Ring the bells

Mariner moves into wine

Tasmanian Country - - NEWS - Karolin MacGre­gor re­ports

The Long­ford area has not been tra­di­tion­ally known as one of Tas­ma­nia’s pre­mium wine re­gions but new vine­yard owners Frances and Si­mon Ste­wart would like to change that.

The cou­ple es­tab­lished their Bell & Gong vine­yard on the his­toric Val­ley­field prop­erty in 2013.

Mrs Ste­wart is a mem­ber of the Gatenby fam­ily and has strong fam­ily ties to the north­ern Mid­lands area.

The cou­ple met in the early 1990s at the Royal Oak Ho­tel in Launce­s­ton, while Mr Ste­wart was study­ing at the mar­itime col­lege.

While Mr Ste­wart has al­ways been keen on the idea of own­ing a farm, he has spent most of his ca­reer trav­el­ling the world’s oceans as a mas­ter mariner.

Mrs Ste­wart of­ten joined him on these trips and to­gether they have vis­ited some in­ter­est­ing places in­clud­ing Pak­istan, North Korea, the Shet­land Is­lands and Cil­i­cap in In­done­sia.

Af­ter fi­nally set­tling on dry land on a cat­tle prop­erty in the Great Di­vid­ing Range, the cou­ple started a fam­ily.

It was then Mr Ste­wart spent some time work­ing at a vine­yard in the Hunter Val­ley in NSW.

“I ac­tu­ally re­ally en­joyed the work and I learnt a lot, but I thought af­ter that if I ever worked in a vine­yard again I wanted it to be one that we owned.”

Af­ter their sec­ond child was born they even­tu­ally de­cided it was time to move back to Mrs Ste­wart’s roots and the search for the right prop­erty in Tas­ma­nia be­gan.

They found Val­ley­field and moved back to Tas­ma­nia in 2005.

While they were keen to plant a vine­yard on the prop­erty, Mrs Ste­wart said at the time the ad­vice they re­ceived was that the re­gion's cli­mate and preva­lence for spring frosts were not ideal.

Af­ter shelv­ing the idea for a num­ber of years, the cou­ple even­tu­ally came back to it.

“By that time a lot of the tech­nol­ogy had changed and the con­sul­tant we spoke to said if we put in a frost pro­tec­tion sys­tem, there's no rea­son we couldn't have a vine­yard here,” Mrs Ste­wart said.

“That was fan­tas­tic be­cause even though we'd looked at a lot of their op­tions like blue­ber­ries and truf­fles and things, what we re­ally wanted was or own vine­yard.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing a viti­cul­ture course at TAFE the cou­ple then set about plant­ing their vines.

They now have 1.7ha of Pinot Noir vines.

Mr Ste­wart said the Long­ford re­gion had a sim­i­lar soil type to the the fa­mous Bur­gundy re­gion in France.

He said the cold win­ter con­di­tions and hot­ter tem­per­a­tures dur­ing sum­mer in the area were ideal for grape pro­duc­tion.

The vine­yard now in­cludes six dif­fer­ent Pinot Noir clones. This range of flavours al­lows the Ste­warts to blend their grapes to cre­ate a unique style of wine.

How­ever, the cou­ple’s favourite is the Abel clone, which has an un­usual story be­hind it.

The clone is now grown at the well­known Ata Rangi in New Zealand. How­ever, it orig­i­nally came from the 2000-year-old Grand Cru vine­yard in Do­maine de la Ro­manée-Conti in Bur­gundy, France, which pro­duces some of the world’s most sought-af­ter wine.

The clone ar­rived in New Zealand in a gum­boot with a mem­ber of the coun­try’s rugby team, who had taken the vine cut­tings il­le­gally.

The cut­tings were con­fis­cated by cus­toms of­fi­cer Mal­colm Abel who recog­nised their sig­nif­i­cance and sent

I thought if I ever worked in a vine­yard again I wanted it to be one that we owned SI­MON STE­WART

them straight to a viti­cul­ture re­search sta­tion.

He then waited for the first cut­tings to be­come avail­able and planted them at Ata Rangi.

Mr Ste­wart said the Abel clone pro­duced dis­tinctly flavoured grapes, which al­lowed the cou­ple to add some unique char­ac­ter­is­tics to their wines.

The Ste­warts opened their on-farm cel­lar door 12 months ago.

It is sit­u­ated in a lovely shaded ve­randa area at back of the prop­erty’s orig­i­nal home­stead, which was built in about 1830.

Each year be­fore the grapes are har­vested the Ste­warts go through the vine­yard and care­fully select which bunches of fruit will be left on the vines to be picked.

While it is a labour-in­ten­sive job, Mr Ste­wart said this al­lowed them to control the style of wine that is pro­duced.

This in turn high­lighted the un­der­ly­ing flavour of the fruit.

The Bell and Gong wines are made at Wine­mak­ing Tas­ma­nia.

As well as the Pinot Noir the Ste­warts source grapes from se­lected vine­yards to pro­duce a Ries­ling and a Sau­vi­gnon Blanc.

The Bell & Gong wines have al­ready earned a num­ber of medals in­clud­ing a sil­ver for their Sau­vi­gnon Blanc at the na­tional Cool Cli­mate Wine Show.

There are also now plans to ex­pand the vine­yard to in­clude white wine­grape va­ri­eties.

GRAPE AD­VEN­TURE: Bell and Gong Vine­yard owners Si­mon and Frances Ste­wart among their vines at Long­ford ear­lier in the sea­son.

Pic­tures: CHRIS KIDD

TASTE THAT: The Bell and Gong Vine­yard has an on-farm cel­lar door ad­join­ing the his­toric home­stead; Si­mon and Frances Ste­wart’s wines also use grapes from other grow­ers.

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