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… missjane@prodigy.net

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

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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).

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Located just 45 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).

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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… missjane@prodigy.net