John Riddoch grew up in poverty in the highlands of Scotland (a result of the Highlands clearances) and in 1851 emigrated to the Victorian goldfields. Within a few years he was a successful shopkeeper and wine merchant on the Geelong goldfields.

In 1861 he purchased a property, Yallum, in the Penola area of South Australia, stimulating the development of the area. He acquired 35,000 acres on which he ran 50,000 head of sheep. In keeping with his wealthy status he lived ostentatiously. By 1863 Penola boasted the largest library outside Adelaide. The poet Adam Lindsay Gordon came to the district and often stayed with John Riddoch.

In 1873 Riddoch built Penola's Presbyterian Church. In 1878-1880 he built a large Classical Revival sandstone house at Yallum Park, eight kilometres out of Penola. It was from this base that he established his Coonawarra vineyards planting some 95,000 vines in 1891.

In 1887 Riddoch and fellow agriculturalist William McPherson were named on a medal issued to commemorate Queen Victoria's jubilee (NU 34829). The medal is inscribed Penola, South Australia.

Around 1890 Riddoch formed the Coonawarra Fruit Colony and 2,000 acres from his property were subdivided into holdings of 10-30 acres, which were sold to farmers with the express idea that they all became vineyards and orchards. The district benefited from its rich red soil and warm climate. Riddoch insisted that the 'blockers' had to plant one-third cabernet sauvignon to two-thirds shiraz.

Today the town of Penola includes a John Riddoch District Interpretive Centre, which traces the history of the area. The Riddoch Highway is named after him.

Fairfax Walkabout website, accessed 28 Jan 2004.

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