There’s really something magical about travelling through wine country.
Whether it’s those corduroy rows of vines whizzing past your window, a chat with the local wine maker, a sneaky Sunday session, or even the adoring eyes of that cellar door dog - one thing’s always certain... you’ll never leave the Limestone Coast thirsty!
With six of Australia’s finest wine regions scattered across our fertile plains, you’ll be spoiled for choice at every turn. Here’s what you need to know about each of them, before hitting the road!
Coonawarra Wine Region.
The rich red soils of Coonawarra are steeped in Australian winemaking folklore, and for very good reason. The hallowed ‘terra rossa’ around here is justifiably world-famous, with local wineries churning out some of the world’s finest – and boldest – Cabernet Sauvignons. With the first vines having been planted back in 1890, today you’ll find more than 24 cellar doors all within a few kilometres of each other, making a couple of days here highly palatable.
While the big, bold reds that are produced in this legendary patch of terroir are revered all over the globe, beyond its flagship ‘Coonawarra Cab Sav’, you’ll also find local wineries producing top quality Shiraz and Merlot. With dry summers and chilly nights, Coonawarra is generally cooler than other South Australian wine regions, also making it climatically suited to Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Key out-take: a veritable smorgasbord for a vino-fuelled vacation!
At just 27 kilometres long by two kilometres wide, Coonawarra is prime for touring, with the historic township of Penola sitting right in the thick of it (a great place to base yourself). If you’re keen to jump out of the car and stretch your legs, this region’s also a great place to do it, with the five kilometre Coonawarra Wineries Walking Trail weaving it’s way between Redman Wines, Brand’s Laira Coonawarra, Ottelia, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, DiGiorgio Family Wines and Zema Estate. Just download the mobile app and you’ll be strolling and sipping in no time.
While it may be small in size, Coonawarra is huge on reputation, and with world-famous labels scattered along its star-studded strip you’ll find a premium line up in any direction. The Coonawarra Wine Region website provides a full list of ‘who’s who in the zoo’, and rest assured you’ll find a lot of variety in terms of cellar door styles and offerings.
If you’re keen to hit up some of the ‘big boys’, Wynns Coonawarra Estate is the largest single vineyard holder in the region, and home to some of its oldest vineyards. In fact, these vines have been producing top quality vintages since grapes were first planted back in 1891. As well as boasting one of the most iconic buildings in the area (you’ll recognise it from the label), frustrated winemakers will relish having a go at Making Your Own Blend here from select parcels of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot - you’ll even snag a personalised bottle to take home!
At Brand’s Laira Coonawarra's recently refurbished cellar door, cutting edge architecture meets age old vines dating back to 1893, with an expansive interior and breathtakingly high ceilings that shelter and preserve Eric's Shed - the original cellar door, and one of the cosiest spots to snuggle in on a chilly winter's day. If that’s not your bag, kick back by the window to enjoy the vineyard views through glorious floor to ceiling windows that open out to an alfresco dining deck and lawn area that's prime for picnics.
Down the road at at Rymill Coonawarra, two duelling steeds stand guard over a multi-story winery and cellar door that delivers stunning views of the surrounding estate and vineyards, with a self-guided tour across the viewing platforms an absolute must while you’re here.
If you’re travelling on your stomach, look no further than Hollick Estate. Home to a Café in the Vines as well as the highly acclaimed Upstairs restaurant, the views from here are just as delicious as their dishes. Check out their ‘Immerse Yourself’ experience for a fully guided wine flight over an epic degustation lunch.
Beyond the big labels, also find plenty of other smaller and family run wineries in the region, with Raidis Estate, Balnaves of Coonawarra and DiGiorgio Family Wines all great picks, especially if you’ve got a tribe of your own. For more ideas on how to keep your teens and tweens settled in between sips, check out the ‘Whine-free wining’ section of this page as well as this handy summer hit list for your little ones.
Of course, just like the wine itself, Coonawarra is best savoured when you’ve got some time up your sleeve, so you’ll need a place to rest your head in between pit stops! With a wide variety of accommodation options from hotels and motels to apartments, bed and breakfasts and caravan parks, there’s plenty to appeal to all tastes and budgets.
To ensure the shortest possible stagger from the tasting room, the decadent glamping tents at Bellwether Wines are surrounded by 400-year-old gums and a cellar door just a cork pop from your fly screen. After slumbering under a canopy of stars you’ll rise to a range of hands-on experiences here, from foodie fun and structured tastings to helping out in the herb garden. Equally convenient, you’ll also find Yalumba’s The Menzies Retreat plonked right by the vineyard with the exclusive Menzies Wine Room (open by appointment) sitting on the other side of your door.
Naturally, good wine should be matched with great food, and Penola is home to two of Coonawarra’s signature dining experiences. Pipers of Penola is a mecca for foodies nationwide, dishing up anything from local lamb and roast Jerusalem artichoke tortellini to seared whiting and Coffin Bay oysters. At Ottelia, the daily menu showcases spectacular produce from the kitchen garden, complementing a vast selection of wines from right around the region. For something more casual, but far beyond the ordinary, The Royal Oak Penola’s locavore line-up will also have you back for seconds. For a full rundown of all the tastiest spots around town, whet your appetite with our Devouring the Limestone Coast article for further details.
Of course, we all know driving’s just a drag and if you’re keen to leave the keys back at the hotel, it’s also super easy to join a private tour around here. Hop on board with Coonawarra Experiences or Coonawarra Discovery Wine Tours to unravel the riches of the region, either setting your own pace or choosing a structured itinerary. Along the way you’ll meeting local vignerons, taste incredible tipple and feast on local knowledge.
With a smorgasbord of local Coonawarra wine events this region also packs a punch with festivities, all-year-round. Particular dates to plan for include Coonawarra Vignerons showcases such as Coonawarra After Dark (April), Coonawarra Cellar Dwellers (July) and Coonawarra Cabernet Celebrations (October). The Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival (May) also delivers a full palette of live music, painting, workshops, food, vino, comedy and more, while a number of wineries regularly turn it on with events of their own. Just keep an eye on their social media channels for details throughout the seasons.
Padthaway Wine Region.
Unpretentious, unassuming and as most visitors would agree - hugely underrated - the Padthaway Wine Region punches above its weight in the connoisseurs’ club. This elongated patch of terroir sits north of Coonawarra and Wrattonbully wine regions, stretching around 62 kilometres long by 8 kilometres wide.
Split down the middle by the Riddoch Highway, these fertile plains produce some of the finest Chardonnay in the country, with a renowned flavour and intensity that reflects the richness of its soils. Of course, like it’s Coonawarra neighbour this region reaps the rewards of terra rossa over limestone, which when combined with plenty of warm sunshine and a cool Southern Ocean breeze see it producing some stunning Shiraz and Cabernet.
A local star in every sense, you’ll find Farmer’s Leap Wines sitting pretty, with sweeping views across the vines and a deck that’s primed for cheese platters and swishes in the Sun! With a year-round menu delivering anything from loaded wedges to scotch fillet, retreating indoors to the cosy fireplace for wood-oven pizza and a splash of ‘The Brave Shiraz’ is simply food for the soul.
Not far down the road, Landaire Wines is a prime spot for a splash of something different. Tucked within in the historic stables of the grand old Padthaway Estate, this place oozes old world charm - with a modern twist - in the front yard of a Victorian mansion (circa 1881). On sunny days, pull up a table in the garden for a splash of their spectacular Eliza Blanc De Blancs sparkling, or retreat inside to the fire when the crisp air turns to a chill. If you’re feeling super settled, you can also rest your head in the property’s self-contained Shearer’s Quarters (circa 1901) or the classic old Lawson Cottage – Tatiara district’s first permanent dwelling, dating back to 1847.
Mount Benson Wine Region.
Hitting the coast, you’ll find all the cool kids are flocking to Mount Benson Wine Region these days – a place where progressive young winemakers take a sustainable approach to viticulture, with the Southern Ocean as their backdrop.
One of the Limestone Coast's newer wine regions, Mount Benson sits halfway between Kingston SE and Robe, with the first grapes only hitting the ground in the 1980s. With a cool maritime climate, its seaside location exerts profound influence over its wine styles, just as much as the trailblazers that make it.
Long and dry growing seasons, a stiff salty breeze and a bed of free-draining limestone all make this a prime location for Sauvignon Blanc, with cool climate Chardonnay also a strong feature. Beyond its well-earned reputation for crisp white wines however, the region is also steadily gaining a reputation for elegant Shiraz and rich Cabernet Sauvignons, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Petit Verdot also part of the mix.
Home to over 600 hectares of vines and a handful of cellar doors, you’ll find plenty of opportunity to taste your way around the region, with Cape Jaffa Wines a perfect spot to kick things off. With its peachy perfect deck floating above the vineyard, pulling up a table and washing down a local platter with a glass of their finest is one of life’s great pleasures, while rolling out the picnic rug for a lazy lawn session is equally good fun. Oh, and if you’re after a little change pace, you can also freshen your palate with a froth or two, with Loophole Brewing Co. also pouring onsite.
At the family run Ralph Fowler Wines, the Lyre Trellis system of growing (horizontally divided trellis with the shoots trained upwards) produces plenty of fruit-driven and savoury wines, with Shiraz, Viognier and Merlot all staples of the range. If you’ve arrived at the right time however, you may even be lucky enough to sample their limited-edition sticky dessert wine, which is dictated by sugar content in the fruit.
Originally a sheep farm before its cellar door opened in 2002, Wangolina Wines is full of fun and flavour, with a shady verandah and lush green lawns that are known to attract the odd kangaroo. With a modern tasting room and a range covering anything from Sauvignon Blanc to Gruner Veltliner, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Lagrein and Rosé, their daily platters make a perfect pairing.
With the oldest vineyard in the region, Mount Benson Estate is a small batch producer that prides itself on a hand-crafted wines with minimal intervention, with its full range being single vineyard and vegan friendly. With tables on the lawn and platters to share, taking a glass or two of their Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Rosé for a cheeky sip by the vines is pretty close to utopia.
Mount Benson’s newest cellar door, Norfolk Rise is fringed by pines set on 150 hectares with a quaint cellar door that’s home to a very session-worthy verandah and a range extending from crisp whites (mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio) to Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
With both Cape Jaffa Wines and Wangolina often hosting events throughout the year, it’s worth keeping an eye on their social media accounts for all the latest news, while for more salt, vines and good times the annual Cape Jaffa Food and Wine Festival (January), sees locals and visitors washing down the area’s most succulent local seafood with regionally distinct wines.
Robe Wine Region.
Heading further south along the coast, one of the other newest kids on the wine block, Robe Wine Region, stretches out from the Woakwine Range between the cool coastal villages of Robe and Beachport. Forever celebrated as a favourite coastal escape for beach lovers, it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the vines here began to flourish.
Now the region’s making up for lost time, and while many grapes still leave for bigger, more established winemakers a couple of boutique wineries are beginning to make their mark with exciting, distinctly different wines that speak of their maritime heritage. With a wide variety of soil types ranging from terra rossa and sandy loam on the limestone ridges, to calcareous sand on the coastal dunes and rendzinas on the plains, those in the know will tell you that Robe’s secret weapon is the high level of acidity in its fruit, which gives its wines a natural freshness that really can’t be beaten.
Robe’s Chardonnay is full of apple and white peach aromas, while Shiraz here is full of spice, black pepper and rhubarb. Most importantly, the region offers new takes on other famous varieties – punchy and tropical Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons, with a nose of blackberry, tobacco and mint.
Oh, and if you’re thinking you’ll need to head out of town to score a glass of the local tipple, there’s really no need to stress. Both the Woodsoak Wines and Karatta Wines cellar doors are conveniently plonked on the Main Street of Robe, making for an easy walk back to your accommodation.
At Woodsoak Wines, all grapes are sourced from the Legoe family property, with the cellar door taking pride of place in a quirky old cottage, right in the heart of the town. These guys take a unique approach to wine, fusing the owners’ local and Indian lines of heritage. With three of their ten wines named after their children (Vijay Cabernet Sauvignon, Raj Shiraz and Rani Rosé), other varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, all of which go down a treat with their signature samosas. If you’re here with the kids, they’ll also relish fuelling their competitive spirit over a Giant Jenga contest!
Just down the road at Karatta Wines, you’ll find more than just a cellar door, with their Wine Room and Gallery providing a year-round showcase for local artists, working with anything from textiles to metal, glass, ceramics, paint and sculpture. All grapes are grown in the hinterland just out of town, where cool ocean winds drift over the vines, slowing and lengthening their ripening period. Then end result is an elegant selection of early release and low intervention wines - try their fresh Field Blend, Pinot Noir and Syrah for a glass of fresh perspective!
Wrattonbully Wine Region.
Hugging the Victorian border near Naracoorte, Wrattonbully Wine Region has been impressing the pants off connoisseurs for many years but is still a bit of a mystery to many in the mainstream. With a slightly warmer climate than Coonawarra, yet cooler than Padthaway, its gentle, hilly slopes are remnants of an ancient sea that not only left behind the nearby World Heritage-Listed Naracoorte Caves National Park but also limestone reefs and free-draining terra rossa that are the perfect ingredients for top-notch red wine.
Known for rich wines of great flavour and intensity, winemakers have been scrambling to get a foothold here for years, and despite the first vines going into the ground back in 1885, the real planting spree didn’t happen until the 1990s. Cabernet Sauvignon is the backbone of the area, making up around half of all vines, with Shiraz the second most widely planted variety. While Merlot is another local specialty, you’ll also find the Chardonnay is equally bold and beautiful.
Given many ‘big guns’ of wine actively source from vineyards in the region you’ll find bottles of Wratttonbully wine are fairly well distributed across the region, with labels such as Eight at the Gate, Terre à Terre, Mérite and others a common sight on menus and shelves.
That being said, cellar doors are few and far between here with the only real way to get access via an organised tour. For the ultimate Wrattonbully Wine Region experience, hop on board with Coonawarra Experiences to join local producers for lunch in the rustic tasting hut at Land of Tomorrow Wines - a unique chance to feast with local families that have plied this land for generations!
Mount Gambier Wine Region.
Set on the gentle slopes of a dormant volcano, the lush lakes, sinkholes and aquifers of Mount Gambier rightfully draw the attention of holiday makers all year-round. However, beyond the treasure trove of natural attractions and the cosmopolitan vibe of South Australia’s second largest city, Mount Gambier Wine Region is also Australia’s newest – and many would argue, one of the most exciting!
Just like the legendary Blue Lake, the future of this up-and-coming gem remains bright, with many old dairy-focused businesses around town now turning their hand to winemaking. Main red varieties include Pinot Noir (the local hero), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc being the most popular whites. While most of these local grapes still head for bigger labels, a couple of local wineries are making quite an impact on the wine scene, with something totally new to try.
At Herbert Vineyard, you’ll find an impressive two-level winery and cellar door (open by appointment) overlooking a lush 1300 square metre hedge maze - which is also reflected on their labels. Much like the region itself, these guys are known for their exceptional Pinot Noir, with a number of whites, blended reds and sparkling wines also available for tasting and purchase. If you’re here with a small group (two to eight people), don’t miss the opportunity to sip the local drop straight from the barrel!
About 15 minutes to Mount Gambier’s south, Caroline Hills Winery is another cool climate specialist with a reputation for excellent Pinot Noir, Sparkling Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris. With a low intervention approach to winemaking including open fermentation, hand plunging and pumping, this peaceful cellar door is also home to a notable art gallery as well as a stunning country garden. Cart a grazing platter out for a little swirl on the lawn and you’ll soon find it’s pretty hard to leave.
One Last Swirl.
Phew. That’s a lot of wine talk! Of course, we also know that everyone travels for different reasons – with very different travel companions – so keeping everyone happy can often be a tricky balance! That’s why we’ve written a few extra resources to help you plan your next wine trip to perfection. Whether you’re road tripping with a young family, travelling with teens and tweens, or even driving here with your dog, you’ll be well fed and watered every step of the way. Keen to know where to lunch with a view? We’ve got you covered. How about a gourmet feast in every region? Prego.
Of course, if ditching the driving also sounds like a whole lot less hassle, you can easily book a seat on one of many local winery tours right across the region, with Coonawarra Discovery Tours and Coonawarra Experiences both offering exceptional local knowledge and behind the scenes access to the Limestone Coast’s very best!
Savour the Limestone Coast
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