Coonawarra: Quality Wines From Australia's Terra Rossa Wine Region

Coonawarra, one of Australia's best-known wine regions, began as a grazing range.  Settlers who came from other parts of Australia and from Scotland bought up land in order to raise sheep.  Somewhere along the way, an enterprising farmer noticed a strip of land with paprika-red soil.  Today, that famously red earth, Coonawarra's terra rossa, is the foundation of the region's fame.

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Coonawarra History

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Coonawarra's winemaking history begins in 1891, when John Riddoch, an enterprising Scottish wine merchant who got his start digging for gold, planted grapevines at his Penola Fruit Colony in South Australia.  The vines prospered, as did the area.  Penola Fruit Colony was renamed Coonawarra in 1897.  For many years, a group of local winemakers made table wines, mainly from shiraz, without attracting much notice.  The Redman family's winery was the only one to last through the difficult times of world wars and the Great Depression; John Riddoch's winery became a distillery and other wineries simply shut their doors.

Not until Samuel Wynn bought John Riddoch's wine estate in 1951 was Coonawarra's potential for greatness fully realized.  With the revival of Australia's table wine industry came experimentation with red wine grape varieties.  Wynn and other wine producers quickly realized that Coonawarra was perfect for growing cabernet sauvignon – something almost magical happened when cabernet grapes grew in that unusual soil – and capitalized on this discovery.  Today, Coonawarra's top cabernet sauvignon wines bring home awards from international and Australian wine competitions.

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Geography, Soil and Climate

Coonawarra is far from any large metropolitan area; Adelaide is the nearest big city and, at 230 miles away, it's not very close at all.  The wine region is in the southeasternmost part of the state of South Australia, in the area known as Australia's Limestone Coast.  The area around Coonawarra and Penola, the town south of Coonawarra, is marshy; in fact, Penola's name derives from an aboriginal word that means "big swamp," according to wine writer Oz Clarke.  Aside from the limestone ridge that contains the region's all-important red soil, Coonawarra is quite flat.