chose to come here stay here because I love it here and truly feel it is a unique place to live and the wine community is second to none. Personally I don’t want to see too much change in Coonawarra Cabernet – it’s consistent, intense and it is still one of Australia’s most popular red wines. That’s not to say some innovation isn’t important – I like the local experimentation with a ‘nouveau‘ style of Cabernet Franc; Coonawarra Riesling is a variety which I believe should be spoken about more, not to mention some interesting Pinot Noir from the area – we are cool climate after all.”
WINEMAKER, REDMAN WINES
“I can’t see a time when Cabernet won’t be king in Coonawarra.”
“Coonawarra’s winemaking and viticultural practices have evolved a lot over the last decade – the viticultural research in our region is second to none and that has led to improved vineyard management. There is also a group of young winemakers who understand the region better and are starting to explore the frontiers of Cabernet from Coonawarra. We are now seeing more approachable young wines with a purity and richness of fruit that combines well with our traditional fine grain tannins. But we still have what Coonawarra is famous for – the ability to age. I can’t see a time when Cabernet won’t be king in Coonawarra but evolution is continuous and I look forward to welcoming more visitors to our gum trees and open spaces to really discover what we are about.”
“We are in love with contemporary Coonawarra Cabernet – it’s vibrant and medium bodied with great line and length.”
“All great winemakers strive to make the best wine they can, and as farmers we want to see the best expression of the fruit we grow. Coonawarra is a very innovative region, often at the forefront of viticulture advances and while we are seeing a generational shift the families and winemakers that built Coonawarra have always been innovative and adaptable. As new vignerons we have been blown away by the support of this community and how they got behind us as two youngsters starting something new. Modern Coonawarra Cabernet is all about balance. It is important that fruit, acid and tannin align to deliver a red wine that is vibrant and medium bodied with great line and length. When consumed young it is rich with fruit and has great freshness, but if you are patient and like ageing wines, Coonawarra Cabernets are up there with best and most rewarding aged wines in the world.”
WINEMAKER, PATRICK OF COONAWARRA
“The Cabernet style coming out of Coonawarra at the moment isn’t necessarily new – but it is more refined. I see it as a balance between the lighter bodied, savoury 80s wines and rich full flavour 90s wines. Today we make Cabernet and Shiraz that are more approachable when they are young but still contain the hallmark Coonawarra tannin structure to give them longevity.”
“A lot of this has to do with the evolution of viticulture in Coonawarra. There has been a huge investment from the whole region in the redevelopment of trellis practices and a focus on utilising new technologies to get things right in the vineyard. This makes it easier in the winery with less winemaker manipulation and shows the true expression of the region and climate.”
“The trend in other wine regions is to make younger, fresher wines with softness and simple fruit flavours but I have found that by doing the opposite, with our delayed release philosophy, it is really helping us to stand out and make noise about the longevity of Coonawarra Cabernet.”
“I really like getting out in the market with consumers doing pop-up events and master classes to show people how amazing Coonawarra Cabernet can be. Some people I speak to have never tasted an older Cabernet and when they do, they are hooked.”
“My goal is to ensure Coonawarra is firmly on the world wine map as a leader in Cabernet, an international destination as the centre-piece of the greater limestone coast, with a food and wine experience you can’t get anywhere else.”