COOLANGATTA Estate has its contradictions – it’s not on the Queensland Gold Coast, but at Shoalhaven Heads on the NSW South Coast, and it’s not in an area deemed well-suited to winegrowing.
There is, however, no doubt about the consistent quality of the wines that come from its 10hectares of vines within the Historic Village Resort on the site of the Coolangatta property established 191 years ago by Scottish-born surgeon, seafarer, merchant and explorer Alexander Berry.
The semillons regularly win gold medals and trophies at major wine shows – for example the Coolangatta Estate 2006 Shoalhaven Coast Semillon was judged the best wine in named vineyard classes and the best small producer’s named vineyard wine at the 2012 Sydney Wine Show.
In his Australian Wine Companion wine guru James Halliday gives Coolangatta a five-star rating and awards 96- to 90-point scores to its semillons as well as to its tannat and tempranillo reds.
Coolangatta has plantings of semillon, verdelho, chardonnay, savagnin, chambourcin, tannat, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, from which wines are made under contract at the Tyrrell’s winery at Pokolbin.
Coolangatta chief executive officer Greg Bishop says the association with Tyrrell’s, which began with a maiden-vintage sauvignon blanc in 1990, is a key factor in the success of his wines.
At vintage the grapes are hand-picked and trucked off to Pokolbin and into the expert hands of chief winemaker Andrew Spinaze and red winemaker Mark Richardson.
Greg regards Andrew Spinaze as a great friend and mentor, whose input into the management of Coolangatta’s maritime-climate vines has been invaluable.
The estate’s story dates back to 1822 when Alexander Berry was granted 4000 hectares on the slopes of Mount Coolangatta and given 100 convicts to carve out the first settlement on the South Coast.
He and his wife built a homestead that was at the hub of a farming enterprise that embraced tobacco, potatoes, maize, barley and wheat growing, and the raising of pigs and cattle.
Their efforts included the operation of a fleet of trading ships.
As the estate grew to 16,000hectares by 1863, it supported a village boasting convict cottages, an estate office, a community hall, two coach houses and blacksmith and tinsmith shops.
And, as a result of a friendship with wine pioneer James Busby, Berry also planted a vineyard.
The name Coolangatta derived from the Aboriginal word cullingatty, meaning ‘‘splendid view’’.
Queensland’s Coolangatta got its name because one of Alexander Berry’s Shoalhaven-built trading ships, Coolangatta, was wrecked at the mouth of the Tweed River.
Berry’s grand dream was also to suffer a sad fate and over the years the vines were grubbed out, the estate was divided up for various farming uses and the historic convict-built village fell into a dilapidated state.
In 1947 along came a visionary new owner, farmer Colin Bishop.
Colin bought the 100 or so hectares of Coolangatta and in 1950 began using the land for dairying and adding to his holdings by buying adjoining properties.
He also regularly wandered through the neglected old buildings and began to harbour thoughts of restoring them to their former glory.
In 1971, in the face of advice to the contrary, Colin Bishop began the seemingly impossible task of turning the once-thriving convict village into a historic resort.
In 1972 the resort opened and Colin’s son Greg joined the enterprise and in 1988 began planting wine grape vines, a process that was aided from 1992 on by taking leading viticulturist Dr Richard Smart on as a consultant.
Today Coolangatta Estate is a major tourist attraction offering accommodation, a solar-heated swimming pool, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, wine tasting rooms and a restaurant and function rooms.
Greg says from the time he planted the first sauvignon blanc vines at Coolangatta he was convinced that, with the correct viticultural techniques, quality wines could be produced in the Shoalhaven.
And, in my book, that has been the case.