Babe in Cradle goes to show
THE final leg of a Tasmanian odyssey in December took us to Cradle Mountain in the northwest, a place that, despite my numerous trips to Tasmania, I had never visited. The region is thin on wineries, with only three open for cellar-door visitors (Barringwood Park, Ghost Rock and Lake Barrington) and three open only by prior arrangement (Tiger Range, Three Willow and Tavners).
At some point along the way there was a question from our host about whether we felt the last leg was a step too far. Even before we arrived, our answer was no. After staying at Cradle Mountain Lodge, visiting the nearby sanctuary and experiencing the ever-changing scenery, from mountainous Australian forest to rolling dales reminiscent of England, the answer was even more emphatic.
Moreover, for tourists arriving with their cars at Devonport, all this is within a short drive. But that leaves one of Tasmania’s premium pinot noir producers out of the equation, when for wine tourists it should be the centrepiece.
Consider this: its 2003 pinot noir won gold medals at the Tasmanian Wine Show and Hobart Wine Show in 2005, adding the trophy for best Tasmanian red wine at Hobart. Its 2004 Mill Block Pinot Noir won the trophy for best three-year-old pinot at the 2007 Tasmanian Wine Show. The 2005 Mill Block Pinot also won gold at the 2007 Tasmanian Wine Show and the trophy for best pinot noir at the Winewise Competition in 2007. Its 2005 Forest Raven won the trophy for best pinot noir at the 2006 Cowra Wine Show, the 2006 Mill Block winning the trophy for best pinot at the Australian Boutique Wine Awards 2007.
I stand to be corrected but I cannot recall any other pinot noir producers with such an exceptional five-year wine show track record. Remarkable, you might think, but all the more remarkable given that it had a moreor-less accidental beginning.
Judy and Ian Robinson owned and operated a relatively small sawmill on their property at Lower Barrington, barely a 15-minute drive due south of Devonport. In 1993 they decided to plant 500 vines with the idea of doing some home winemaking, tending the vines themselves. By chance, they had an ideal north to northeast-facing slope and the vines thrived.
One vine led to another as they embarked on a sixyear plan, planting an additional hectare for each of the following four years. Over the next two years they built a cellar and tasting room-cum-restaurant, using a range of Tasmanian timber cut and milled on site by Ian, who was also the builder.
Tamar Ridge made the wines with its usual skill but it is without doubt what Brian Croser would call a distinguished site that has taken the pinot noirs to another level. The Robinsons also planted small quantities of pinot gris, chardonnay, schonburger (a white German variety more common in Tasmania than the mainland, but still in micro-quantities, where it deserves to stay) and pinot meunier.
Thus the cellar door is able to offer IJ Sparkling (with a base wine of the three classic sparkling varieties), pinot gris, Flagship Chardonnay, schonburger, rose (pinot meunier), Meunier (a table-wine blend of pinot meunier with a dash of pinot noir) and, depending on the year, Mill Block and-or Forest Raven pinot noirs.
Forest Raven is a new arrival, based on one of the newer burgundy clones. Already making a wine with abundant plum and cherry flavour, supple mouthfeel and excellent tannins, one can only wonder how good the wine will be once the vines are 10 years or so older.
There is still 2ha to 3ha of perfect slope that can be planted. If our exhortations to plant it (with a subtext of the newest pinot clones 667 and 777) are heeded, there will be more Barringwood Park pinot noir to come, and more gold medals and trophies.