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 Mount 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… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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

  1. Pingback: Good Water and the Riddoch Highway: the Padthaway GI | The Bubbly Professor

  2. Pingback: Red Soil, Red Wine: the Coonawarra GI | The Bubbly Professor

  3. Pingback: Limestone Caves, Bent-Wing Bats, and Cabernet: the Wrattonbully GI | The Bubbly Professor

  4. Pingback: Rendzina Soil and the Wokewine Mountains: the Robe GI | The Bubbly Professor

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