Apple Isle in the right place
THE Tasmanian wine industry has many reasons to feel it is in the right place at the right time. Indeed, there are so many reasons, it’s difficult to know where to start. I’ll resist the temptation to go straight to climate change and instead opt for Brand Tasmania, which is now officially part of the marketing strategy for the state and spans all Tasmanian goods and services.
In the food, wine and lifestyle segment, the Taste of Tasmania exhibition has long been a highly effective messenger. There is no question that in domestic as well as overseas markets, Tasmania conjures up images of the exotic, the unspoiled, the beautiful and the mysterious. It’s a place people wish to visit.
This has been reinforced by the website puretasmania.com.au and, for wine, the formation of Wine Industry Tasmania, a peak body including almost every winery, with the curious exception of Pipers Brook. In the company of three other wine journalists, a food writer and a travel writer, I spent four days making a rapid journey through the south, the east coast, the north and the northwest as a guest of these bodies.
Being chairman of the Tasmanian Wine Show since 1991, and having had an even longer affair with trout fishing in the state, has made me the old dog, but the trip taught me new tricks. The winery lunches and the regional wine dinners provided food of, at times, superlative quality and sophistication, but always with a strong regional accent.
Tasmania’s varied and unfailingly beautiful scenery enlivens all the 60 or so cellar doors and, as relatively few of the wineries have mainland distribution, visiting is the only way most wine lovers can taste the wines. (All wineries are willing to ship wines to the mainland, some freight-free for larger orders.)
The tyranny of distance has proved no barrier of late and will likely turn into an advantage in the years ahead. As mainland Australia began to swim in a surplus of grapes and wine between 2004 and 2006, Tasmania was heading in the opposite direction. Excess demand lifted prices, and the small amount of bulk wine disappeared the moment it was put on the market. By 2007, Tasmanian grape prices topped every table in the National Winegrape Crush and Price Report with an average of $2475 a tonne. The price of pinot noir ranged from $1400 to $5100 a tonne, with an average of $2800, and all the indications point to a further rise next vintage.
In 2007, pinot noir accounted for 46 per cent of the total crush, 23 per cent for chardonnay and 10 per cent for riesling. The varietal mix is not only financially perfect but reflects its four best wines: pinot noir, sparkling, chardonnay and riesling. Hardy’s, locally called Bay of Fires, was the first of the big companies to move decisively to Tasmania for its sparkling wines, headed by Arras, but is not alone. Foster’s is buying all the quality grapes it can.
In some parts of Tasmania, perfect viticultural land is still ludicrously cheap by mainland standards (more so given the potential value of the crop) but, in common with the mainland, becomes more expensive with assured water availability.
It’s little understood that Hobart is the second driest capital city and that all but a handful of the vineyards require drip irrigation.
What, then, of climate change? Tasmania is bisected by latitude 42S and surrounded by the Southern Ocean, Tasman Sea and Bass Strait, all providing year-round cold airconditioning. Initially, at least, this will temper rising temperatures: remember that global warming is a very loose phrase; local warming is very different. Moreover, some mediumterm warming may make the growing of high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay easier and will open the door to a suite of varieties at present largely confined to the too-hard basket.
If John B. L. Soule were alive, it’s a fair bet he would say, ‘‘ Go south, young man.’’