The first grapes were planted in the district by George McEwin in 1885 at "Kelvin" in order to supply Glen Ewin Jams. By the 1920s, five acres of export grapes thrived, with muscatel the prominent variety.
In 1969, the Penders planted the first wine grapes, with four hectares of Shiraz, four hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon and three hectares of Chardonnay. In 1974, John Greensheilds of Koppamurra Vineyard planted four hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, and over the next two decades, the area under vine slowly increased to 21.3ha.
Many of the ridges in Wrattonbully showed very similar characteristics to the best vineyard sites in Coonawarra and Padthaway, with large areas of shallow terra rossa soil over limestone. In the early 1990s, these soils attracted the interest of winemakers from both Coonawarra and Padthaway, as their districts’ terra rossa ridges had largely all been planted.
Between 1994-1999, more than 1800 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Chardonnay was established in Wrattonbully. The remarkable large-scale planting program was led by some of Australia's larger wine companies including Mildara Blass (now part of Treasury Wine Estate), Yalumba and Hardy's, but also included many independent growers. It was further boosted by the availability of good quality underground water and irrigation licences.
Today, Wrattonbully’s 50 growers and 20 wine producers manage 2600 hectares of quality grapes, and as the vineyards mature and winemakers begin to understand the unique characteristics of Wrattonbully fruit, the early potential promised by the large tracts of outstanding terra rossa soils over limestone is well and truly being realised in wine quality.
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During the red wine boom of the mid nineties, Australia's large winemakers began broad-acre vine plantings at Wrattonbully, adjoining Coonawarra's north-eastern boundary. Ten years later, the area contributed large volumes of high quality fruit for many popular wine brands. But nobody new for sure how high fruit quality might go in future. And ten years on, we know quality can be about as good as it gets in Australia. The area now contributes to some of our greatest wines, but also produces lovely, elegant reds.
Chris Shanahan, Wine Writer, goodfood.com.au