When Scottish pioneer John Riddoch planted the first vineyard and orchards of his Coonawarra Fruit Colony in 1891, he made two recommendations to his growers: that they should only plant on the fertile terra rossa soil that extended north from the township of Penola and that they only plant Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz.
This wasn't just based on instinct - Riddoch and his gardener friend William Wilson had already undertaken a number of trials of different soils and grape varieties and were confident this was the right recipe for the future success of the fledgling Coonawarra region.
When the Zema family purchased their first 20 acre property in 1982, of which 8 acres was planted to Shiraz, they saw no reason to depart from Riddoch's original plan, planting Cabernet Sauvignon on the remaining. They chose their vineyard because it was located in the heart of the famed terra rossa strip adjacent to Coonawarra landmarks Mildara, Rouge Homme and Wynns.
Nearly 40 years on that decision to stick with tradition has defined the Zema brand.
Their belief in the essential quality of the terra rossa soil of Coonawarra - a unique light red clay coloured by iron oxide laying over a sub-soil structure of free draining limestone with a permanent supply of pure underground water has provided them with consistent yields of high quality fruit. The Zema vineyards are strategically placed through three prime Coonawarra locations and combined with Coonawarra's maritime breezes from the Southern Ocean, are much the same as the famed Cabernet region of Bordeaux in France. These cooling breezes ensure long, slow ripening and acid retention, delivering wines of intense flavour and structure.
The Zema family arrived from Italy in 1953 bringing with them a wealth of traditional vineyard practices and experience. Today the Zema's continue to touch every vine by hand - shaping, nurturing and adjusting the canopy to achieve a balance of vigour, yield and quality. As Nick says, he still feels his grandfather looking over his shoulder every time he prunes a vine. Cropping levels and vine health are carefully managed through minimal irrigation, canopy care and attentive monitoring of pests and disease.
This handcrafted approach to producing the very best Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes means that winemaking at Zema is also a process of careful nurturing - rather than manipulation - of this premium fruit. The family learned from legendary Coonawarra winemaker Ken Ward that the best wines are made by thorough fruit selection and maintaining fastidious attention to detail. From harvesting to fermentation and maturation in the best French and American oak, all parcels are kept separate. This means when it comes time to classify and blend the individual parcels of wine, the winemaker has the ultimate palette to achieve the signature Zema style: generosity of flavour, outstanding varietal fruit definition, soft, fine grained tannins and persistent line and length.
After classifying and blending, every wine receives extended bottle maturation of up to four years before release - a rarity in the wine industry today. This traditional approach enables the wine to settle and integrate in the bottle and achieve the right balance of flavours and textures on release.
Hand pruned and hand crafted, this commitment to tradition provides a guarantee to every customer, that when they open their Zema Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz, it will taste just as the family intended.