Wine country: Coonawarra wineries producing more than just cabernet sauvignon

Discover how South Australia’s little strip of terra rossa has so much more to offer than its famed cabernet sauvignon.
Wines from Coonawarra wineries South Australia

Coonawarra wines

Alana Landsberry

Coonawarra has long been defined by its 27-kilometre-long strip of terra rossa soil, the rich red earth in which some of the country’s best cabernet sauvignon is grown. In an area where traditionally cabernet is king, Coonawarra is experiencing new life and vibrancy thanks, in part, to the recent pandemic.

“Covid allowed a lot of people to rethink their businesses and use the time wisely to upgrade cellar doors and reopen restaurants with a new vibe,” says winemaker and co-owner of Raïdis Estate, Emma Raïdis. Lockdowns around the country forced a local South Australian tourism focus. Locals usually stick to wine regions closer to Adelaide but extended border closures drove them to explore further afield, such as Coonawarra. “People are shocked by the quality of the white wines here and how much more we have to offer than just cabernet; we sell out of our whites early every year,” says Raïdis.

But that’s not to discount the quality and diversity in the red grape varieties, adds Wynns Coonawarra Estate winemaker Sue Hodder. “At Wynns, our heritage is based around shiraz and cabernet, there’s still so much to explore in these varieties. The landscape is changing with climate change, and we’re exploring different cabernet clones, using biodiversity in how we help our vineyards adapt to these changes.”

The crux of this new Coonawarra story is this meeting of both historic sites and the contemporary wines that are also being developed here. “If we want to tell a significant chapter of the wine story well – we need to do the work now to protect what’s in the ground and protect our legacy,” says Hodder.

Nuance and diversity of regions is the most beautiful thing about the Australian wine story and something we should celebrate. “I think it’s easy to pigeon hole and say ‘Coonawarra is just one monotonous thing – a block of cabernet’,” says Sophie Otton, one of Australia’s leading sommeliers and co-owner of wine bar She Loves You. “We mustn’t sideline what came before – there’s a lot that can be learnt from both by respecting and preserving what came before but also not being frightened to shake things up.”

The region of Coonawarra is a settler’s name that is said to have originated from Bindjali, a Kulinic language, meaning “wild honeysuckle” (which grows wild in the area). Research shows many First Nations people travelled the lands featured in this article. However, the Bindjali people – now believed to be extinct – were the traditional custodians of this land.

Coonawarra wines to try

2021 Raïdis Estate The Kid Riesling, $22

In a nod to Coonawarra’s historical love of riesling, Steve and Emma Raïdis have released a classic riesling bursting out of the glass with lime zest, green apples and lemon pith, with a minerality and texture that is lip-smackingly delicious.


2018 Wynns Old Vines Black Label Shiraz, $45

A consistent quiet achiever using fruit from vines planted in 1894, this shiraz is a beautiful expression of the variety from the changing landscape of the Coonawarra. Medium-bodied and full of red fruits and a hint of spice – all that’s needed is a slow-cooked lamb shoulder.


2015 Bellwether Cabernet Sauvignon, $70

Sue Bell focuses on small parcels of fruit, which are hand pruned and handpicked, using only wild yeast growing in the vineyard and winery to produce this contemporary style of Coonawarra cabernet. Simply exceptional.


2020 Penley Estate Project “E” Cabernet Sauvignon, $50

This is the first wine fermented in a concrete “egg” ever to be produced in the Coonawarra. As a result, the wine is on the lighter side but makes up for it in flavour; blood plums, cassis, and crushed blueberries, with just a hint of cloveand dried sage for depth and intrigue.


Balnaves 2021 Release NV Sparkling Cabernet, $35

Regardless that sparkling red is entrenched in the Aussie vernacular, it has always been viewed as a bit daggy. But when you find one that’s well balanced, elegant and bursting with character (and has a base of 10 vintages of reserve wines), you can’t help but shout about it from the rooftops.


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