Patrick of Coonawarra was established in 1998 but the story of this South Australian winery goes back much further.
You could say it started when Patrick and Jenny Tocaciu moved to Coonawarra in 1989, a region in the southeast corner of the state, nestled in the Limestone Coast. Pat was working as chief winemaker for an established winery in the area, and rented a house from the winemaker nearby.
In front of the house was a small vineyard; in 1991, Pat bought the vineyard selling what he grew to the winery. As he nurtured this small patch of land, year in, year out, he harboured a dream – that one day these grapes would go into a wine of his own.
Coonawarra is a picturesque region, with vast, open vineyards, dotted with gum trees, and is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon - one of Pat's and Luke's favourite wines to grow. It has been grown in the region for over 50 years, and is known globally for being a stellar example of this variety. The cool climate and famous terra rossa soil gets the best out of this grape – it’s actually the southernmost point, climate wise, that it can be grown.
Coonawarra Riesling is the lesser known but equally as exciting star – only held back by its reputation as a sweet wine. Another one of Pat's favourite wines to make. The Rieslings made at Coonawarra are soft and textural, buttery with notes of tropical fruit: a pure expression of the season and vineyard.
GROWING UP IN THE WINERY
It was a rich childhood for Pat and Jenny's son Luke, who had the winery where his father worked as his playground. He would skateboard between the tanks, help turn the pumps on and off, and earned pocket money pruning the vineyards around his house. He grew up watching these grapes as they slowly swelled with juice, noticing the effects of the seasons from one year to the next.
“I remember the exciting sights and smells of vintage. I was naturally drawn to it and always wanted to follow in Dad's footsteps and do something in the industry.” - Luke Tocaciu
When Luke was nearing the end of high school, his father sat him down to talk about his future. Patrick divulged his dream to establish his own winery in Coonawarra, and for Luke to take it over one day. Luke, already enamoured with the industry, agreed enthusiastically. Together, father and son laid down a long term plan before they had a short term one – there was no winery yet but they had a vision, as clear as day.
THE FIRST RELEASE OF PATRICK OF COONAWARRA WINES
In 1998, Pat got to work; finally making his own wine from the home block. For him, it was crucial to focus his efforts on the vines first before thinking about a cellar door, to ensure he was making the best wine he possibly could.
Luke explains the significance of the Home Block wine to his family, saying “Home Block is the first vineyard that we purchased with the family home when Dad moved down to Coonawarra in 1989. It is a single vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon - a block of 60 year old vines around our family home, just down the road from our cellar door.
I grew up working in the vineyard. I earned my pocket money doing pruning and lifting wires and fixing sprinklers and things like that, so it’s the vineyard that I’ve spent the most time in and is always my favourite."
"I know the vineyard very well, which is key when you're making a premium wine. You know where the best parts of the vineyard are and know how to treat them differently.”
Pat also bought 50 hectares of land at Wrattonbully, a 20 minute drive north, taking a chance on what was an upcoming winegrowing region and established Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. It was a good mix of varietals to establish their identity and set them on the path of being able to make wine using only their own grapes – an essential element of Pat’s vision.
It took six years before the wines came onto the market. From the very beginning, Pat decided to follow the philosophy of delayed release. Like a father emu, he sits patiently on the wines as they develop. By holding them back, he does the work of cellaring for the customer, only delivering them at their peak.
The Tocacius took the plunge and opened the cellar door in 2004. There was no going back now – Patrick of Coonawarra was out in the world. Pat had decades of wine experience under his belt and was well respected in the industry but it was his own name on the label now.
“It was Pat’s dream to grow, make and sell his own wine. We took a big risk - the wine industry is not an easy one to get into and he didn’t have huge financial backing.” - Jenny Tocaciu
It was an exhilarating time for the family. Jenny was teaching to keep the family afloat, pruning the vines in the home block by hand and helping out at the cellar door when she could.
The first release of wines were assessed highly by critics, winning several gold medals with the first release – particularly their Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling – and Patrick of Coonawarra’s reputation started to build.
“There’s a spot at Wrattonbully that’s particularly beautiful; we love to have family barbecues there. I remember sitting back one day after lunch, and thinking ‘oh my gosh, we finally have vineyards of our own.’ It was so exciting to imagine where it would go.” - Jenny Tocaciu