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MANY of SA's wine produc-
ing regions are steeped in
history and full of enter-
taining stories of improvisation, hard
work and true local characters, and
Coonawarra is no different.
Last month marked 125 years since
John Riddoch sold off the first blocks
of his vast pastoral landholding that
would eventually grow to become
the Coonawarra wine region.
His great-grandson and local his-
torian Peter Rymill said the region
owed much to Mr Riddoch's vision,
drive and commitment.
"Like most great men (he was) a
very complex character," Mr Rymill
"He built up a huge property
(Yallum Park) on the one-hand but
on the other, subdivided it when he
Mr Riddoch's story is a classic rags
to riches tale.
Born in Scotland in 1827, he was
listed as a brickmaker when he
arrived in Australia as a 24-year-old
seeking his fortunes in the Victorian
"He was dirt poor when he arrived,
but he was keen and full of ambition
to succeed in what he saw as a land
of opportunity," Mr Rymill said.
And succeed he did -- initially as
a trader and gold buyer, then grocer
and wine merchant in Geelong in
By the time he was 34 years old
he had purchased Yallum, and in
the ensuing years, would become a
pastoralist, an active parliamentar-
ian, and philanthropist of the arts
"He was open to good ideas --
especially any that would support the
betterment of his local community,
whether that was Coonawarra, Penola
or the greater South East of the state.
He seemed a thoroughly dependable,
honourable man who would deliver
on his word," Mr Rymill said.
Mr Riddoch's landholdings
extended from the Mount Gambier
airport in the south to Coonawarra
in the north and Glencoe in the
It seems that he first mooted the
idea of developing a Fruit Colony
in the mid-1860s, a concept that
would take him nearly 30 years to
bring to fruition.
Mr Rymill said in an address Mr
Riddoch made to the local Penola
Agricultural Bureau branch in April
1890, he reflected on several key
factors that would lead to the estab-
lishment of the Coonawarra Fruit
Colony three months later.
"He certainly recognised that the
soil and climate were very favour-
able for vine and fruit growing,
and the markets seemed limitless,
with good prices on offer," said Mr
"But it was also his desire to help
others, and to give the men of the
district employment and a future
'for the prosperity of the country' as
he said at the time, that was at the
core of his plan to sell off blocks of
"And finally, it was the introduc-
tion of the railways -- of which he
was able to directly influence the
government of the day to build --
that made it all viable."
Mr Riddoch's legacy can be seen
across many parts of Coonawarra
125 years after the first Coonawarra
Fruit Colony blocks of land were
sold in 1890.
He had seen first-hand how good
the combination of red soil and
climate in Penola were for growing
fruits and vines, compared to those
in his orchard at Yallum, and it was
one of the motivating factors to sell
off blocks of land to help spur the
"It's remarkable to learn that not
only are some wineries continuing
to nurture small pockets of those
original vineyards, but they are
producing some very sought after
premium wines off them as well,"
Coonawarra Grape and Wine indus-
try officer Cathy Hughes said.
Brand's Laira has an old shiraz
block planted in 1893 in front of their
winery, while another of the existing
original vineyards was planted by
William Rothwell Pounsett. Wynns
Coonawarra Estate now tends to
this one-hectare vineyard, planted
The first vintage of Coonawarra
wine was produced in Mr Riddoch's
nursery shed in 1895. The second
vintage was made in the Katnook
woolshed, in what is now a part of
Katnook Estate, where the imposing
building still stands.
A purpose-built, triple-gabled
stone winery was in place ready for
the third vintage in 1897, which
still stands proudly at the heart of
Wynns Coonawarra Estate.
"These are lovely buildings that
have stood the test of time, and their
history and ambience continue to be
enjoyed by visitors and locals alike,"
Ms Hughes said.
• Need to know more?
Pioneer's influence lives on
First blocks sold in 1890
Historic buildings remain
A purpose-built, triple-gabled stone winery was in place
ready for the third vintage in 1897 and still stands
proudly at the heart of Wynns Coonawarra Estate.
Brand's Laira is home to some of Coonawarra's
oldest vines, including this vineyard which has
survived for more than 120 years.
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