During one of those magical weeks between repeated COVID lockdowns, we managed to get a short visit in the the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia. This was a long awaited Cabernet Sauvignon Pilgrimage and within a reasonable driving distance from Melbourne.
Coonawarra is a 5 hour drive from Melbourne, a 4 hour drive from Adelaide or 40 minutes from Mt Gambier. You can fly into Mt Gambier via Rex or Qantas.
We visited over a 4 day trip from Melbourne, driving inland on the way there and a little more coastal on the way home.
The roads are FULL of kangaroos etc, so drive very slowly at dawn, dusk and during the night.
We stopped in Hamilton on the way there for dinner and Dunkeld on the way home for lunch.
You can choose to stay in Coonawarra, Penola or Mt Gambier.
Coonawarra is a tiny little town and Penola is just a bit bigger. These are the best places to stay if you want to be in a quiet region right by the wineries. However, other than the wineries, they can be very quiet and there aren’t a huge amount of dining options so dinner at the pub in Penola is your best bet. Check your accomodation options early, if there are any events on (such as weddings) all the accomodation in these two towns can be booked out.
Nearby Mt Gambier is a much bigger traditional regional town with many more accommodation and dining options. There are some other cool things to check out like the Blue Lake and the Sinkhole (see my post on Free things to do in Mt Gambier). We stayed in Mt Gambier but our accomodation was on the Jubilee Highway. If we visited again, we would try stay off the main highways in a more quiet area.
Almost all the wineries are easily spotted off the one main road that crosses the region. We spent two days visiting the wineries and think this is about right. The first day we completed the Coonawarra Wine Walk. This is a five km track that connects 6 wineries. It’s a simple, flat walk and you only have to cover less than a kilometre at a time before you reach the next winery.
You can park at any of the wineries as there is no “starting point”. You can also request an ordering form which will co-ordinate delivering all your wine. We started at Zema and worked our way through the wineries having lunch at Fodder (probably best to book, we scored a walk-in but I think this was a fluke).
The next day we returned to visit a few other wineries and take photos at the famous Coonawarra Siding (essentially an old, inactive train station). We were there on a Sunday and did not make a lunch booking, so we settled for takeaway sandwiches. Generally, I would recommend booking or organising a picnic (a few of the wineries off these) as it’s not the easiest location to just grab a bite.
Our favourite wineries were: Zema, Katnook, Wynn’s, Bowen’s, Patrick’s, Redman’s, Brand Laira and DiGiorgio. Honestly, we enjoyed every winery we visited so would recommend spending at least two days exploring the region.