Rendzina Soil and the Wokewine Mountains: the Robe GI

The historic Cape Dombey Obelisk in Robe, South Australia

Robe—one of the six wine regions located in South Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone—is named for the small township of Robe, located on the shores of Guichen Bay.  Robe was named after the fourth Governor of South Australia, Major Frederick Robe, who chose the site as a port in 1845.

The area—with its unspoiled, rugged coastline and multiple lakes—has a long history of aquaculture, agriculture, and tourism. Robe bills itself as “Australia’s Favorite Seaside Town” and is listed as one of the “Top 50 small towns in Australia.” Fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and sea-side conservation areas are a big deal in Robe.

As might be expected, the area enjoys a degree of fame for its seafood—particularly the lobster—but viticulture is a fairly new arrival to the area.

Photo of the seaside town of Robe by Kym Farnik via Wikimedia Commons

The area’s first vineyards were planted as recently as 1989, with the first commercial vineyards planted by Penfolds in 1994. Other (mostly independent) wineries followed suit and today you can find several wineries—including Karatta Wines, Woodsoak Wines, and Governor Robe Wines—in the area.  The Robe wine region, which stretches along the coast from the town of Robe to the town of Beachport in the south, was officially recognized as a Geographical Indication in 2006.

This coast-side location makes for a cool climate and resultant long ripening season. However, the area’s commercial vineyards are planted on the eastern (inland) side of the Wokewine Mountains, which provide a bit of a barrier to the cool ocean breezes. The mountains also provide a small degree of altitude—many vineyards are planted at elevations of 164 feet (50 m) to as high as 495 feet (51 m)—as well as some areas of northern exposure ideal for red grapes (remember, we are in the Southern Hemisphere so northern exposure = more sun). The many large lakes located between the mountains and the coast also help moderate the climate somewhat.

Map of the Robe GI via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The area has a wide range of soil types, which includes the famous terra rosa found throughout much of the Limestone Coast Zone. Many vineyards are planted on rendzina soils, a specific type of darkly-colored clay-and-humus-rich terra rosa found mainly in mountainous regions.

Today, there are a total of 1,705 acres (690 ha) of vines planted in the Robe G.I. Of these, 72% are planted to red grapes, led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, and Merlot (in that order). Of the 28% planted to white grapes, Chardonnay makes up the great majority, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Semillon.

Many of the grapes grown in the Robe area are used, somewhat anonymously, for wines labeled under the Limestone Coast, South Australia, or South Eastern Australia Geographical Indications. However, those bottled under the Robe G.I. are worth seeking out. If you find yourself in South Australia sometime soon, you’ll want to make sure to treat yourself to some of that Guichen Bay lobster and a bottle of Robe Chardonnay.

This is the sixth and final installation in our six-part series on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here for the first article, on the Mount Benson GIclick here for the article on Mount Gambier, here for the article on Coonawarra, here for the article on Wrattonbully, and here for the article on Padthaway. 

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Limestone Caves, Bent-Wing Bats, and Cabernet: the Wrattonbully GI


Wrattonbully, one of the six wine regions located in South Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone, is located between Coonawarra (to the south) and Padthaway (to the north). The eastern edge of the region forms a portion of the border between the states of South Australia and Victoria.

The Aboriginal population of Australia recognized the region’s potential and settled in the area long before the first European settlers arrived—mostly from Scotland—in 1842. A few decades later—in 1885—the first grapevines in the area (about five acres of Muscat) were planted by George McEwin. McEwin planted other fruit as well, and used the grapes and the fruit to make preserves under the brand name Glen Ewin Jams.

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

It is believed that grapes for wine were first planted in 1969 by the Pender Family; soon thereafter John Greenshields of Koppamurra Vineyard followed suit.  These early vineyards were mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Chardonnay and Shiraz.

A few decades later, large tracts of terra rosa soil (extending northward from Coonawarra, just to the south) were uncovered in the region and wine companies from all over Australia started investing—and planting—in Wrattonbully. Today, Wrattonbully has over 20 wine estates and 6,400 acres (2,590 ha) planted to vines. The region was officially recognized as a Geographical Indication in 2005.

Wrattonbully is largely red wine country; in fact, 86% of the current vineyards are planted to red grapes—led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot (in that order). The remaining 14% of the vineyards are planted to white grapes—mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Rolling hills dominate the region, which spans across a portion of South Australia’s Naracoorte Mountain Range. Many vineyards are planted at the hillside “sweet spot” mid-way up the slopes at altitudes ranging from 245 to 295 feet (75 to 95 m).


Located just 35 miles inland from the Great Australian Bight, Wrattonbully enjoys a mostly maritime climate—which allows for a long growing season—with some Mediterranean influences that keep the summers warm and dry.

Limestone caves are a feature of this region, including the Naracoorte Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Naracoorte Caves—a complex of over 26 caves—are preserved within the Naracoorte Caves National Park. These caves contain the most complete fossil record of Australia’s past, spanning several ice ages, the arrival of humans in the area, and the extinction of Australia’s megafauna (large animals such as flightless birds and giant reptiles that lived after the extinction of the dinosaurs) roughly 60,000 years ago.

The first cave in the area to be discovered by Europeans was Blanche Cave, discovered in 1845. According to legend, a shepherd had gone in search of some missing sheep, and found them in the antechamber to the deep, stalactite and stalagmite-filled cave. Another cave—known as Bat Cave—provides one of only two breeding grounds for the Southern Bent-Wing Bat (and they all come home to roost every spring).


Guided tours of many of the caves located within Naracoorte National Park—including Victoria Fossil Cave, Alexandra Cave, and the Bat Cave—are available year-round. Guided “adventure caving” (meaning crawling around in the dark) is available at the Stick-Tomato Cave, the Wet Cave, and the Starburst Chamber of the Victoria Fossil Cave.

If you decide to visit the Naracoorte Caves—whether it be to watch the bats leave the cave at sunset, go crawling through a cave, or even just wander the fossil fields—you might want to make sure you have a nice bottle of Wrattonbully Cabernet waiting for you when you return, just in case you need to unwind a bit after all that adventure!

This is the fifth installation in our six-part series on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here for the first article, on the Mount Benson GIclick here for the article on Mount Gambier, here for the article on Coonawarra, and here for the article on Padthaway. 

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Red Soil, Red Wine: the Coonawarra GI

Photo of Wynns Coonawarra vineyards by Alpha, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of how Coonawarra—by far the most famous and most prolific of the Limestone Coast GIs—became a modern wine-production powerhouse begins back in 1861 with a man named John Riddoch. That was the year Riddoch, a Scottish immigrant, purchased 35,000 acres (141,000 ha) of sheep grazing land and began to amass a huge flock of sheep (and even more land).

By 1890 Riddoch had founded the Pensacola Fruit Colony and divided 1,000 acres into 10-acre plots. He planted vineyards in some of the plots himself and leased out the rest to 26 independent farmers. A report from 1896 states that over 95,000 vines and 10,000 fruit trees were planted in that first year. Riddoch also produced wine, and built a distinctive triple-gabled winery known as the Chateau Comaum. The historic building is now in the hands of Wynns Coonawarra Estate and recognizable from the Wynns label and logo.

After John Riddoch passed away in 1901, the grapes grown in the vineyards of the Pensacola Fruit Colony were primarily used in the production of fortified wine and brandy,. However, all that changed in 1951 when Samuel and David Wynn purchased the original Riddoch property. The Wynns began to restore the vineyards and the winery, and soon became the first Australian winery to use the term “estate” to indicate a locally-grown and produced wine. In the 1970’s and 80’s, other wine producers (including Penfolds, Lindeman’s, and Yalumba) joined the Wynns in planting vineyards and making wine in Coonawarra.

The Coonawarra region—named after an Aboriginal word meaning honeysuckle—is located about 37 miles (60 km) inland, along the eastern border of the state of South Australia (with the state of Victoria to the east). It is tucked between the Wrattonbully GI (to its north) and the Mount Benson GI (to its south). The area enjoys a cool, maritime climate with warm, dry summers reflecting some Mediterranean influences. The area is fairly flat—its elevation tops out at about 165 feet (50 m).

Coonawarra —particularly renowned for its red wines grown on the region’s famous reddish topsoil—is considered to be one of the most terroir-specific wine regions in Australia. The best vineyards of Coonawarra are planted atop part of a cigar-shaped 7½-mile–long by 1¼-mile–wide (12-km long the 2-km wide) low-rise swath of red sandy loam over limestone (possibly the remnant of an old reef). This soil phenomenon is officially referred to as “shallow stony red sandy loam on calcrete” but it is better known to wine lovers as the well-drained, low-vigor terra rosa of Coonawarra and Australia’s Limestone Coast.

Today there are over 14,840 acres (6,005 ha) of vines in Coonawarra. A great majority— 90%—of the vineyards are planted to red grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the dominant variety—and by itself accounts for over 60% of the region’s vines. Shiraz is the next most-planted (and by itself accounts for another 20% of the area’s vines). The remainder of the red vines are mostly planted to Merlot, with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot filling in the gaps.  Of the 10% of the vines that are planted to white grapes, Chardonnay is the leader, followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

Coonwarra became an official Geographical Indication in 2003.

This is the fourth installation in our six-part series on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here for the first article, on the Mount Benson GI, click here for the article on Mount Gambier, and here for the article on Padthaway. 

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Good Water and the Riddoch Highway: the Padthaway GI

Photo of Henry’s Drive via:

Padthaway is a wine region in South Australia, located just to the north of Wrattonbully and about 50 miles (80 km) inland from the coast. The area is flat, with the highest elevation reaching just 165 feet (50 m) high. Most of the area sits atop a shallow ridge located along the western slope of West Naracoorte Range—which runs parallel to the ocean. The climate has both maritime and Mediterranean influences, and there are a variety of soil types as well—including the famous terra rossa shared with Coonawarra and Wrattonbully, its neighbors-to-the-south.

Padthaway—as would be expected due to its flat terrain and slightly-inland setting—is the warmest of the six wine regions located in Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone. The first vineyards of the area were planted by Karl Seppelt in 1963, and soon thereafter many of Australia’s other big-name wine companies—including Wynn’s, Lindeman’s, Hardys, and Penfolds—soon followed suit. The area was officially declared the Padthaway Geographical Indication in 1999.

While many of the grapes grown in the Padthaway Region still make their way to large wineries in other regions, Padthaway now has about two dozen small producers making local wine. These include Henry’s Drive Vignerons and Padthaway Estate—both of which offer tastings at the cellar door.

Map of Padthaway via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The name Padthaway—meaning “good water”—was bestowed upon the region by its original inhabitants, the Potawurutj Aboriginines.  The shape and size of the area is unique—long and narrow, stretching for over 38 miles (62 km) following the Riddoch Highway from the town of Naraccorte to just north of the town of Padthaway. By contrast, the region is a mere 5 miles (8 km) wide at its widest point. The Riddoch Highway is named after John Riddoch, a businessman who—in the 1890’s—planted the first vineyards in the area, in what is now known as Coonawarra.

The Padthaway GI currently has about 10,000 acres (4,050 ha) planted to vines. About 60% of the vines are red grapes, led by Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Merlot and Pinot Noir in the mix. Of the 40% planted to white grapes, the majority are Chardonnay—along with a smattering of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc.

We seem to be publishing a series of posts on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here to read the first installment (Mount Benson) and here to read the second (Mount Gambier). Soon to come: Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, and Robe.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

The Newer Volcanics and Leg of Mutton Lake: the Mount Gambier GI

Blue Lake at Mount Gambier, South Australia

In terms of wine regulations, Mount Gambier is the youngest of the six regions that make up Australia’s Limestone Coast wine zone. The first vineyards here were planted in the 1980’s, with the area being officially declared the Mount Gambier Geographical Indication in 2010. Most of Mount Gambier’s vines were planted between 2001 and 2010.

The Mount Gambier GI is located in the southeast corner of the state of South Australia, bordering the state of Victoria to the west, the Coonawarra Region to the north, and the ocean to the south. The area surrounds the town of Mount Gambier as well as Mount Gambier itself.

Mount Gambier (the mountain), considered a young and not-quite-dormant volcano, rises to a height of 620 feet (190 m). The top of Mount Gambier is crowned with a landmark known as the Centenary Tower, built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Mountain’s sighting by European explorers and it’s naming in honor of Lord James Gambier, the admiral of the fleet. The mountain is also known as Ereng Balam—the name given to the mountain by the original Aboriginal inhabitants of the area—meaning “home of the eagle hawk.”

The Newer Volcanics: Mount Gambier is part of the Newer Volcanics—a chain of small volcanoes and mantle plumes formed by the East Australia Hotspot that stretches across Southeastern Australia. These volcanoes are the source of the young volcanic soils that are found in the area—in addition to the limestone formed many millennia ago. Click here to see a surprising map of Australia’s Newer Volcanics. 

Photo of Leg of Mutton Lake circa 1880, via the State Library of South Australia #B 21766/6 (Public Domain)

Leg of Mutton Lake: The area on and surrounding Mount Gambier (the mountain) contains four maars—volcanic craters with low rims—that have filled with rain water to become the four lakes of the area: Blue Lake, Leg of Mutton Lake, Valley Lake, and Browns Lake. Two of these, Browns Lake and Leg of Mutton Lake, have become dry in recent years due to the lowering of the water table. The irresistibly-named Leg of Mutton Lake is, as one would hope, so-called due to its shape. Both of the surviving lakes—Blue Lake and Valley Lake—are surrounded by pine trees and hiking trails despite being located just outside of the town center.

Blue Lake, as its name would imply, turns a vibrant cobalt-blue color (from its more typical steely-grey) every December through May. The precise cause of the changing color is not quite agreed-upon, but most scientists believe it to be the result of the warming of the surface layers of the lake, which allows tiny crystallites of calcium carbonate (a by-product of the region’s limestone bedrock) to form. This phenomenon results in a scattering of the blue wavelengths of sunlight, creating the bright blue hue. Blue Lake is about 240 feet (73 m) deep, making the bottom of the lake itself about 98 feet (30 m) below the level of the town’s main street (Commercial Street).

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The Wines of the Mount Gambier GI: There are currently 470 acres (190 ha) of vines planted in the Mount Gambier GI. Of these, 66% are white grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris (in that order) along with smatterings of Viognier, Riesling, and Semillon. Of the 34% of the vines that are planted to red grapes, the great majority are Pinot Noir, along with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Wineries operating out of the Mount Gambier GI include Benarra Vineyards, Blue Water Wines, Caroline Hills, Herbert Vineyards and Nangwarry Station. Few if any of these wines are exported to the United States, so you’ll want to seek them out on your next trip to South Australia. Mount Gambier is located mid-way between Adelaide and Melbourne and just a day’s drive (280 miles/450 km) away from each.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


The Bight, the Cape, and the Bright Red Soil: The Mount Benson GI

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

Mount Benson is a wine region located along Australia’s Limestone Coast. The area, which stretches for about nine miles alongside the ocean, attained its status as an official Geographical Indication in 1997.

The area has a mostly maritime climate—not surprising considering its rugged coastal location—and enjoys a long, cool growing season. Vines are planted at low elevations; with the vineyards closest to the shore planted at about 16 feet (5 m) above sea level and continuing inland through rolling hills that top out at 160 feet (50 m) of elevation.

In addition to Mount Benson itself—which is actually a 250 foot-high (77 m-high) hill—three interesting geographical features help to define the terroir and culture of the Mount Benson GI: the Great Australian Bight, Cape Jaffa, and terra rossa soils.

The Bright Red Soil: Portions of the Mount Benson GI are rich with terra rossa soil, which is much more famously part of the Coonawarra Region located about 65 miles to the east/southeast. There are many theories about the genesis of terra rossa, but it is typically found above a bedrock of limestone and believed to form as the bedrock decomposes. Briefly stated, as calcium carbonate in the limestone weathers, it mixes with clay and other soil particles and forms a series of layers on top of the bedrock. As the iron particles in the soil absorb oxygen (oxidize), they change color and lend a reddish hue to the soil.

Map of Australia by Norman Einstein via Wikimedia Commons

The Bight: The 9 mile- (15 km-) long coastline of the Mount Benson GI runs alongside a portion of the Great Australian Bight. (A bight is simply an open bay.) The Great Australian Bight basically runs along the entire south coast of Australia, making it one of the largest bights in the world. There are several dueling definitions of the parameters of the bight; however, in Australia (according to the Australian Hydrographic Service) it is considered to run for 720 miles/1,160 km from Cape Pasley, Western Australia, to Cape Carnot, South Australia.

The Cape: Cape Jaffa, located at the northwest corner of the Mount Benson GI,  is an area of headlands (a place characterized by rocky shores, steep sea cliffs, and breaking waves) located just south of Lacepede Bay. The headlands of Cape Jaffa extend along the coast for about 1.25 miles (2 km) and inland to Moount Benson. There is also a (very) small town and a marina known as Cape Jaffa.

The historic Cape Jaffa Lighthouse (now on display in Kingston)

More to our purposes is Cape Jaffa Wines.  Cape Jaffa produces a wide range of interesting wines, including varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz produced with fruit from a variety of areas including Mount Benson, the Limestone Coast, and Wrattonbully (located inland from Mount Benson). Other wines include “Anna’s Blend”—named after winemaker Anna Hooper and consisting of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon alongside a splash of Gewurztraminer—as well as “Samphire Skin Contact White” fermented in a ceramic egg  with six months of skin contact. The Cape Jaffa cellar door is located just about six miles (9 km) from the sea.

Currently there are about 1,500 acres (600 ha) planted to vine in Mount Benson. The region is planted approximately 70% to red grapes, led by Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and 30% to white grapes led by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Besides Cape Jaffa Wines, other wineries in the region include Cape Thomas Wines, Ralph Fowler Wines, Norfolk Rise Winery,  and Wangolina Wines. Mount Benson wines are apt to be difficult to find in the United States, so a trip to Australia might be in order.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Pertaining to Petrichor


Wine and spirits aficionados have a unique vocabulary. Consider these terms, and admit to yourself how often you have used them: foxy, malo, stemmy, corked, brett. Dig a bit deeper and we find hogo, rancio, lanolin, graphite, and iodine.

And then there is petrichor, often used to describe an earthy, sometimes mineral-like aroma defined as “the scent that arises from the earth after it rains.” To be specific, it refers to the scent of the air after a light rain falls on dry earth—the breaking of a dry spell, as it were. Scientists will tell us that we humans find the aroma pleasant due to the fact that in an evolutionary sense, humans relied on the rain for survival and the aroma represents life-sustaining rainfall (a fact which remains true today).

The term itself was invented in 1964 by two Australian scientists—Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G. Thomas—who were working for Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Their work was published in the March 1964 edition of Nature magazine, under the titled The Nature of Argillaceous Odour (the word “argillaceous” referring to rocks or sediment containing clay).  Bear and Thomas explained the source of the petrichor aroma as remnants of the oils emitted by plants and bacteria trapped in the soil.

The word itself is derived from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the blood that flowed in the veins of the gods, according to Greek mythology). In terms of etymology, it is the stuff of legends: blood from a stone. 


In 2015, scientists at MIT figured out—and captured using high-speed cameras—the mechanism of petrichor. Put simply, as a raindrop hits the ground (a porous surface), tiny air bubbles are trapped just below the surface. The bubbles then shoot upward, creating a tiny explosion of aromatic compounds as they escape the surly bonds of earth.

Pop culture alert: the word petrichor had its moment of fame in the Doctor Who TV series. In the episode titled “The Doctor’s Wife,” characters played by Karen Gillna, Matt Smith, and Suranne Jones used the word as part of a password (Crimson…Eleven…Delight…Petrichor). They defined petrichor as “the smell of dust after rain.” It’s an impressively accurate definition. Check out a video here.

There is also a winery known as Petrichor Vineyards, located in Sonoma’s Fountaingrove District AVA. According to the winery website, the term “petrichor” represents a passion for terroir—and a good choice it is.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…