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.
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.
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.
“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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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