About Coonawarra

limestone coast map

Coonawarra is the most important wine region within the Limestone Coast zone of South Australia, credited with producing some of the best red wines in the entire country, and often described as Australia’s most famous terroir. It is located in the far south-east of the state, adjoining the border with Victoria south of Wrattonbully.

Although vines were first planted here in the last decade of the 19th century by Scottish settler John Riddoch, it was not until the 1950s that the region received some serious attention when the famous Wynns winery was set up.

Wynns Coonawarra

Many other well-known wine producers followed suit, including Penfolds and Yalumba, but the region was not accorded its GI (Geographical Indication) status until 2003.

This delay seems odd, since Coonawarra is one of the very few regions in Australia strongly defined by the earth in which the vineyards are planted. Terra rossa soil is the key factor in the Coonwarra terroir.

Our own Highbank vineyard was started over 30 years ago and sits on the red terra rossa soils.

Highbank Cottage Coonawarra terra rossa

The region’s prime land, which has this reddish-brown topsoil over a thick layer of soft limestone, covers a narrow strip 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long and around 1km (0.6 miles) wide. The reddish color of the soil is caused by iron-oxide (rust) formations in the clay. Vineyards on this soil benefit from good drainage and nutrient-holding capacity.

Denis Vice Highbank terra rossa
Coonawarra’s proximity to the Southern Ocean (37 miles/60km away) gives it a mild maritime climate, with Mediterranean effects in the summer moderated by the cool breezes coming off the sea. This cooling of the vines is critical to the richness and complexity of the region’s wines as it extends the ripening period, resulting in a wide range of flavor development.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the shining star of the region, producing some of Australia’s great wines. They display concentrated fruit flavors and although the winemaking principles revolve around extracting as much of the tannin as possible, they are well integrated and never overpowering.

The success of this grape variety has given birth to such events as the Coonawarra Cabernet Celebration, Barrel Auction and the annual Coonawarra Cup held at the Penola Racecourse. While the major cities of Adelaide and Melbourne are both around 400 kilometers (250 miles) away, plenty of visitors make the journey to taste these famous wines at the cellar doors of the region’s various wineries, which include well-established large producers and smaller and newer operations.

This article originally from Wine Searcher

Wine Master Praises Coonawarra Creations

Highbank Cabernet Sauvignon added to wine wishlist following rave review!

In an article in the Penola Pennant on 22nd August, Highbank has been labelled the ‘star of Coonawarra’ by Master of Wine, Ned Goodwin!

Click here to view the PDF of the article.

These are a few excerpts…

Among the four wines reviewed was the Highbank Coonawarra Family Reserve Single Vineyard 2013 – described as a dutifully forward vintage by Mr Goodwin, with the scented 13 supine and gorgeous drinking in its youth, bristling with currant, mint, black olive, mulch, cigar box and plum.

“The wine is strung across a timbre of herbal inflected tannins, well-appointed oak and juicy acidity, suggesting that it will carry well into old age,” Mr Goodwin said.

The wine receive a score of 96/100

Mr Goodwin praised the Highbank Coonawarra Single Vineyard 2014 saying the wine offered “a little more jam in the cabernet pastry” with the addition of the merlot.

“This opens beautifully, with currant and mottled leafiness blossoming to a pure line of cassis within a day of opening.”

This wine scored 94/100.

Cellar Door Tasting and Sales

We recently had a wonderful group through Highbank tasting our wines, and taking a lot of boxes with them on their way!

If ever you are going to be in the neighbourhood, just contact us to set up a wine tasting either at our Cellar Door or under the gum tree at The Cottage.

Wine Tasting Under the Gum Trees

Coonawarra Vignerons 2016 Road Show

It was great to catch up with our many Highbank wine enthusiasts and share tastings of our latest vintage releases during the recent Coonawarra Vignerons 2016 Road Show.


Officially reported attendance at Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth showed numbers of the public up substantially.

And very importantly we saw an increase in trade tickets of 139%.

Remember if your are planning to visit Coonawarra we will try to be available to do a tasting for you by appointment. Just contact us!



Recent Guests

We have wonderful guest that come and stay at The Villa, the Room With A View and The Cottage.. we love having you visit!




Trade Mission from Shandong gets the ‘Red Carpet Treatment’ in Adelaide

Shandong is South Australia’s largest ‘sister state’ trading partner of some 30 years.


This government-to-government delegation included some 250 officials and business people.

Highbank  vineyards was part of a very select collection of wineries, from around the State, who were invited to present their wines.


We proved to be well prepared with our own sommelier / translator who was invaluable in presenting our premium wines and our unique wine making story.



Cellar Door Sales Winter 2016

We have had some lovely people book in for a wine tasting at our cellar door recently! If you would like to do a wine tasting, please book in via our contact page.



Highbank Wine review on erobertparker.com

Drive north up the highway from Penola and keep your eyes peeled left and eventually you will spot a small homestead outside which lies a rather incongruous signpost pointing towards multifarious destinations around the world. Napa Valley: 13,270km. Bordeaux 17,045km. Rioja Alta 17,545km. Apart from instilling a sense of complete isolation, the signpost is there to signify that you are at Highbank, one of Coonawarra’s artisan wineries established by Dennis and Bonnie Vice (as well as a neat little cottage to rest your weary head travelling between Adelaide and Melbourne.) By Neale Martin

This is a small operation in every way: indeed my tasting of Dennis’s wines took place in a little annexe off his kitchen.

Dennis Vice in the centre of the wine worldBorn in California, he holidayed in Coonawarra in 1985 and liked it so much that he emigrated there and worked for the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) for 12 years where he oversaw organic field certifications…. Dennis explains: “We had the great opportunity to attend several wine and matching food seminars put on by the great wine makers of California e.g. Robert Mondovi, Michael Grgich and many many more and when traveling with the old PAN AM airlines, Coonawarra wines were introduced to us by a very dear friend on a trip back to San Francisco. The region was a destination for serious wine enthusiasts and were really not internationally known until Greg Clayfield of now Zema Estate won the International Winemaker of the Year’ award of ‘Wine Spectator’. We got in before the rush. My wife and I always said as a goal…post-Chernobyl …that if we made a wine it must be so good that if we can’t sell it we would love to just drink it ourselves.”

“Viticulture and winemaking are not as demanding as other agricultural pursuits. Take cattle or other livestock, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Having immigrated to Australia from Hawaii and California, now some 25 years ago, my wife and I always had a goal to spend the winters in the other hemisphere. My wife is Hawaiian…get the pruning done and go! Guess where she is right now…and me here pruning in the vineyard! So not everything has totally worked out.”

Of course, being so small means that they pay attention to detail: hand pruning, fruit-thinning and hand-harvesting, all those practices that I assumed never existed in the mechanized region. “Our family vineyard is a small vineyard by plan. We both wanted to enjoy the life style and keep the work load reasonable. It was originally planted proportionally to the varieties on our back label. If in years where God and nature are more generous to us, we select fruit for a Family Reserve Cabernet or Merlot.”

“When we first planted (10- now 15-acres) we knew the style of wine we wanted to achieve and were very aware of the importance of matching the soil type and variety with original plantings based on extensive soil profiling of this beautiful ‘Terra Rossa’. Plantings were originally 65% Cabernet Sauvignon (6 clones), 25% Merlot (2 clones) and 10% Cabernet Franc. Replants on rootstocks now represent 10% of the same varieties. All clones were selected against the trend at the time, only low to moderate yielding with selection based on actual tasting of wines made from different source vineyard block from around the world, e.g. Europe, California, South America and Australia. A very good Canadian friend was in charge of vine improvement in South Australia and my teaching the industry about wine growing really helped with industry connections!”

“Grape consistency every year is maintained with varietal block sizes being generally small with the view to creating small batches of individually expressive and uniform fruit. Green pruning controls yields per vine. They think we are crazy! Meticulous hand pruning to specific pre-determined bud numbers, shoot-thinning and extensive canopy management: Scott Henry and 2 wire vertical. We target along with use of natural fertilizer (organic fertilizer) when needed by analysis and no chemical herbicides or insecticides have ever been used.”

Researching the background to Highbank, I found that Dennis was helped by Trevor Mast overseeing the winemaking… “Trevor and I shared the same basic philosophy of wine making: traditional with as little intervention
as possible. Trevor has Alzheimer’s and is unfortunately not working with us any more. We used a small basket press to control pressure on grape bunches and open fermenters to control the heat of fermentation. There is no fining or filtration. We emphasized making the wines in the vineyard as we did not have all the wiz bang equipment used today.

”The wines of Highbank have already received praise from some bloke by the name of Robert Parker and I would concur: these are high quality Coonawarra wines fashioned in a way that has more parallels with the Old World than new. I was particularly impressed by the Highbank Coonawarra 2002, which after bottle ageing is showing great complexity, fine tannins and a certain “coolness” or “nonchalance” that is very attractive. Production is of course limited, but these are well worth seeking out.