Beringer Blass Wine Estates -- the Australia-California wine giant -- filed an appeal in Australian federal court today challenging the new boundaries set for the country's Coonawarra appellation. At issue is the exclusion of the company's Robertson's Well vineyard -- from which it makes a Coonawarra-labeled Cabernet Sauvignon -- from the boundaries set on Oct. 8 by an Australian appeals tribunal.
Determining the exact area of the prestigious Coonawarra region has been a controversial subject ever since Australia began devising its new Geographical Indications appellation system, which will define the country's wine regions for the first time. Previously, Australia had relied simply on common-law interpretations for the geographic designations carried on wine labels.
The tribunal court's decision -- which enlarged the size originally set for the Coonawarra appellation, but still left out many producers' vineyards -- was expected to be among the final touches on the new Geographical Indications system.
In spring 2000, the Geographical Indications committee decided to limit Coonawarra to an area of roughly 67 square miles, about one-third of its common-law size. That prompted many producers formerly in the appellation to turn to the courts, in the hope that their wineries would not have to label their wines with less prestigious designations in the future.
In early October, the appeals tribunal redrew the map to include 25 previously excluded vineyards, but turned down 19 other appeals. The last day that parties could appeal that ruling was Nov. 3.
Coonawarra, which has historically been Australia's best region for Cabernet Sauvignon, is a geographically diverse and complex area. Many of the best wines come from vines grown on outcroppings of red soil over limestone, known as terra rossa. The region's major area of terra rossa stretches in an 8-mile-long strip north from the South Australian town of Penola.
The sticking point is that the terra rossa soil that is a determining factor for quality appears in patches outside of the strip as well, but the new Australian rules require that an appellation have a single boundary line. In addition, vineyards planted on non—terra rossa soil have historically been used in wines labeled Coonawarra, and these sites can produce wines as good as or better than those grown on terra rossa.
Read our previous news coverage of this subject:
Read Harvey Steiman's most recent tasting report on Australian wines: