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Thursday 5 September 2013

Coonawarra - remote but well worth the effort

You'll find one of Australia's most remote wine-producing districts as a tiny dot on the map roughly halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, just on the South Australian side of the state border.

A cigar-shaped strip of red "terra rossa" soil (below) runs from the hamlet of Penola along the Riddoch Highway to just north of tiny Coonawarra township - a distance of just 24 kilometres - and this strip produces some of Australia's most spectacular red wines. 

The magnificent cabernets and shirazes - and some pretty decent white wines, too - are the result of the region's unique terroir, which has fertile red-brown topsoil sitting on a white limestone base. 

Grapes have been grown here since the early 1890s and there is a very busy calendar of festivals, events and wine tastings throughout the year - with the Coonawarra Cabernet Celebrations coming up from October 18-20. 

You'll find some of the biggest names in Australian wine here: Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Yalumba The Menzies, Katnook Estate and Brands Laira. 

Smaller producers include Zema Estate, Balnaves, Bowen Estate, Majella, Highbank, Reschke, Parker Estate, Hollick, Redman, Rymill, Penley Estate, Leconfield, DiGiorgo, Koonara, Kidman, Patrick and Raidis EstateJust outside the Coonawarra appellation, also look out for wine from St Mary’s.

Regional pioneer Wynns Coonawarra Estate, where wine has been made since 1897, has an interpretive centre that takes wine enthusiasts on an interactive and educational journey through the history of the region, viticulture and winemaking. 

Balnaves is a family-owned winery that makes an excellent range of wines, including the sub-$20 The Blend, one of Australia's best-value reds. Tastings can be enjoyed in a modern cellar door surrounded by rose gardens and overlooking a delightful pond.

Zema Estate is one of the rising stars of Coonawarra, producing excellent cabernets and shirazes, and its cellar door is a hive of activity, hosting regular events and tastings, many with an Italian theme, while Bowen Estate is a family-owned winery producing just three wines; a cabernet, a shiraz and a chardonnay. 

Katnook Estate is the perfect spot to relax in a renovated cellar door made from local stone and timbers. A lounge area overlooks the vines while a pit dug in the ground shows the famous "terra rossa" soil profile. 

Also check out Rymill (below,) which has a delightfully modern cellar door and offers great value wines.

Fine-dining restaurant Pipers at Penola has been named best regional restaurant in South Australia. Chef-patron Simon Bowen is a member of one of the district's most famous winemaking families and serves up seriously good food - like this Wagyu beef dish (below). There's also an excellent wine list.

Winery-dining venue Upstairs at Hollick has long been regarded as one of Australia's finest winery restaurants and diners can enjoy vineyard views or look into the winery through a glass wall.

The casual Fodder, run by former Rymill winemaker John Innes and his wife Melissa, serves relaxed food in Coonawarrra township. The wood-fired pizzas here are particularly good and there is wine from every local producer.

In Penola, check out Penola Station restaurant, which is open seven days a week. 

There is a wide range of accommodation options for such a rural region, with eco-friendly Must@Coonawarra offering luxury self-contained apartments with spas, plasma televisions and all modern luxuries.

Other choices include Merlot and Verdelho Townhouses, the Alexander Cameron Motel, Girraween House, Koonara Cottage and two delightful options at Honeysuckle Rise on the Highbank vineyard property.

Penola Coonawarra Visitor Information Centre, 27 Arthur Street, Penola.,

CoonawarraVignerons Association 69 Church Street, Penola.

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