Tasmania, an island of well-kept treasures

Being the only island State of Australia, Tasmania is a fascinating and intriguing wine region. According to the legend, this little island in the middle of the ocean was born from the union between Australia and New Zealand.

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As a child, I imagined this to be a hostile wilderness, inhabited by dangerous animals… This can be blamed on the cartoons featuring the famous “Tasmanian devil” I guess.
It is isolated from the mainland only by the rushing waters of the Bass Strait, yet it seems to be a world apart. We decided to spend 15 days here to discover its secrets. Rental car ready, we started in the north of the island. Only three hours of driving were needed for us to rally the beaches. Yes, Tasmania is very small!

A high-quality micro-production

The island is beautiful. The passing landscape through the open window of the car varied between rocky plains and forested mountains. Only a few cars crossed our path. It felt like we were (almost) alone. Tasmania has preserved its independence and integrity, while playing the role of benevolent host to perfection. It’s very nice.

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However, the Tasmania wine production is only a drop of water in the Australian wine ocean. Which is undeniably what makes it so charming! With 1,800 hectares of vines, the vineyards represent just 0.5% of the country’s production. Yet, this small production remains one of the most qualitative.
Why such success? Because of a cooler climate! The grapes also ripen two weeks later compared to the mainland. When we arrived in early February, it was hardly veraison. “It is for this reason that Pinot Noir is the king grape of Tasmania”,  Peter Caldwell, director of Dalrymple explained. By itself, it represents 44% of the Tasmanian production. Then Chardonnay (23%), Sauvignon Blanc (12%), Pinot Gris (11%) and Riesling (5%) follow.

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“Production is concentrated to the East and to the Center (1), where wine regions are protected from strong winds and rainfall by a mountain range”, Peter added.
And if per chance you have the opportunity to go to the West of the island, a surprise awaits you: humidity and rain are permanent and make growing grapes impossible. A real rainforest!

The « Méthode Tasmanoise »

The cool and damp climate of Tasmania is suitable to the production of sparkling wines. And they are booming. “I love wet areas like here and I believe it helps to produce the finest sparkling wines”, Andrew Pirie (2), a rising star in the land of Tasmanian bubbles and the owner of domain APOGÉE explained.

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As for Jansz winery – exclusively producing sparkling wines – they even had the great idea to brand the name « Méthode Tasmanoise ». A brilliant marketing initiative and a nod, not without a lot of humor, to the inimitable (3) and very coveted méthode champenoise.

Some heart strokes in sparkling and white wines :
Cloth Late-Disgorged Sparkling 2004 from Moorilla Estate (64% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay ; aged 10 years on lees)
Late Disgorged 2006 from Jansz (51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir)
Vintage Deluxe Brut 2012 from Apogée
Chardonnay 2009 from Freycinet
Cave Block Chardonnay 2012 from Dalrymple
Riesling 2003 from Freycinet

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We also fell in love with Freycinet, family vineyard since 1979. Claudio, the oenologist – born in Tasmania and whose parents are Italian – produces great wines that age remarkably well. To discover urgently…

Moorilla Estate, a cultural shock

Moorilla Estate is a must visit and was recommend by everybody. Not for its vineyard – although the place is gorgeous and the production of high quality, like the remarkable “CLOTH Late-Disgorged Sparkling 2004” – but for its museum : MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). This is the only real museum of the island.

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A very controversial place, created by David Walsh, the owner of the domain,  whose predilection themes are nothing but death and sex. An rather confusing experience  which annually attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists. Sensitive soul, break away.

Some heart strokes in red wines:
MUSE Pinot Noir 2012 from Moorilla Estate
Cabernet/Merlot 2000 from Freycinet
MON PèRE Syrah 2013 from Glaetzer Dixon
Young Vine Pinot Noir 2013 from Gala Estate
Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2008 from Marion’s Vineyard
Pinot Noir 2012 from Delamere

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Marion’s Vineyard, a unique wine tourism potential

It is impossible to speak of Tasmania without mentioning Marion’s Vineyard. A crazy scene with multiple inspirations, combining sculptures of all kinds, huts in the woods, an outdoor concert stage and even ecological toilets ; all perched on a hill overlooking the lake… No wonder the winery has been the first to open its doors to the public (in 1983) and hosts musical events, concerts and weddings. The place is just magical.

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Cynthea – the daughter of the owners and the director of Beautiful Isle Wine Estate together with her husband David, would love to develop the place further and to make it “the must visit winery »  of the island. But for that, she will need the patriarch to step down. In the mean time, we tested a night in a cabin in the woods in the company of raccoons. Change of scenery.

As good disciples of Epicurus, we ended our stay with a Whisky parenthesis. The Nant Distillery – one of the five distilleries in Tasmania – opened its doors to us for a visit and a tasting.

The Nant Distillery

The Nant Distillery


We learned for example that 500kg of malt are needed to produce 200 liters of spirits. Another good reason to appreciate the true value of these timeless nectars, like The Old Mill Reserve cuvée, aged in casks of Sherry and Bourbon.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

Thank you to Dalrymple, Jansz, Apogée, Delamere, Marion’s Vineyard, Beautiful Isle, Stoney Rise, Devil’s Corner, Freycinet, Gala Estate, Glaetzer Dixon, Moorilla and The Nant Distillery for their warm welcome.

(1) The majority of Tasmanian grapes are grown in the regions of Tamar Valley (40%), East Coast (20%), Pipers River (northeast) which produces about 19%, Coal River Valley (13%) . Other regions included Derwent Valley, the North West and Huon/Channel.
 (2) Andrew Pirie is an agricultural engineer and holds a PhD in viticulture and study of Australian climates.
(3) The Champagne method is inimitable since the designation ‘méthode champenoise’ may be used only for wines originating in Champagne. However, the method is similar to traditional method, ie the second fermentationis done in the bottle.

For more information about the Tasmanian wines : http://winetasmania.com.au

 

Australia, a country of all possible contrasts

What is better than starting the year in the Southern hemisphere, in Australia, where the weather is nice and (very) hot? Furthermore, by renting our first camper van and enjoying a new way of traveling, we expected a lot!
Being able to take the road to our liking.  Going wherever we want, to the sandstone of our desires and our wine travels. Lunching in front of a lake, having dinner facing the sea, sleeping near the desert… A real taste of freedom.

d'Arenberg - McLaren Vale

d’Arenberg – McLaren Vale


The route was drawn : we would spend one month between the Yarra Valley, Lethbridge, the Limestone Coast , McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, the Barossa and Heathcote, before heading to Tasmania for two weeks.

The Yarra Valley, primarily pre-phylloxera

Camper van keys in hand, we headed down South of Melbourne, just a few kilometers away from the ocean.

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This is one of the coolest parts of Australia. They grow mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Here, as in many Australian regions, the vineyards are pre-phylloxera (1). A rare enough fact to be highlighted. Before entering one of Mac Forbes’ vineyard plots we were therefore requested to clean our shoes in an aqueous solution ; to avoid any risk of contamination. Such a wine heritage must be preserved!

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Another essential recommendation : sunscreen. Upon our arrival to Onannon estate – where the production of Pinot Noir is as delicious as it is confidential – recommendations about protection from the sun were very strict. Because above Australia, the ozone layer is permeable and the UV rays are highly carcinogenic.
Whatever. The wines had a taste of adventure.

Lethbridge Wines, a case study

Continuing our route westwards, we encountered Lethbridge Wines.

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What a beautiful meeting with the couple Maree Collis/Ray Nadeson. Two scientists who wanted a change of life after many years of working in the medicine industry. They did three years of research to find the best terroirs in their region. As a result, they set their sights in 1996 on a plot of 6 hectares belonging to an old Swiss farmer based in Lethbridge for four generations – and who for the record, managed to sell the parcel to them at three times the original price. ” When one loves, one does not count “,  Ray explained.

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Planting vines was a complex and dangerous mission. Lethbridge’ soils are composed of two layers of basalt, about two meters deep. Yields don’t even reach 0.5 tons/hectare, testifying of the difficulty of producing wine here. But what a terroir ! Maree and Ray are passionate and real purists.  They also travel  to France every year to the Tronçais forests to choose the plot of oaks that will enable the making of their next barrels… Remarkable.

Photo shooting of kangaroos along the Limestone Coast

We were now following the Limestone Coast. The region is not a usual tourist stop for wine lovers. Among the hundreds of hectares bordering the coast, we were aware that only a few wineries open their doors to the public. Other than that, there is not a soul here for kilometers around.

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We tried our luck at Wangolina, a pretty 11-hectare farm, unpretentious and charming. We were warmly received by the parents of Anita Goode, the winemaker of the family estate, 5th generation working on the property. The next day they promised us that we would see kangaroos. They are living near the estate. Excited as ever, I had trouble sleeping. The day after we went exploring, after a big breakfast. Kangaroos were waiting for us, as if by magic. Photo shooting could begin. The moment was timeless…

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Wine heart strokes from the 1st part of the trip :
Pinot Noir 2013 from Onannon, Mornington Peninsula
EB07 Riesling 2013 from Mac Forbes, Yarra Valley
Indra Shiraz 2012 from Lethbridge Wines, Lethbridge
Tempranillo 2012 from Wangolina, Limestone Coast

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McLaren Vale, the d’Arenberg’s case

450 hectares of fully organic vineyards spread over 11 sites. Welcome to d’Arenberg, Osborn’s family vineyard! To put you in the context, imagine that they rent up to 1,300 sheep during winter time (from April to September), in order to eat the grass between the rows of vines and maintain a sanitary condition. As natural as possible of course. Since I would like to see that…we will have to come back.
Some old Shiraz vines are more than 100 years old (from 1902 and 1905 for the oldest). Because what counts most for the Osborn’s is to develop the most authentic wines possible. Moreover, nothing at d’Arenberg is left to chance ; from the use of mainly concrete tanks and old barrels for aging the topping wines, to the selection of Chester’s shirts (mythical). But that is another debate.

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During our epic tasting – where over 30 wines were served – we sympathized with Tanya Ward, head of the tasting room and originating from New Zealand. In the evening, we were invited for dinner by Tanya and John, her husband, with some other friends. A memorable kiwi evening (2) during which many more bottles than guests around the table were opened, and which ended the next day with a gargantuan brunch. Lovely!

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On the way to the Barossa, we discovered Deviation Road and its incomparable expertise for sparkling wines. We learned how to disgorge « à la volée » during a sunny afternoon. An impressive experience, claiming cool and precise gestures. Adrenaline guaranteed.

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Barossa, a region full of treasures

One Friday afternoon, while we were having lunch in the middle of pastures, destiny placed  a couple of farmers on our roadtrip. She is German. He is from the Barossa. Together, Silke Hülsheger and her boyfriend raise sheep and produce a little “home made ” wine for fun. A sweet Shiraz slightly above 15.5% alcohol. We were cordially invited to their home for the weekend, and with their friends, the Abbott family, we recharged our batteries while enjoying the charm of the countryside of the Barossa. We improvised petanque games, BBQ and enjoyed the pool. Another lost corner of paradise where I would love to bring my suitcases for a while…

Australie, South Australia, Eden Valley
Starting our winery visits again the next Monday, we had two heart strokes in the Barossa : Yalumba and Rockford Wines, both recommended by our friend Alex Dale (3).

Yalumba, created in 1849, is the oldest family estate in Australia. We were welcomed by Robert Hill Smith, the owner, for a bit of history. The place is gorgeous with its large red stone buildings and its own cooperage factory. Yalumba proudly keeps the heritage of the house through a nursery and a library of clones. We concluded the visit in the Eden Valley with a tasting in the vineyard leaded by Jane Ferrari. Nothing better than having your feet in the vineyard to better understand the wines that you are tasting!

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Rockford Wines, another winery with outstanding wines, is a place for purists, vinifying exclusively in open vats during fermentation (half in concrete, the other half in wood). Created by Robert O’Callaghan in 1984 in order to preserve the heritage of the Barossa – while the government was encouraging wineries to rip out vines – Rockford Wines sells most of its production throught a membership system. Rare wines of great finesse, orchestrated by winemaker Ben Radford. To be tasted urgently.

Adam Foster, the rising star of Syrah

We met with Adam Foster at his new property in Lancefield (Heathcote region). Amateur of fine wines since forever, Adam had a first career as a chef in England for a few Michelin star restaurants before becoming a sommelier in Australia. In unconditional love with Syrah , he worked four vintages in the Rhone Valley with some of the best wine producers (Michel Chapoutier, Stéphane Ogier, Pierre Gaillard) to better understand this delicate grape variety.

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For now, he buys his grapes. But Adam dreams, ultimately, to plant a few hectares on the granite soils of his property. We tasted precise, elegant and very fine wines. Superb.

Wine heart strokes of the 2nd part of the trip :
J.R.O. Afflatus Shiraz 2010 from d’Arenberg, Mc Laren Vale (20 months in old barrels – Shiraz vines from 1910)
Beltana Blanc de Blancs 2009 from Deviation Road, Adelaide Hills
Heggies Riesling 1999 from Yalumba, Eden Valley (Barossa)
Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Rockford, Barossa
dreams… 2012 from Syrahmi (Adam Foster), Heathcote (100% all bunch Syrah)

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In the suburbs of Melbourne, it was in Beaconsfield that we finished our stay. More exact at Carlei Estate, an estate exclusively practising biodynamics. This was also the first winery visited in the one year of our project where Sergio Carlei, winemaker and owner of the domain, proposed a blind tasting of grapes to us harvested according to “fruit days“ and “root days“. The same vintage, the same varietals, the same plots, the same ageing in barrels… but two distinctly different tastes. Amazing. The juice from the barrel harvested on a “fruit day“ was more expressive and rounder. That of the barrel harvested on a “root day“ was closed and a bit more rustic. Bluffing. Of course you can believe it ; or not…
Anyway, the tasting was there as proof and it was an incredible experience. 
We learn every day, and to our delight !

Now let’s go to Tasmania for ending our Australian tour.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA
 

Thank you to Onannon, Stonier, Mac Forbes, Lethbridge Wines, Wangolina, d’Arenberg, Deviation Road, Yalumba, Rockford, Adam Foster and Carlei Estate for their warm welcome. Thank you to Brice Camelin, Nick La, Camilla Camelot Bassi, Tanya and John Ward, to Silke Hülsheger and the Abbott family for their accommodation and their extraordinary hospitality. Finally, thank you to Joshua Elias, chief editor of Alquimie magazine and to Rory Kent, founder of Young Guns of Wine for their precious advices.

 

(1) pre-phylloxera : qualifies a vine planted before the appearance of phylloxera.
(2) kiwi evening : the kiwi is an endemic land bird of New Zealand, unable to fly. This term is used to describe how frendly and welcoming are people from New Zealand.
(3) Alex Dale, co- owner of The Winery of Good Hope in South Africa, our first winery visited in January 2014 at the launch of the WINE Explorers’ project. 

For more information on Australian wines: https://www.wineaustralia.com