Insider’s guide to Coonawarra

By Halliday Wine Companion

Top local winemakers share their tips for making the most of a trip to South Australia's Coonawarra region, ensuring you eat and drink like a local the next time you visit.

Balnaves of Coonawarra

PETE BISSELL, winemaker
What’s special about a visit to Balnaves of Coonawarra? Sitting on our peaceful balcony with a cheese platter and a glass of wine while watching the ducks looking for their lunch down below is a lovely way to spend time. Afterwards, you’ll want to go for a wander through our rose garden – a haven in the heart of Coonawarra.

What’s your ultimate Coonawarra food and wine match? The Balnaves of Coonawarra Sparkling Cabernet with a couple of free-range eggs from chooks that belong to Kirsty, our marketing director, on a bed of sourdough toast from local bakery Van Leuven, with homegrown spinach from Doug Balnaves’ garden, homemade hollandaise, and pieces of smoky bacon from Meeks, our butcher.

What should we buy at the cellar door? Balnaves of Coonawarra The Tally, our flagship cabernet sauvignon.

15517 Riddoch Hwy, Coonawarra

Brand’s Laira Coonawarra

Tell us a Coonawarra secret. A must-buy at Meeks Butcher is the sweet chilli and cheese kransky, sliced and cooked on the barbecue at Coonawarra Memorial Park, accompanied by our Old Station Cabernet Shiraz. Go for a leisurely game of petanque on the world-class piste, and the Prince of Wales Hotel has the best chicken parmy in town.

What’s your perfect marriage of Coonawarra food and wine? Drop-potting for crayfish off the shores of Robe, cooked in the seawater they live in and only an hour from sea to plate. It’s the perfect accompaniment to our 2015 Old Station Riesling.

Do you have a favourite Brand’s Laira wine? The One Seven One Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is spectacular.

Riddoch Hwy, Coonawarra

Hollick Estate

JOE CORY, winemaker
What stands out about Coonawarra for you? The airstrip is never crowded, and as flying is my other passion (next to wine), I couldn’t live in a better place. Oh, and the steaks at the Prince of Wales are pretty good too!

What’s your never-fail food and wine match? The fabulous eye fillet of beef with broad bean puree, potato gratin, shallot marmalade and jus, as served at our winery restaurant Upstairs at Hollick, matched with our 2013 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.

What should we pick up at the cellar door? Definitely our Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ravenswood Ln, Coonawarra

Katnook Estate

What are some top places to eat and drink around town? For a nice meal head to Pipers of Penola – voted South Australia’s best country restaurant eight years running. For those who want a quiet night in, try the Penola IGA. It was voted the best in Australia in 2012, and when you see the deli’s range of cheese and produce, you’ll understand why.

And a not-to-be-missed dish while you’re here? The Szechuan wood-roasted duck breast at Pipers of Penola accompanied by Coonawarra cabernet. We also offer a regional cheese plate at the Katnook Cellar Door that’s perfect with a picnic blanket and a glass of merlot.

What should we try at the cellar door? Definitely the Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon.

Riddoch Hwy, Coonawarra

Patrick of Coonawarra

LUKE TOCACIU, winemaker
How can we eat and drink like a local in Coonawarra? Stop at the Coonawarra Store for one (or two) of Marcia’s famous chicken sausage rolls. On the last Friday of each month, you can head to the Coonawarra Community Club for dinner and wines with the locals, but remember to bring a salad to share.

What’s your never-fail Coonawarra food and wine match? You can’t go past Coonawarra cabernet with a locally sourced, grass-fed porterhouse steak.

Is there a particular Patrick of Coonawarra wine that’s outstanding? The 2006 Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is really special.

15598 Riddoch Hwy, Coonawarra

Raidis Estate

STEVEN & EMMA RAIDIS, winemakers
How can we immerse ourselves in the Coonawarra community? If you visit on the last Friday of the month, go to dinner at the Coonawarra Hall. The whole community gathers – all you need to do is bring a salad and volunteers cook for everyone. Locals and visitors are welcome!

What’s special about a visit to Raidis Estate? If you visit at the right time of year, you may get to pat our beloved goats or take a tour with Chris Raidis, leaving armed with whatever fruits are in season from his garden!

What should we snack on at the cellar door? We have a wood-fired oven at our cellar door, and one of our favourite things is a prosciutto-wrapped fig (picked from the tree right next to the oven) stuffed with goat’s cheese – a great match with an aged Raidis Estate The Kid Riesling.

15741 Riddoch Hwy, Penola

Redman Wines

BRUCE REDMAN, winemaker
Do you have a favourite Coonawarra dining experience? The grain-fed eye fillet of beef cooked medium rare and served with pomme puree, garlic sautéed spinach and hollandaise at Piper’s of Penola, with a bottle of our 2004 ‘The Redman’ is something special.

How can we act like a local on a trip to Coonawarra? One of our favourites is the Coonawarra Club, where locals meet for a beverage each Friday after work. Also on the last Friday of each month is “Tea Night” – a get-together for locals and visitors to meet over dinner and drinks, which may even be served by a winemaker.

What should we try at the cellar door? In addition to our cabernet, we produce a great shiraz called ‘The Last Row’.

14830 Riddoch Hwy, Coonawarra

Rymill Coonawarra

Tell us an insider secret. Just down the road from Coonawarra you’ll find the charming town of Penola, but be warned: the deadly desserts at Van Leuven Patisserie are addictive! If you can’t resist the baked goods, the Glenroy Conservation Park is a great place to work it all off, whether on foot, bike, motorcycle or horseback.

What’s your ideal Coonawarra food and wine match? Fede, our Argentinian winemaker, has a natural flair for food and wine pairing (he also cooks a mean barbecue!). His cleverest match to date is our 2014 The Dark Horse Cabernet with Arroz a la Valenciana. The beautifully fragrant saffron rice with chicken and chorizo goes perfectly with our juicy, brooding cabernet.

What wine should we try at Rymill Coonawarra? The cabernet, of course!

Clayfield Rd, Coonawarra

Zema Estate

What’s special about Coonawarra for you? The eight-kilometre drive to and from my small farm on the east side of Coonawarra and the Zema Winery. The countryside near my house is dotted with gum trees (some of which arch over the road), swampland, cattle and the occasional surprised possum or kangaroo. There’s also an array of birdlife. Approaching the winery, this is in striking contrast to the orderliness of the vineyards. I love making this journey between work and home each day.

What’s your perfect marriage of Coonawarra food and wine? You can’t go wrong with a tender steak matched to Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon. Our Zema Estate Sauvignon Blanc paired with Southern Rock Lobster is also an awesome combination.

What are the highlights of the Zema Estate menu? Mrs Zema’s pizzas – served at the Coonawarra After Dark Weekend in April each year – are sensational, particularly when shared with a bottle of our Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

14944 Riddoch Hwy, Coonawarra