Whalebone Vineyard

The Whalebone Vineyard was purchased immediately after the formation of Tapanappa in 2002.

Originally named Koppamurra Vineyard, this unique vineyard was planted in 1974 on the eastern edge of the West Naracoorte Ranges 20 kilometres north of Coonawarra. At that time it was a lonely vineyard on the edge of the Naracoorte Caves National Park and the Kanawinka Fault; now the southwestern corner of the Wrattonbully wine region. A close spaced vineyard was planted in 2004 next to the Whalebone Vineyard and is owned by Xavier and Lucy. Fruit from this block was originally meant to go under the Tapanappa label, until Xavier and Lucy decided to adopt this terroir and establish a small label called Terre à Terre (terreaterre.com.au).

Since its purchase it has been completely retrellised and renovated. It has been renamed the Whalebone Vineyard because of the discovery of a 35 million year old whale skeleton in a limestone cave beneath the vineyard. The Whalebone Vineyard is a terroir particularly suited to the varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz.

Not even the pioneers who planted the vineyard could have realised how special the site is.

Situated at 37° 10’ S and 140° 87’ E at an altitude of 80 meters, the Whalebone Vineyard is on the dunal ridge of the oldest shoreline of the plain which gently leans away to the Great Southern Ocean 80 kilometres to the west. The West Naracoorte Range was formed along the north south Kanawinka Fault when the land began to rise about 0.8 million years ago, causing the Southern Ocean to recede away to its current shoreline. The ridge is seated on 35 million year old Oligocene limestone (very similar to St Emilion in Bordeaux) and it is in this limestone that the bones of a whale were trapped and are now exposed in a cave eroded into the limestone beneath the Whalebone Vineyard.

Regional Summary

Latitude37° 10’S
Dominant influenceSouthern Ocean and West Naracoorte Range
Heat Summationabout 1514°C
Daily range14.8°C
Sunshine Hours*1593
Summer Rain*257 mm
Dominant soilterra rossa
Geology35 million year old limestone
Favoured VarietiesCabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot


The more than 30 year old vines on Whalebone Vineyard are planted at spacings of 3 metres between rows and 2 metres between plants in the row, traditional Australian wide spacing, giving 1666 vines/hectare compared to Bordeaux’s 5,000 to 10,000 vines/hectare.

When the Whalebone Vineyard was prepared for planting in 1974, the soil was not ripped to crack through the limestone cap as is the modern practice and hence the vine roots have to find their way down through natural fissures and cracks. This limits the capacity of the vineyard as the vines are forced to struggle for nutrient and water.

The vines have achieved a natural and sustainable balance without the need for irrigation. The soil of the Whalebone Vineyard is organically manured and a natural grass sward grows in the rows. The special Terra Rossa soil has a thriving community of beneficial soil organisms.
Because of the limitation of vine root access to nutrient and water, a low number of buds is left at pruning, 33,000 buds/hectare compared to 70,000 buds/hectare in high capacity vineyards such as those in Bordeaux.

The 33,000 buds of each hectare of the Whalebone Vineyard are deployed at 20 buds/vine, giving a meagre 10 shoots/metre of trellis. The vines are cane pruned and the shoots are arranged in a vertical canopy that allows every individual shoot and bunch of grapes to achieve full light and ventilation.

Each shoot is hand thinned back to one bunch of fruit and the result is a tiny crop level of 4 tonnes/hectare compared to 6.5 tonnes/hectare allowed in the Medoc, Bordeaux and average crops in Coonawarra and Wrattonbully of 10 tonnes/hectare. Whalebone Vineyard is typically hand harvested in the first half of April.


Hand harvesting in the whalebone Vineyard is a meticulous process and all inferior or damaged fruit is left in the vineyard. The fruit balance at harvest is typically:

  • Sugar at 24 Brix;
  • Acid of 7gpl as tartaric; and
  • pH of 3.55.

The Merlot is the earliest variety and is harvested separately at the end of March. The Shiraz is next, usually in the first week of April and the Cabernet Sauvignon comes a week later. Finally the tiny quantity of Cabernet Franc is harvested a few days after the Cabernet Sauvignon.

This fruit requires no amelioration and achieves the winemaking objective of “naturalness” so important to the optimal expression of the terroir. The hand-harvested grapes of the Whalebone Vineyard are carried in 0.5 tonne bins to the Tapanappa Winery in the Piccadilly Valley.

Fermentation and Maturation

The bunches are destemmed and only a portion of the liberated berries are crushed between slightly separated rollers. The berries and juice are transferred to 1 tonne tubs at 5ºC where they macerate anaerobically for 3 days before the fermentation is initiated. A small quantity of my own vineyard-selected yeast is added to each tub and the fermentation begins.

The rising cap of skins is hand plunged and mixed with the fermenting juice twice per day. The cap of skins achieves temperatures of 30ºC between plungings over the first week of the fermentation. In the second week of fermentation the temperature decreases but the plunging continue until all of the sugar is exhausted.

At dryness the tub is sealed anaerobically and in the third week the cap sinks beneath the wine surface. After 24 days in the tub, the clear wine is drained away from the skins and the wet skins are gently pressed in a small air bag press. Light pressings are added back to the drained wine to the extent dictated by taste.

The turbid freshly separated wine is immediately drained to 70% new and 30% one use French oak barriques from the Alliers and Nevers forests of the “Centre of France”.

A tiny quantity of my own selected malolactic bacteria is added to each barrique and the separate varietal components of Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard are allowed to complete the malo-lactic fermentation on full lees in barrique.

At completion of malo-lactic the wines are removed from barrique, a small amount of sulphur dioxide is added and the wine, complete with lees, is returned to barrique. The wines are clear racked from barrique each 6 months and returned so that after 18 months the wine is clear.

Blending and Bottling

After 20 months in new barriques the final blend is assembled from the varietal ingredients and is fined with the equivalent of 3 fresh egg whites per barrique.

The brilliantly clear Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard blends are racked to bottle without filtration.

The typical final “in bottle” analysis of Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Cabernet Shiraz and Whalebone Vineyard Merlot Cabernet Franc is:

Volatile Acid0.55gpl

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Liquor Licensing Act 1997
It is an offense to sell or to supply to or to obtain liquor on behalf of a person under the age of 18 years.
Liquor license No. 50809187
Wines are sold by Tapanappa Wines Pty. Ltd. ABN 86 104 001 667