Ring the bells
Mariner moves into wine
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.
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.