South Australia – Coonawarra – a different day's tasting

There's so much quality in Coonawarra to explore

By Winsor Dobbin
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Coonawarra vineyard views, South Australia

Coonawarra vineyard views, South Australia [©Coonawarra Vignerons]

Fodder - Food With Thought
Zema Estate, Coonawarra
Honeysuckle Rise at Highbank vineyard, Penola
Terra rossa soil over limestone produces high quality fruit in Coonawarra


It’s one of Australia’s more remote, but also most rewarding, wine regions: Coonawarra lies midway between Melbourne and Adelaide – roughly a five-hour drive from either – or 45 minutes from Mount Gambier’s pocket-sized airport.

Coonawarra is a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers from around the world – drawn by the magnificent cabernets and shirazes produced locally as a result of the region’s unique terra rossa land which has red-brown topsoil sitting on a white limestone base.

A thin cigar-shaped strip of red soil that runs from the hamlet of Penola in the south along the Riddoch Highway to tiny Coonawarra township in the north – a distance of just 24 kilometres – this small area produces some of Australia’s very best reds (and some pretty good chardonnays and rieslings) and the winemakers, grape growers and marketers are all immensely proud of their little strip – flat as it is.

There are several iconic spots on every visitor’s itinerary: meals at Pipers at Penola and Upstairs at Hollick, cellar door visits to Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate, Rymill, Katnook Estate, Yalumba The Menzies and Balnaves. But there are also several smaller cellar doors and eateries equally worthy of attention, along with the Mary MacKillop Centre.

Here’s an alternative itinerary taking in some less well-known gems.


Stop 1 – Tasting and shopping at Koonara Country Store

You’ll find the Koonara cellar door on the main street of Penola. In addition to tasting Dru Reschke’s wines, which offer excellent value for money, you’ll also be able to browse through a wide range of kitchen goods, homewares, gifts, local produce and artworks. It doesn’t get any more country than this.

You must taste: The 2004 Ambriel’s Gift Coonawarra Cabernet – a current release that’s six years old.

Open: Daily 10am-6pm
44 Church Street, Penola
Phone (08) 8737 3222


Stop 2 – Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre

Visit the Mary MacKillop Centre to learn about the woman who is scheduled to be canonised as Australia’s first saint on October 17. The Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre in Penola is the region’s major drawcard, where visitors can learn about how, in 1866, Mary MacKillop, an outstanding young teacher, and Julian Tenison Woods, a priest and brilliant scientist, founded the Sisters of St Joseph, who provided a free Catholic education, initially for the isolated bush children of Penola.

Open: Daily 10am-4pm
Portland Street, Penola
Phone (08) 8737 2092


Stop 3 – Tasting at Majella cellar door

Family-owned Majella only produced its first wines in 1991 but has built a formidable reputation for quality since then, with winemaker Bruce Gregory regarded among the Limestone Coast’s most talented craftsmen. You’ll find a friendly and knowledgeable crew at the cellar door.

You must taste: The red blend Malleea is the flagship but the sparkling shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and budget-priced The Musician blend are all very good.

Open: Daily 10am-4.30pm
Lynn Road, Coonawarra
Phone (08) 8736 3055


Stop 4 – Tasting at Bowen Estate cellar door

The Bowen family has been making wines for almost 40 years with founder Doug Bowen having handed over the winemaking reins to daughter Emma. The rustic cellar door is one of the most atmospheric in the region with just three classic Coonawarra varieties on offer; cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and chardonnay.

You must taste: It’s hard to split the 2008 cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. Both are excellent.

Open: Daily 10am-5pm
Riddoch Highway, Coonawarra
Phone (08) 8737 2229


Stop 5 – Lunch at Fodder – Food With Thought

Fodder is a popular Coonawarra café on the site of the former Redfingers that makes superb pizzas. You’ll be served by ex Rymill winemaker John Innes, or his wife Melissa. This relaxed spot has a wood-fired pizza oven and an extensive wine list featuring all of the local producers. There are daily specials and an excellent range of pizzas with the option of adding extras like anchovies, fresh chilli, Spanish onions or capers.

Open: Daily
Memorial Drive, Coonawarra
Phone (08) 8736 3170


Stop 6 – Tasting at Zema Estate

There is always something happening at Zema Estate, one of Coonawarra’s best, and most friendly, cellar doors. The small family-owned and operated winery has been a local favourite since 1982 when Italian migrants Demetrio and Francesca Zema and their sons purchased a small vineyard. Regular events at the cellar door include tastings and sales of local produce, bocce tournaments, tastings, cooking classes, vine sculpture exhibitions, wine and chocolate matchings and a range of other activities.

You must taste: The Cluny red blend and the Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are all outstanding.

Open: Daily 9am-5pm
Riddoch Highway, Coonawarra
Phone (08) 8736 3219


Stop 7 – Tasting at Raidis Estate

Raidis Estate is the newest wine producer in Coonawarra and recently opened a cute cellar door just outside Penola. Steven Raidis, whose family have long been grape growers, produces several wines for under $20 – but has plans for a much larger range. Look for the massive wood-fired oven that is used to roast goats and other delicacies during Coonawarra’s many festivals.

You must taste: "The Kelpie" Sauvignon Blanc, "The Kid" Riesling and the “Cheeky Goat" Pinot Gris, along with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Open: Thursday-Monday noon-6pm
147 Church Street, Penola
Phone (08) 8737 2966


Stop 8 – Dinner at Terra Rossa Wine Club

A relative newcomer in the main street of Penola, the Terra Rossa Wine Club serves a wide range of local wines and tapas and has built a strong local following. Part-owner Stephen Moignard also owns the Hundred of Comaum label and his wines are available for tasting along with those of small producers like Wood Block and Kopparossa. The food is Spanish themed and ranges from fried whitebait with lemon and aioli to chorizo, pork and beef balls in red wine sauce.

Open: Daily until late
48 Church Street, Penola
Phone (08) 8737 3350


Stop 9 – Overnight at Honeysuckle Rise

Dennis and Bonnie Vice follow organic principles on their four-hectare Highbank vineyard, which produces top quality cabernet blends and merlots. Overlooking the vines is Honeysuckle Rise, which features two stylish and well-appointed self-contained accommodation units; the Cottage and the Villa, both of which are made from local limestone and recycled timber and are delightful bases from which to explore the region. The Villa has a commercial kitchen, making it popular with visiting chefs and would-be gourmet cooks.

Open: Nightly
Maaoupe Road, Penola
Phone (08) 8736 3311



  • Coonawarra (SA)
  • Limestone Coast (SA)
  • Penola (SA)

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