The Coonawarra wine region is centred on the town of Coonawarra in the Limestone Coast area of South Australia. It is well-known for its famous Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced on its ‘Terra Rossa’ soil. Coonawarra is approximately 380 km southeast of Adelaide, 424km west of Melbourne and only 10km from the historic town of Penola.
Since 1890, the Coonawarra Wineries have produced over 23,480 tonnes of grapes and the region is home to over 130 vineyards.
Although the main thing to do in Coonawarra is visit various wineries, the historic town of Penola is great to explore if you get the chance.
How to get there
Coonawarra is an easy four and a half hour drive from Melbourne and a four-hour drive from Adelaide. For those with more time on their hands, we suggest taking the scenic route via the world renowned Great Ocean Road when travelling from Melbourne. And if you’re venturing to Coonawarra from Adelaide, why not take the scenic route via the Coorong National Park.
Coonawarra has its own airstrip, which is available for private flights, or you can book a flight through RossAir Travel. Mt Gambier Airport, is serviced by multiple daily flights by Regional Express Airlines.
By Bus and Train:
Make your way to Coonawarra using bus service, Premier Stateliner. From Adelaide, there is a daily service to Penola/Coonawarra via Premier Stateliner Services.
Catch the train from Melbourne to Warrnambool and then you will be taken by bus through Port Fairy and Portland on to Mt Gambier via the V/Line.
Coonawarra is home to Australia’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, so much so that most other grape varieties have been overlooked. Back when the region was founded, Shiraz was the most commonly planted grape. The limestone zone geology is also great for producing Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay.
With over 120 years of grape growing experience, winemakers carefully nurture the ancient Terra Rossa soils and spend their time patiently ageing their impeccable wines in their historic cellars. Through their commitment and hard-work, high-quality without compromise, being passed down through generations, has helped shaped Coonawarra into the famous region that it is today.
1. Majella Wines
Majella wines are a family owned winery and are known as an award-winning small Australian winery.
The Lynn family have been residents of the region for the past five generations. In 1968, Brian and Anthony Lynn started planting grapevines on their Coonawarra property that their parents had purchased back in 1960. The property had been used for various other things, but they decided to convert the quality ‘Terra Rossa’ soil into vineyards. The vineyard size kept expanding until it reached 60 hectares. The first vintage was in 1972 and up until 1991, the family were strictly growing grapes, and selling their produce to larger wineries such as Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate.
Today, the winery produces over 25,000 dozen Majella Wines each year. About 55% of the grapes planted at Majella are Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Shiraz and the remaining – Merlot and Riesling.
Explore this winery and learn all about its history in Coonawarra and discover the excellent wines on offer.
2. Penley Estate
A winery worth writing home about. Once an empty plot of land is now home to award-winning wine. Back in its early days in 1989, Penley’s Pheonix Cabernet won a gold medal at the Adelaide Wine Show and it didn’t stop there.
In 1995, an impressive winery was built at Penley Estate. Numerous vineyards were planted both Shiraz and Cabernet and their wine range was increased. Penley Estate is known for producing classic, full-bodied reds.
Magnificent wines, exceptional service and a great venue. Penley Estate is a must visit when in Coonawarra. Learn about the history of their winery and Coonawarra itself while tasting their delicious wine.
3. Rymill Coonawarra
100% sustainable and 100% estate grown. The Rymilll Coonawarra’s philosophy is to make wines of finesse, power and balance from pure estate grown fruit. Coonawarra is well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up over 50% of Rymill’s vineyards. Thriving in Coonawarra’s unique Terra Rossa soil and cool climate, this winery has handcrafted excellent high-quality wines.
Over 40 years old, Coonawarra is made up of 150 hectares of sustainably grown vineyards on the unique Terra Rossa soil. Rymill Coonawarra is known for producing great wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.
A stunning tree-lined driveway, nestled between luscious vineyards – this is one stunning winery you’ll want to add to your list. Set in a gorgeous building, Rymill’s has an extensive list of unique wines for you to indulge in. The knowledgeable and friendly staff will be able to answer your questions at ease.
4. Brand’s Laira
A hidden gem tucked away in one of Australia’s great world-renowned wine region is where you’ll find Brand’s Laira. The vineyards are situated right in the heart of Coonawarra’s famous ‘Terra Rossa’ region. Brands Laira was one of the regions first wineries and it’s still going strong today.
Steeped in heritage with a wealth of old vineyards dating back to 1893, Brand’s Laira offers a range of elegant yet richly flavoured premium wines from this distinct region.
Rich in heritage with some old vineyards dating back to 1893, Brand’s Laira offers a wide range of rich, premium wines. Their wines are well known amongst the region, for making an enormous contribution to the Coonawarra Reds reputation. A stunning location with an even better cellar door is what you’ll find when visiting this gem. The wines are known as award-winning and are some of the finest in the region.
5. Wynns Coonawarra Estate
Founded in 1891 by John Riddoch, an individual who discovered the amazing potential of the now famous red soil and began planting vines in 1896 with a dream to create unique wines in a prime region in South Australia. In 1951, the Wynn family bought the winery and Wynns Estate was born. It is now the region’s largest vineyard, owned by Treasury Wine Estates.
Today, Wynns Coonawarra Estate is the region’s largest single vineyard holder, with the longest established vineyard sites in the Coonawarra region. Their wines are famous for being consistent in flavour and having a unique depth of flavour.
In 1954, Wynns Estate first Cabernet was born, the Wynn’s Black Label Cabernet. Today, it is not only one of Australia’s most collected but also one of Australia’s most cellared Cabernets. Some say that Wynns Coonawarra is known as the estate that made Coonawarra ‘famous’.
6. Katnook Estate
In 1979, Katnook Estate was born. Winemaker Wayne Stehbens had nearly 40 years of winemaking experience serving impeccable wine to the Coonawarra region. Wayne was known as one of Australia’s longest serving winemakers before he passed in 2017. In June 2018, winemaker Tim Heath who previously called Cloudy Bay NZ home took over the role of the senior winemaker. Katnook Estate has an outstanding track record, having won two Jimmy Watson trophies and a double trophy at the International Wine and Spirit Competition back in 2003.
Katnook currently crushes a massive 1,500 tonnes of grapes annually, which is strictly grown on the estate. They are known for creating complex and intriguing wines, reflecting the uniqueness of Coonawarra in their winemaking approach.
Coonawarra is undoubtedly famous for their divine world-class Cabernet Sauvignon yet Katnook Estate is also known for producing Shiraz, Merlot and a few impressive white wines.
This winery stands out from the rest; biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, waste management and reducing their carbon footprint are just a few of the numerous sustainable practices that Katnook adopts.
Things to do and places to stay in Coonawarra
Aside from the must-see Coonawarra wineries, there are numerous festivals and events held in the Coonawarra region each year. In April, Coonawarra After Dark Weekend invites visitors to get involved with the bounty grape harvest. Wineries open their doors to visitors to take tours, chat with winemakers and watch the grans being harvested at the peak of the vintage.
In May, the Penola Arts Festival comes alive, bringing together a fusion of art, literature and the Coonawarra region’s finest wines.
Along with the numerous festivals held each year, Coonawarra has a few historic sites for you to visit if it’s a little too early in the morning for a winery tour. Petticoat Lane is located in the historic town of Penola. Petticoat Lane is a quirky, cute cottage with gardens surrounding – discover this cottage and learn all about the history of the family who lived here.
Pay a visit to the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre and take a lesson in history, learning all about this great Australian’s story.
Indulge in the best regional restaurant in South Australia – Pipers. Chef Simon Bowen serves impeccable food and they are sure to go well with a glass or two of wine as Simon is a member of one of the regions most famous winemaking families.
If you’re travelling out to Coonawarra and indulging in all the region has to offer. You’ll want to spend more than a day or two there. Georgie’s Cottage located in the town of Penola is a quaint rustic cottage, perfect for couples.
Another great place to stay is the eco-friendly Must @ Coonawarra. This eco-friendly luxury accommodation offers self-contained apartments with spas and other luxury indulgences.
Located in Penola, Menzies Retreat is perfect for larger groups, with multiple bedrooms available. They even have bikes to hire if so you can ride to the Coonawarra vineyards.