Coonawarra has developed an enviable reputation as a producer of premium table wines, particularly the dry red table wines. This reputation has been developed with wines grown on a unique strip of red 'terra rossa' soil which is approximately 16 kilometres long and 2 kilometres wide.
Coonawarra is situated in the South East of South Australia and is a cool climate region. Coonawarra wine industry was born in 1890 when the prominent settler John Riddoch established the Coonawarra Fruit Colony. After many years of fluctuating fortunes the area entered a phase of rapid development in the early 1960's.
The southern end of the Coonawarra terra rossa soil enters the township of Penola. Penola shares with the coastal town of Robe the distinction of being the oldest town in the South East of South Australia. Penola has gained prominence as a township which was home to such notable people as the poets John Shaw Neilson, Will Ogilvey, Adam Lindsay Gordon, the prominent theologians Saint Mary MacKillop, Father Julian Tenison Woods, the explorer Larry Wells and later, the noted Australian arctic explorer John Rymill.
The story of the founder of Coonawarra, John Riddoch, is a fascinating one. The son of a Scottish crofter, Riddoch gained his wealth as a storekeeper on the Ballarat gold fields before purchasing Yallum Estate from where he represented his district in parliament and entertained members of the royal family.
Soil, Limestone & Water
The predominant soil type is a clay based terra rossa which overlays calcareous limestone. The limestone, which varies in depth from surface level to approximately one metre, has significant water retention properties. This water which is used for both frost control and supplementary water of the vines can be drawn from between 6 metres and 20 metres. The frost control pumps require a minimum, of 450,000 litres per hour to achieve the necessary control and most bores in Coonawarra are capable of delivering this amount. The application of water to the vines ensures that the temperature on the vine leaf or bud does not fall below freezing and at this temperature no damage occurs. However, this practise has now been joined by the use of frost fans.
The underground water is used very carefully in conjunction with scientific measurements of soil moisture provided by Neutron Probes, Gypsum Blocks Enviroscans and Automatic Weather Stations. It is a most valuable asset and can be used in a period of dry weather or frost control. The resource must be managed very carefully as excessive use could lead to increase in salinity, however there is no indication of this problem at this time. Sixty percent of the underground water table in Coonawarra refills through localised rainfall and 40% becomes available from underground aquifers of water moving east / west towards the coast. In addition to the well-known terra rossa soil, Coonawarra has several transitional soils. These soils are now being planted due to the scarcity of terra rossa soils and have been found to be suited to some of the lesser varieties.
Coonawarra at a Glance
Total Vineyard Area - 5500 Ha / 13,590 Acres
Height above Sea Level - 60 metres
Distance from coast -100 km approximately
Average Rainfall - 600 mm
Average Summer temperature - 22 C
Average evaporation - 190mm / month
Average amount of water used by a vine per week - 3.7 mm
Average row width - 2.75 metres
Average vines per Ha. - 2000
Average number of buds per Ha. - 11000
Average cropping level - 3.75t/Acre or 9.25t/ Ha
Average Kg per vine -5 Kg
Average date of bud burst - 16 Sept (Chardonnay)
Average latest day of picking - 6 May
Latest date ever to finish vintage - 17 May