John Riddoch came to Australia from Scotland during the gold boom
of the early eighteen fifties with his parents and four brothers.
The lure of gold drew John to Spring Creek, (now Beechworth, Victoria)
but after poor success at gold-digging John realised he could have
his own gold mine by provisioning the diggers.
With his brothers he bought goods in Geelong and carted them in
dray loads to the diggings. There they sold the goods, the drays
and even any surplus horses in return for gold. They did this until
the gold rush subsided. John then opened a store in Geelong until
1861 when he came to Penola and purchased the property known as
'Yallum' from T.A. and H.E. Wells.
During Johns time of purchasing further land he had devoted attention
to improving his Yallum Park property which then incorporated what
was known as the Woolshed property covering Coonawarra.
In 1869 the Robe Road was surveyed and the drainage system was
introduced with Drain B running parallel to the Robe Road. John
cut up part of his estate into twenty-acre blocks - called 'Working
Men's Blocks' and these still survive in spite of being incorporated
under larger titles today.
Possibly John Riddoch's outstanding achievement was the 'Coonawarra
Fruit Colony' venture. In 1890 one thousand acres of the Coonawarra
portion of Yallum Estate was surveyed in ten-acre blocks and offered
on easy terms for fruit growing.
The suitability of the soil and climate had been proved for many
years at Yallum Park, where John had some twenty acres planted to
fruit trees and vines.
William Wilson a colonist of some forty years, owned a small block
of three roods thirty-five perches in Penola on which he had cultivated
a remarkable garden which included strawberries, fruit trees and
The soil of his block, and also the strip about a mile wide and
running north from the township of Penola for about nine miles was
extremely fertile terra-rosa, scarce throughout the world.
This was similar to the land which Wilson had seen on the Greek
Island of Corfu where vines grew profusely. On the advice of Professor
Perkins, chief agriculturist with the State Government, Riddoch
decided that this strip was the place to establish the Coonawarra
John Riddoch built the first winery at Coonawarra (now owned by
Wynn's) where the first sizeable vintage was crushed and processed
in 1898. While John Riddoch did not live to see his venture develop
much beyond its infancy, the outstanding reputation Coonawarra wines
enjoy today is owed directly to his foresight and generosity.
Largely as a result of the influence of the large post war migrant
intake, Australian's preference for fortified wines and spirits
altered to an interest in table wines.
Coonawarra vineyards had dwindled to about four hundred acres,
and were under threat, when Samuel and David Wynn purchased the
original Riddoch winery and vineyards in 1951. A number of successful
vintages, coupled with the increasing consumption of table wines,
created considerable interest in the wine industry. By the end of
the 1960s a number of wine companies had established vineyards and
wineries at Coonawarra.
The Coonawarra viticulture area is based on the small area of terra
rosa soil stretching north from Penola for fifteen kilometres and
restricted to only two to three kilometres in width. Early assessments
of Coonawarra area recognised the suitability of the natural elements
of the district for vine growing.
The only danger of this area as reported by W. Catton Grasby in
1899 in Prospects for Vinegrowers was the possibility of the late
spring frosts. He writes, "The settlers have organised, and
being near together are able to secure the benefits of co-operative
A feature of this period has been Coonawarra's easy acceptance
of the latest methods and practices, both in viticulture and wine
making. The Coonawarra vineyard area, as a consequence, has a marked
different appearance from any other Australian vineyard.
Coonawarra, the aboriginal word for wild honeysuckle, is the name
all associate with Australia's premier table-wine district, the
dry red wines are amongst the best in the world.