The Good Life – vines by the sea »

Part 1 of an extract from Almost an Island: The story of Robe by Liz Harfull

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Caledonian Inn Cottages, Robe, Limestone Coast, South Australia

Caledonian Inn Cottages, Robe, Limestone Coast, South Australia

Nampara Cabins, Robe, Limestone Coast, South Australia
Honeyfield, Robe, Limestone Coast, South Australia
Robe Customs House, Limestone Coast
Lake Butler Marina, Robe, Limestone Coast.


Robe is a small village tucked away on South Australia's rugged Limestone Coast. It has played a variety of roles throughout its history: Australia's busiest port in the 1850s, seaside health resort, home of one of the world's oldest surfing competition and of course, now home to fines wines with growing reputations.

Almost an Island: The story of Robe by Liz Harfull captures what makes this place so special to so many with stories of past and present accompanied by evocative images. The following extract explains the birth of the wine industry in the Robe region:

While visitors to Robe have long enjoyed the town’s seafood, only in recent years has locally produced wine been on the menu. Now there are two officially proclaimed wine regions on the town’s doorstep and the area’s reputation is growing for fine wines influenced by the sea.

In 2012 the Mount Benson region encompassed five cellar-door outlets and 20 or so vineyards covering about 600 hectares of gently undulating terrain close to the coastline north of Robe. They range from small enterprises run by young families to corporate operations developed by international investors. No matter their scale, they have all been drawn by the area’s mild, maritime climate.

Most of the grapes are red varieties, particularly cabernet sauvignon, but the region’s sauvignon blanc and chardonnay have won acclaim too. ‘The wineries here are fairly small so there is a lot of attention to detail,’ says winemaker, local vignerons' association president and 2013 South Australian Rural Woman of the Year, Anna Hooper. ‘And we all produce quite different styles so there are some interesting variations,’ she says. ‘As a winemaker, I can’t think of another place I’d rather be.’

Just over the Woakwine Range is the official Robe wine region. Nestled between ocean and lakes stretching from Robe to Beachport, it is home to a much smaller number of wineries. Only formally designated in 2006, the region’s history of experimenting with vines actually dates from the mid 1960s.

John Lee was among a team of scientists working on coastal disease in the area with the CSIRO. One day he brought some cuttings from Adelaide and handed them to the Quinlan-Watson family to plant at their farm about 15 kilometres out of Robe. ‘He wanted to see if they would grow here,’ says Mick Quinlan-Watson. ‘Not knowing anything about grapes, I planted them in the wrong place, at the wrong time of the year, and I didn’t care for them very well, so the whole lot failed.’

Thirty years later, the push was on to develop new premium grape-growing areas.

One of Australian wine’s biggest companies, Southcorp, bought  300 hectares of land in 1994 and planted a full-scale vineyard. Watching over the fence were Mick and his brother Bill who decided it might be time to have another go. They rounded up investors and in 1995 planted 15 hectares of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot, with Southcorp providing advice on soil preparation and irrigation.

The following year the brothers added another 24 hectares of chardonnay, pinot noir and more shiraz, and in 1998 Governor Robe Wines harvested its first commercial-scale vintage. While the yield was low, the quality was excellent.


The story of the Mt Benson wine region continues in Part 2.


This extract is from Almost an Island: The story of Robe by Liz Harfull and appears with the kind permission of publishers Wakefield Press. It can be purchased online via for A$49.95.

Our review to come soon.


  • Limestone Coast (SA)
  • Mount Benson (SA)
  • Robe (SA)

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March 26th, 2014
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