Zema Estate: Marrying Italian Heritage with Australian Terroir

The Zema Estate in Coonawarra, South Australia
The Zema Estate in Coonawarra, South Australia

Forged in Australia but born of a passionate Italian heritage, Zema is a brand that embodies two of the greatest things about wine – terroir and history.

Based in Coonawarra, South Australia, Zema was founded by Demetrio and Francesca Zema in the 1980’s. From very humble beginnings, the Zemas worked tirelessly as a family to build the quality and reputation of their wines – resulting in the astonishing brand we are privileged to have today.

The attention to detail Zema implements is astonishing – hand pruning, careful fruit selection, meticulous viticulture, passionate winemaking, diligent bottle aging and a deep respect for the place and provenance of Coonawarra add up to give us clean, true and delicious Coonawarra reds that display a consistency that extends throughout vintages and seasonal fluctuations.

Zema is proudly independent, deriving its meaning and inspiration from the sense of trust, security and dependability that comes from family and the feeling that everything it does has been influenced by a rich legacy of stories and culture.

Zema Estate Family
Three generations of the Zema Family

In order to understand this rich legacy that is weaved into the essence of every Zema wine, one must look to where it all started. In the early 1950’s Demetrio Zema and Francesca Zema began a love affair that would last not only more than fifty years but also across two continents. Soon after becoming engaged, the couple were separated as Francesca and her family departed Italy to escape the aftermath of war and to seize the opportunities that a strange and peaceful new country ‘Australia’ offered. At the time of Francesca’s departure, the young couple had an understanding that she would return to Italy for her marriage, once her family had settled in Australia.

Upon arriving in Coonawarra, Francesca’s family went about establishing a home, securing work and adapting to a new language and culture. Back in Italy, Demetrio who was impatiently awaiting his fiancée’s return, decided to travel to Australia to marry Francesca and to bring her home to Italy. After more than twelve months apart the couple were reunited in May 1959 and married in Penola in June that year. Francesca was reluctant to leave her family and convinced Demetrio to stay, at least in the short term and the couple settled in Penola.

Demetrio soon found work helping a local painter and after a short period established his own painting business. In March 1960 Demetrio and Francesca’s first son Matteo (Matt) was born and in 1966 Nicola (Nick) arrived. Demetrio worked hard, painting houses and buildings throughout the south east, with Francesca and later Nick and Matt often helping late at night, on weekends and wherever possible.

Demetrio gained a reputation as a meticulous painter and also a very engaging one, as there was always a good story to be told and one of his home-made wines to be shared. Whilst painting was the family’s livelihood, the passion for wine never diminished and their dream was to one day own a piece of Coonawarra’s famed terra rossa soil and create their own world class wines.

Demetrio and Francesca Zema
Demetrio and Francesca Zema in the early days

In 1982, the dream became a reality and the Zemas were able to purchase a block of beautiful mature vines in the heart of Coonawarra. Demetrio and Francesca Zema along with their sons made their first Coonawarra Shiraz in a tin shed, using a second-hand milk tanker as a fermenter. As luck had it, 1982 was an outstanding vintage and two years later the inaugural Zema Shiraz was a highlight of internationally acclaimed Expovin ’84.

The family moved into a small home nestled on the same lot as the vines, and dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to establishing their new venture with assistance from their extended group of family and friends who rallied, helping out with planting new vines, hand pruning and picking.

The Zema vineyard, Coonawarra Australia
The Zema vineyard

To say Zema has flourished is an understatement. These wines – the culmination of years of dreaming, hard work and determination – have earned themselves a spot in the hearts and the cellars of some of the world’s best known wine critics. James Halliday, in the 2018 edition of The Wine Companion, rated Zema 5 Red Stars. “Outstanding winery regularly producing wines of exemplary quality & typicity. Will have at least two wines at 95 points or above, and have achieved a five-star rating for the previous two years… Zema is one of the last outposts of hand-pruning in Coonawarra, with members of the Zema family tending the vineyard set in the heart of Coonawarra’s terra rossa soil. Winemaking practices are straightforward; if ever there was an example of great wines being made in the vineyard, this is it.”

Zema Estate red wine
Dhall & Nash are extremely proud to be the only New Zealand distributors for Zema, and we stock three of their delicious and acclaimed Coonawarra reds…

 

2013 Zema Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
“A strange world classic. To those who adore old vehicles a classic car is a machine of beauty, to others it’s an old car. This is a classic Coonawarra cabernet and to me a wine of great beauty, it’s drinking very well now but has a long life ahead. An easy 96 points…”
Tony Keys | The Keys Report (96 points)

 

2013 Zema Estate Shiraz
“There’s a bit more throttle to this release than we’ve come to expect of shiraz under this label. It works a treat too. Grainy cherry plum flavours with beefier notes/aspects, bolstered further by sweet, toasty, cedary oak. We’re in business.”
James Halliday | The Wine Companion (95 points)

 

2012 Zema Estate Family Selection Cabernet Sauvignon
“Classic cigar box, mint and blackcurrant flavours come infused with smoky vanillin oak. It’s midweight but it finishes strong and varietally proud. This should develop beautifully.”
James Halliday | The Wine Companion (96 points)