Well known for its award-win­ning sparkling wines, Tas­ma­nia is grow­ing in stature as a pro­ducer of top-qual­ity still whites and Pinot Noirs. Sarah Ahmed fol­lows the latest de­vel­op­ments on this ‘cool’ is­land state

Decanter - - CONTENTS -

The cool Aussie re­gion is fast gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for its Pinot Noirs and char­ac­ter­ful whites, re­ports Sarah Ahmed

Cast Adrift 240km south of main­land Australia, across Bass strait, Tas­ma­nia was quickly spotted by colo­nial ex­plor­ers as a nat­u­ral fit for Europe’s cool-cli­mate-lov­ing crops. in 1788, the first of them, Lieu­tenant Wil­liam ( Mutiny on the Bounty) Bligh, recorded plant­ing three ap­ple trees and nine vines ‘to do good the most in our power to the Na­tives or those who may come af­ter us’.

Tas­ma­nia, the Ap­ple isle, went on to be­come Australia’s most pro­duc­tive ap­ple-grow­ing state. To­day, it’s the ap­ple of the wine in­dus­try’s eye – a zero-sur­plus zone, whose grapes are con­ser­va­tively es­ti­mated to be worth al­most six times the na­tional average and whose en­tire pro­duc­tion (about 0.5% of Australia’s to­tal) re­tails at above $15/£9.18 a bot­tle.

Nail­ing its colours so firmly to the su­per­premium mast is not this en­vi­able wine state’s sole point of dif­fer­ence. Tas­ma­nia is also chart­ing fresh ter­ri­tory as Australia’s coolest wine re­gion. With a cli­mate not dis­sim­i­lar to that of Cham­pagne (but, cru­cially for still wines, sig­nif­i­cantly drier), it is Australia’s

undis­puted cap­i­tal of tra­di­tional method sparkling wine. Made from Pinot Noir, Chardon­nay and some­times Pinot Me­u­nier, this style of fizz ac­counts for about 35% of the is­land’s pro­duc­tion. With ‘a sup­ple­ness of struc­ture’, which Ed Carr, Ac­co­lade’s sparkling winemaker, iden­ti­fies as Tas­ma­nia’s sig­na­ture note, de­mand is seem­ingly in­sa­tiable.

When I vis­ited last year, tra­di­tional method spe­cial­ist Fran Austin of De­lamere Es­tate told me: ‘Sparkling has gone berserk… we can’t keep up.’ Od­dbins head buyer Ana Sa­pungiu MW echoes her com­ments, re­port­ing of Jansz Rosé (see p80): ‘Cus­tomers can’t get enough of it.’ My top-scoring fizz from House of Ar­ras is im­ported to the UK by Lib­erty Wines; its managing direc­tor David Gleave MW ob­serves san­guinely that de­mand will nat­u­rally ex­ceed sup­ply ‘if, like Ar­ras, the wines taste bet­ter than Cham­pagne at the same price’.

Carr, Australia’s most awarded sparkling winemaker and Ar­ras crafts­man, is renowned for his com­mit­ment to lengthy age­ing of wines on their yeasts in bot­tle; the Grand Vin­tage 2007 was dis­gorged af­ter sev­eral years to build com­plex­ity, while his flag­ship cu­vée, EJ Carr, spends a decade on its lees.

Be­yond sparkling

If fizz is fir­ing on all cylin­ders, what about the other two-thirds of Tas­ma­nian pro­duc­tion – the still wines? Main­land pro­ducer Hardys (owned by Ac­co­lade), then Pen­folds were quick to siphon off top-notch Chardon­nay for re­spec­tive multi-re­gional blends Eileen Hardy and Yat­tarna, even if, joked Hardys’ Tom New­ton, he ini­tially ‘picked up the crumbs’ from Carr’s sparklings. Al­though both wines now in­clude a hefty per­cent­age of Tas­ma­nian Chardon­nay, com­pe­ti­tion for fruit is hot­ting up, espe­cially now fresh­ness (which Tas­ma­nia so re­li­ably de­liv­ers) is prized over sheer power.

Take Tolpud­dle Vine­yard, his­tor­i­cally a key source for Eileen Hardy and Ar­ras. It was ac­quired in 2011 by Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith MW (own­ers of Shaw & Smith in the Ade­laide Hills) and the pair now make a stun­ning sin­gle-vine­yard Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir from this ma­ture Coal River Val­ley site. Al­though Coal River Val­ley is in Tas­ma­nia’s warmer, drier south, its dis­tinc­tive raci­ness is, for Hill Smith, a prod­uct of the fact that, while ‘the Ade­laide Hills are cool, south­ern Tas­ma­nia is cold’, plus his be­lief that Tolpud­dle Vine­yard is ‘one of the great sin­gle vine­yards of Australia’.

With un­usual lime­stone sub-soil, south­ern Tas­ma­nia’s Der­went Es­tate in the Der­went Val­ley is an­other. In 2013, this long-term sup­plier to Pen­folds’ Yat­tarna Chardon­nay part­nered up with winemaker John Schuts, build­ing a win­ery to in­crease the quan­tity and

Tas­ma­nia is ‘em­bry­onic – the last fron­tier of pre­mium wine­mak­ing in Australia’ Nav Singh, Do­maine Simha (be­low)

qual­ity of wines Schuts pre­vi­ously made for Der­went Es­tate at Wine­mak­ing Tas­ma­nia, a lead­ing con­tract winemaker. Der­went’s new flag­ship Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir la­bel Cal­caire high­lights the more ex­act­ing ter­roir­fo­cused ap­proach, espe­cially for Pinot Noir. It is now har­vested by block or clone over two to three weeks in 20 picks. Such de­vel­op­ments are a win-win for Tas­ma­nia. Gleave praises ‘a new breed of small in­de­pen­dent winer­ies aim­ing for the very top of the tree’, whom it is ex­cit­ing to see re­fo­cus­ing pedi­gree sites on am­bi­tious 100% Tas­ma­nian wines.

Mean­while, the big play­ers push to find the great sites of the fu­ture, such as the Cen­tral High­lands’ only vine­yard (Tas­ma­nia’s high­est at 250m) which, says Pen­folds’ Kym Schroeter, ‘walked into Yat­tarna’ in the 2014 blend: a shoo-in. As for Tas­ma­nia’s big­gest vine­yard, the 175ha Haz­ards on the East Coast’s Fr­eycinet Penin­sula (known for its fruit den­sity), it was bought by Vic­to­ria-based Brown Broth­ers in 2010. Ap­prov­ing of Ross Brown’s pledge to cre­ate a cat­e­gory he said did not yet ex­ist, a gen­er­ous and flavour­some Pinot Noir with mass ap­peal, The Wine So­ci­ety’s Sarah Knowles MW says: ‘It re­ally is fan­tas­tic to see Devil’s Cor­ner open up such a great po­ten­tial mar­ket given its price point, style and ap­peal.’

Be­cause so much of the is­land’s typ­i­cally small-scale pro­duc­tion has ei­ther gone to con­tract wine­mak­ers or been blended on the main­land, I can un­der­stand why ris­ing star Do­maine Simha’s Nav Singh (who honed his skills at Bur­gundy’s Do­maine de l’Ar­lot and Bordeaux’s Château Le Pin) de­scribes Tas­ma­nia as ‘em­bry­onic… the last fron­tier of pre­mium wine­mak­ing in Australia’ when it comes to show­cas­ing the is­land’s in­di­vid­u­al­ity. How­ever, since my 2012 visit, I have no­ticed a growth spurt (in both num­ber and ma­tu­rity) of small in­de­pen­dent winer­ies and winemaker-led la­bels, which, by cul­ti­vat­ing a closer re­la­tion­ship with the land, are build­ing on the work of bou­tique pi­o­neers such as Do­maine A, Fr­eycinet Vine­yards, Josef Chromy and Stefano Lu­biana.

Di­ver­sity of style

Tas­ma­nian wine is fast grow­ing up in terms of sub-re­gional and ter­roir ex­pres­sion, stylis­tic di­ver­sity and in­no­va­tion, as well as qual­ity. Draw­ing on five years’ chair­ing the Ho­bart Wine Show plus over­see­ing pro­duc­tion of Yalumba’s mush­room­ing Tas­ma­nian port­fo­lio ( Jansz, Dal­rym­ple, Parish Vine­yard), winemaker Louisa Rose con­firms: ‘The gen­eral qual­ity is lift­ing so much; we are start­ing to see great sites emerge, and un­der­stand the

Be­low: Moo­rilla Es­tate, out­side Ho­bart, has a pic­turesque view of the Der­went River, and Mt Wellington in the dis­tance

Be­low: Brown Broth­ers’ Haz­ards vine­yard, in Tas­ma­nia’s East Coast re­gion, is Aus­tralia’s big­gest at 175ha and is named for the Haz­ards moun­tain range

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