Over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend we decided to visit the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia, staying in the little town of Penola. The town lies just over the border from Victoria approximately five and a half hours by car from Melbourne, and some 390 km from Adelaide.
We had both long wished to visit this region which is justly famous for the superb quality of it’s red wines, attributable to the ideal growing conditions and the terra rosa soil. This special bright red soil lies on a limestone ridge, and covers a slender corridor of only 15km x 2km just north of the Penola township. On the way we decided to break up our journey by having lunch at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, which I can confirm has a well deserved reputation for exceptional food and service.
On arrival we checked into our lodgings for the next three days, the (somewhat Spartan) Coonawarra Motor Lodge and decided to sample the food at the onsite restaurant called the ‘Bushman’s Inn’, which was ok, but certainly something of a disappointment after our sumptuous lunch. Not of course that we needed another big meal, but I would argue what is the purpose of a weekend’s relaxing break without a little over indulgence..?
Due to the geographical nature of the terra rosa, the town of Penola sits astride and follows the one long main road through the region, with the wineries conveniently laid out out one after the other along the road (mainly to the north). With this layout in mind we grabbed a map of the region and decided to head to the winery as far from the town that we wished to stop at for a tasting, and then gradually work our way back to town. Of the 24 wineries in the region we already knew several of the wines, but never having been to the Coonawarra, were keen to taste and undoubtedly purchase some more at the cellar doors – luckily we had brought the hatchback!
Our first tasting on the Saturday morning was at Rymill Coonawarra. The magnificent bronze sculpture ‘Stallions Rampant’ stands to the right of the main entrance and certainly draws the eye on the way to the cellar door…
We purchased several bottles at Rymill, and quite honestly everything we tasted was just excellent – the SA Vignerons association state that the wines produced here are among the best reds in the world; certainly I enjoyed every mouthful!
After Rymill we headed down to Brand’s Laira, followed by a stop at relative newcomer Jack Estate… The wines were certainly good, but I certainly found the Rymill offerings to be more to my palate. We bought several bottles just to be sure however…
Our last stop of the day was at Wynns, the winery that was planted in 1891 by John Riddoch and essentially started the wine production in the region. Upon discovering that they make a wine with my name on it I was naturally going to be a little biased, however all the wines were, well, excellent…
The next day we stopped at Katnook Estate for a tasting before heading for lunch at Hollicks winery. If planning a visit to this region, then I would very strongly recommend a tasting a t Katnook; needless to say we added a few more bottles to the collection taking over the boot of our car.
The first floor restaurant at Hollick winery called unsurprisingly ‘Upstairs at Hollick’ offers wonderful modern Australian cuisine set in a round dining area with panoramic views across the vines – unfortunately by this time I was so focused on my lunch that I forgot to take any photographs! The food was brilliant which actually was surprisingly not the case for some of the other places we tried in the region. Being somewhat used to the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, we were a little surprised at how ‘pedestrian’ several of the restaurants were in Penola; one in the heart of town in particular was simply overpriced and just bad…
We booked Upstairs at Hollick a week before, and are certainly glad that we did as it was busy over the Sunday lunchtime period. Definitely recommended!
As usual the images in this post were captured with the 5D MkIII, while Mel used the MkII, combined with the 17mm TS-E, 85mm f1.2L, 50mm f1.2L, and 70-200mm 2.8 L IS USM II. Generally speaking I do not use or take flash with me on weekends away, since I work with flash every day and am supposedly on holiday relaxing (and I am just being lazy!); rather I rely on the superb high ISO capabilities of these cameras combined with fast lenses.
2 thoughts on “A weekend in the Coonawarra wine region…”
Having vineyards in our family, and visiting many of those you photographed, we appreciate the beauty of these marvelous images ..
Thank you Robert, I really appreciate it!! By the way, I am still enjoying some of your absolutely superb Yabby Lake Pinot Noir…! Just delicious..!