Regional Spotlight: Tasmania
Post by Chuck Hayward | January 19th, 2011
Tasmania has a hold on many people, enthralling them with its controversial history as a prison island or mesmerizing them with its lush foliage, numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, the endangered Tasmanian devil and a burgeoning wine industry. With some 90 wineries scattered across the island, the Tasmanian wine industry only produces 0.5% of all the wine made in Australia. However, the small output from the “island of inspiration” has captured the interest of wine enthusiasts worldwide.
Home to nearly 175 producers and 250 vineyards which comprise almost 4000 acres, grapes were first grown near Hobart in the 1820s. (Cuttings from those vineyards were later taken to Sydney and Melbourne to establish viticulture there.) While there were a few plantings by Italian immigrants in the 1950s, modern winemaking really began in 1973 when Andrew Pirie, Australia’s first PhD in viticulture, founded Pipers Brook Vineyard in the northern portion of the island. Meanwhile, the wine industry has grown rapidly over the past forty years, and winemakers look towards Tassie as a source of pinot noir and aromatic varieties like riesling and pinot gris. Nevertheless, most of the island’s pinot noir and chardonnay are used for sparkling wine that is destined for thirsty Australians on the mainland.
With most of the growing regions huddled along the coastal areas of the island, Tasmania’s most well known districts, he Tamar Valley and Pipers River, lie in the northern portion of the state. The place Dr. Pirie planted his first vineyard—the very cool Pipers River district—turned out to be the hub for the island’s sparkling wines. Jansz, Pirie, and Clover Hill all produce fresh and elegantly styled fizz there. Just west of Pipers River is the slightly warmer Tamar Valley, which provides the pinot noir with a bit more weight and less acidity than that coming from their neighbors.
Down south, around the state capital of Hobart, there are a cluster of small regions starting to make a presence in the American market. Most grapes in Southern Tasmania are located in the Huon Valley, Coal River and Derwent Valley subregions which are surprisingly warmer than northern plantings. Some fine examples of pinot from there include Frogmore Creek, Stefano Lubiana, Moorilla Estate and Home Hill. The higher temperatures allow the pinots to attain even fuller levels of ripeness. A few areas even get enough warmth to ripen cabernet and merlot,with Domaine A producing a world class example of a Bordeaux-style blend.
In discussing the growing regions of Tasmania with Andrew Pirie during a recent visit, he predicted that most of the expansion in Tasmanian wine production could be expected to come from new vineyards being planted on the east coast of the island, currently home to just a few estates. Wineries like Spring Vale, Apsley Gorge, and Freycinet are producing some of Tasmania’s best pinots, ones with more heft. The vineyards here benefit from a distinct lack of rainfall, warmer temperatures and larger plots of land suitable for planting. The region also benefits from more consistent weather patterns from year to year, avoiding the rain and cold temperatures that threaten grape ripening in other areas of Tasmania.
While there are just a few Tasmanian wineries currently in the American market, such as those from Pipers River and Tamar Valley, the small numbers are likely to expand as pinot enthusiasts discover the wide variety of styles that are being made across the island. The crisp and elegant white wine styles are also poised to make an entrance, as they offer well priced alternatives to the same varieties from Europe and New Zealand. All in all, exciting times lie ahead for this unique island.