The Southern Highlands form part of the Great Dividing Range, with the area sitting between 500 and 900 metres above sea level; the vineyards are positioned at up to 700 metres in altitude. Generally the region is cool, moist and slightly humid.  

Though there are records pointing to table grape vineyards and a modest wine production of 4300 litres (1135 gallons) in 1886, there was little viticulture during the early 20th century, and the current wine history of the region dates only from the 1980s, when the Joadja Vineyards and Winery were established. Wine tasting, sampling great regional food and unwinding are essential ingredients to a visit to the Southern Highlands, a favoured country retreat for Sydneysiders. The main wine varieties produced include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Regional Checklist:

  • The region forms part of the Great Dividing Range, south-west of Sydney.
  • Modern-day viticulture commenced in the 1980s.
  • The region is currently home to around 30 wineries and vineyards.
  • A moderately Continental climate prevails.
  • Principal viticultural soils are derived from basalt and shale.
  • Viticultural hazards include hail and attack by birds and animals.
  • Botrytis presents problems during very warm vintages.
  • Vineyards are cultivated at 500-700 metres (1640-2296 ft).
  • Principal grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • The region is a favoured country retreat for Sydneysiders.

Generally the region is cool, moist and slightly humid, and can be characterised as having a moderately Continental climate with mild summers and cool winters. Rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year, varying from heavy (1664 millimetres or 65 inches) in the east to moderate at Joadja, with 832 millimetres (32 inches). Viticultural hazards include hail, frosts during April, attacks by animals on young vines and birds feasting on un-netted vines at harvest time. Fungal diseases, including downy and powdery mildews, are also present and require sulphur or copper-based sprays for control. Botrytis can also present problems in very warm vintages.

The principal viticultural soils are those derived from basalt (red and brown krasnozems and red earths) and shale (red and brown podzolics and brown earths).  Both soils incline to acidity, which may be corrected by the addition of lime. Krasnozem soils promote vigorous growth but are free-draining; the red podsols, common throughout south-east Australia, are less fertile and do not drain as well. There are also some sandstone-derived yellow earths. The vineyards are situated between 500 and 700 metres (1640 to 2296 feet) altitude.

Yet another of Australia’s cooler Chardonnay areas, the region makes both unwooded and wooded styles. Melon, lime and citrus characters dominate, sometimes with a touch of green apple. Oak handling is light and skilful; acidity is generally good, auguring well for ageing.

Riesling: Riesling is showing promise, with floral citrus complexities in young wines and touches of honey and toast in older wines.

Sauvignon Blanc: These wines are very much in the general run of good cool-area Australian Sauvignon Blanc; light, smoky, grassy traits on nose and palate with good acidity.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends: The Southern Highlands is an area where Cabernet Sauvignon and its related varieties perform better in warmer years. At present it is producing medium-bodied wines showing light berry and briar characteristics, mostly from young vines.

Vital Statistics:
Map Coordinates:                                   36º 27´ S 
Altitude:                                               600 - 750 metres (1968 - 2460 feet) 
Heat degree days, October-April:            1330 (cut off at 19º C (66.2º F) but otherwise not adjusted) 
Growing season rainfall, October-April :  596 millimetres (23.5 inches) 
Mean January temperature:                    18.9ºC (66ºF) 
Relative humidity, October-April, 3 pm:  Average 56% 
Harvest:                                               Late March - Early May


Tony Cosgriff, Winemaker, Centennial Vineyards, Southern Highlands, NSW

Established in 1998, Centennial’s success is based on producing consistently top quality wines with a flair for experimenting with grape varieties and techniques.  Tony Cosgriff, winemaker at Centennial Vineyards says they are a cool climate vineyard (750 metres altitude) with Mediterranean (coastal) influences; daytime temperatures are not excessive and night temperatures are not too cold.

“The soils are largely basalt, promoting medium-high vigour, and require intensive canopy management such as leaf plucking and shoot thinning to optimise fruit exposure. The cool climate environment is characterised by a long, cool ripening period promoting bright fruit flavours and high natural acidity,” Tony says.

“Flavour ripeness is achieved at a lower sugar level than warmer regions, giving rise to wine styles that are light-medium bodied, crisp, balanced and of moderate alcohol content.  Cool climate varieties such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo typically perform very well as table wines, and earlier picked Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excel for sparkling base wine.”

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