Wine regions - Mount Benson
Mount Benson South Australia
The Mount Benson region is a small but rapidly growing wine region. The region shows promise with its citrus infused whites and its highly coloured and fragrant reds.
You must go down to the sea again ...
to the land of wine and crays
The Mount Benson region is located on the Western edge of the Limestone Coast of South Australia's South Eastern strip. The Mount Benson viticultural region is set between Kingston S.E. in the North, and Robe in the South, both prominent cray-fishing ports.
The Limestone Coast was once underwater and, over millions of years, shells and skeletal remains of marine animals deposited on its shallow sands. They fused together to form a layer of soft limestone. With the development of polar icecaps causing the seas to retreat in the last million years, there now remains the ideal water-holding mineral base under rich red terra rossa soils, perfect for viticulture.
The neighbouring Coonawarra wine region has claimed the trademark on Terra Rossa soils, but the geology is similar throughout the Limestone Coast region. Other sub-regions of the Limestone Coast include Wrattonbully and Padthaway, both also sharing the Terra Rossa soils.
Mount Benson is situated inland from the coast at Cape Jaffa and enjoys a cool, maritime climate. The altitude sits at between 50-150 metres, and many vineyards sit close to the ocean, giving an inoffensive, yet surprising, impression of the sea air in the bouquet of some wines. The growing season lasts from October to April and averages 7.6 sunshine hours daily. The mean January temperature is a mild 18°C. Annual rainfall comes to 25 inches (634mm). The long, cool growing season sees the fruit picked from late-March to late-April, ensuring the high baumé and colour of the fruit, and the balancing high acidity to add texture to the wine.
Grapes were first trialled in the district in 1978 by Colin Kidd of Lindemans. The Riesling, Traminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon all proved to grow well, although the experiment was not carried through.
Mount Benson Wine & Tourism Centre
In 1989, Bill and Margaret Wehl (he a retired cray fisherman) noticed the similarities between Coonawarra and their home at Mount Benson in relation to soil type, rainfall, sunshine hours and altitude. They began with 2 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon. The success of this viticultural endeavour saw another 19 vineyards planted, and the sea change of many of their neighbours from grazing and grains, to grapes.
This success has also attracted the attention from large national and international companies. Cellarmasters Australia has set up Black Wattle Vineyard. M. Chapoutier, a wine company from the Rhone region, has significant investment in vineyards in the Mount Benson region, exporting the resultant premium wines to France. Kreglinger Australia, a Belgian company that owns Pipers Brook Winery in Tasmania also has vineyards at Mount Benson, and their wines can be purchased at Norfolk Rise cellar door.
There are now seven cellar doors in the Mount Benson region, and many more vineyards. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are the predominant red varieties and produce high-quality, low-yielding and intensely flavoured fruit. The Shiraz particularly is considered to be the icon variety of the region, and many trophies and gold medals have been achieved for this region's wines. Of the white wines, Chardonnay started the fashion, as it often does, yet Sauvignon Blanc is beginning to take over the premium position due to the terroir and cool, maritime climate.
The cool growing region of Mount Benson sees the resultant wine carry much more elegant spice and pepper characters, enriched with black cherry and plum. These medium to full bodied styles are softly tannic, and the balancing acidity ensures longevity to this classic grape variety.
This variety is well suited to the Limestone Coast region, as is attested by the quality of wine coming from the neighbouring Coonawarra region. Dark bitter chocolate, leather and cedar are also enhanced by dark berry fruits and soft, dusty tannins. The body and phenolics of these wines are fuller and can be enjoyed with some bottle age.
Merlot is still new in Mount Benson and is to date producing very small yields due to the strong winds of the region. Often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, single variety Merlots are quite earthy with the subtle perfume of violets, and the richness of rhubarb. Merlot is a late ripener and well suited to a cooler climate in order to develop its rich juicy character, so this is one to watch.
Sauvignon Blanc is proving itself to be the premium white wine variety of the region. Gooseberry, grassy, passionfruit, and herbaceous, its body is light and crisp, and shows finesse derived from the maritime climate. This wine will make a mark on the future Australian wine industry as classic Sauvignon Blanc.
The winds of the nearby Great Southern Ocean cool the fruit of this region, retaining the natural acidity of the grapes. Some oak treatment and yeast autolysis leaves the wine full and creamy on the palate with hints of peaches and lemons. A very elegant style.
No longer a new-comer in the Australian market this classic grape variety is grown in minimal quantities in Mount Benson, some for rich, full honeysuckle and lychee single varietal wines; and some to add suppleness to Shiraz. The natural acidity derived from the climate balances with the oiliness of the juice, adding textural qualities.
Other varieties are being trialled in the Mount Benson Wine region. Semillon is already a player, mostly to blend with Sauvignon Blanc. Verdelho, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Petit Verdot and Grenache are all grown in small quantities. But the variety that is drawing much interest is the very curious Cygne Blanc (white swan), a white sport from a Cabernet Sauvignon vine that was produced in the Swan Valley in Western Australia and brought to Mount Benson to propagate; 21 hectares have been planted.
Robe and Kingston are important cray and deep sea fishing towns who draw holiday makers in the summer. The Seafood and Wine Festival at Cape Jaffa each January showcases what the region has to offer.
Harvest time: late March to late April
Introduction by Toni Paterson
Article by Julie Donnellan
Article by Julie Donnellan - one happy camper from a previous year's festival!
A brilliant blue-sky promised good fortune and relaxing fun for those travelling to Mount Benson for the annual Seafood and Wine Festival, held on the foreshore overlooking pretty Wrights Bay at Cape Jaffa.
Cape Jaffa is situated between Kingston and Robe along the Southeast
coast of South Australia, a tiny fishing hamlet at the end of a
vineyard-bordered road off the main highway.
Consisting mostly of fisherman's shacks, a treed caravan park, and refrigerated containers selling locally caught rock lobsters, about 5000 be-hatted revellers spent the day dining on local oysters, trout, prawns, lobster, lamb, beef and emu. This fine fare was washed down with some of the Mount Benson's finest wines, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc for which they are making their name, and cool-climate, lemony Semillons that match so well with the seafood. Followed by pancakes (made with a secret recipe), cakes and biscuits, the food is fresh and usually made to order. To match the lifted mood, Jaffa Jazz, a local musical group, plays plenty of jazz and swing.
Face painting kept the children still for a few minutes, and amused for the rest of the day. Tigers and dragons could be seen on the faces of some of the "oldies" in the crowd who evidently rejected "age-ism". A sandcastle competition on the nearby beach was in full swing for most of the day, the variety of colourful seaweeds enhancing the sculptor's imagination and their resultant designs. For those not interested in sand sculpture, the clear cooling shallow waters of Wrights Bay tempted many to the beach for a paddle.
With perfect weather, fabulous food, and fun for wine and food
lovers of all ages, the Cape Jaffa Seafood and Wine Festival is
a must for anyone travelling through the region this time next year,
and certainly worth a special trip. Four hours from Adelaide and
six from Melbourne, a holiday in this area is easy to attain, and
well worth the drive.
The art of sandcastles.
Photograph by Julie Donnellan
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