It is no wonder that the Ferrer family fell in love with Katnook. As a family with a strong sense of the importance of tradition, they were attracted by Katnook’s long history.
It is the oldest existing winery in Coonawarra - one of Australia’s foremost wine regions, an extensive estate, and with two icon wines, Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon and Prodigy Shiraz, at the pinnacle of its portfolio and listed on the prestigious Langtons classification. Katnook also produces its flagship Katnook Estate wines and contemporary Katnook Founder’s Block range.
The winery dates back to 1861 when the entrepreneurial Scottish immigrant John Riddoch arrived in Penola and began to purchase extensive parcels of agricultural land, recognising its exceptional quality. In 1890 he established the Penola Fruit Colony, selling 10 acre blocks of land to encourage others to invest in the settlement. He planted 140 hectares of vines. His first commercial vintage was made in the woolshed in 1896.
Katnook’s contemporary history begins in 1971, with extensive planting of new vines and a new strategy to develop and enhance the wines. Initially wine production began in the original historic woolshed, but with the reorganization the woolshed was transformed into what is now the barrel room.
In June 2001, recognising the need for strategic global alliances, 60% of the shareholding was sold to Freixenet Spain, the world’s biggest sparkling wine producer and 10th largest wine company. In January 2008, Freixenet purchased the remaining shareholding and has since then facilitated the investment of A$8 million in renovating and improving Katnook’s vineyards, winemaking facilities and heritage buildings.
Starting a new chapter
Winemaker Tim Heath joined Katnook in June 2018. He worked at Mountadam in the Barossa before moving to Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, where he has spent the last 14 years. Heath takes over from the award-winning Wayne Stehbens, who died suddenly in 2017. Wayne Stehbens joined Katnook in 1979, and went on to become one of Australia’s longest serving winemakers. He established the character and style of Katnook as it is today and won many accolades for his achievements, including two highly coveted Jimmy Watson trophies. In taking on the mantle, Tim Heath brings a wealth of international expertise and creative flair that is certain to build on Wayne Stehbens’ great legacy and take Katnook into an exciting future.
Katnook and Coonawarra
When it comes to terroir in Australia, then Coonawarra with its terra rossa is the textbook example. This well-draining, very distinctive red-brown topsoil over limestone is what attracted the first farmers, John Riddoch among them. (‘Katnook’ is the Indigenous word for ‘Fat Land’ referring to the fertile character of the soil.) Coonawarra, one of Australia’s smallest regions at only 20km long and 2km wide, is 370km south-east of Adelaide and 450km west of Melbourne. Importantly, it is south of latitude 37 degrees, and only 60 metres above sea level, with a maritime climate cooler than many of Australia’s grape-growing regions. With its long warm summers and cool autumns it has been compared to Bordeaux in climate. It’s this cooling character that guarantees the elegance and natural acidity of the wines.
The Katnook vineyards are in the heart of Coonawarra, within the Limestone Coast geographic indication. Senior viticulturist Chris Brodie manages 200 hectares, divided into 100 separate parcels. The terra rossa is 20-60cm deep. Below that is a calcrete layer – a hard calcium rich layer - which forms a distinctive boundary between the terra rossa and the limestone below. It’s this limestone which holds the freshwater aquifers.
Cabernet Sauvignon is s the king in Coonawarra and the main variety (56.5%) grown at Katnook. The three Cabernets in the portfolio are all available in the UK - Odyssey and Katnook Estate (www.Auswineonline.com) and Katnook Founders Block Cabernet (Waitrose and Ocado) The two dominant white varieties are Chardonnay 9% and Sauvignon Blanc 5.8% with some Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Semillon. Amongst the reds there’s a good proportion of Shiraz and Merlot with a little Pinot Noir, Malbec, Pinot Meunier, Tannat and Tempranillo. The vineyards have Entwine accreditation, which is Australia’s official sustainability programme.
Visiting the Cellar Door
It’s well worth making the detour to Katnook, especially if you are doing a trip along the Great Ocean Road. The welcome is especially warm, and it is fascinating to step back into the days of John Riddoch, to learn the early history of wine in Australia, and to see what terra rossa is all about, and just how red it is. With wine tasting and local cheese platters on offer, it’s not surprising that Katnook’s Cellar Door won tourism awards in 2015 and 2017 from Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine.
Katnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
This 20th vintage release is Wayne Stehbens’ last vintage in his 39 years as Katnook’s winemaker. This benchmark ‘Coonawarra Cab’ is only made in the very best vintages, and is a hand selection from specific rows in specific blocks. The first vintage was 1991, released in 1996 to commemorate the centenary of the first vintage made in the Katnook woolshed. Odyssey has won many international awards and is listed in the ‘Outstanding’ category of the prestigious fine wine Langton’s Classification of Australian Wines. It is aged for 37 months (two thirds in French oak, half of which was new) and one third in older American oak. The wine shows an alluring interplay of typical Coonawarra dark berries and plums interwoven with notes of mocha and cedar from the barrel ageing. This will mature gracefully for 20 years.
Translated by ICY
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