Coonawarra is an outlier within Australia’s diversity of noteworthy wine regions. Located at the southern extreme of South Australia, its increased latitude and proximity to the cold waters of the Southern Ocean contribute significantly to its cool climate. More importantly, Coonawarra is home to the most famous soil of any winegrowing region in Australia, the ochre-colored “terra rossa”. The red color in the topsoil comes from an abundance of iron and is extremely loose and well-drained, inviting vine roots to dig deeper. The limestone bedrock retains moisture throughout the growing season so that the vines are spared from the stresses of heat and drought.
Coonawarra’s terra rosa soils are confined to a narrow band in the heart of the appellation running roughly north to south for 27 kilometers (17 miles), with an average width of about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile). To maximize this precious terroir, the entire area is dedicated to vineyards, and the main grape planted is Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the past century, Coonawarra’s soils and cool climate have developed a reputation for a unique interpretation of Cabernet, that combines an intensity of fruit flavor with elegant tannins, giving the wine immediate drinking appeal, as well as the capacity for further improvement with bottle aging. With these characteristics, Coonawarra Cabernet, and likewise the smaller plantings of Shiraz and Merlot, melds the styles of Old World and New World, combining the pleasure of succulent fruit with velvety texture and finesse. Shiraz in Coonawarra also benefits from the cool maritime-influenced climate and the unique geology, producing a restrained, medium-bodied, and elegant wine. It is not uncommon for producers here to blend Cabernet and Shiraz to benefit from these grapes’ combined tannins and fruit, producing a wine with Coonawarra typicity with crisp, focused flavor and balance.