David 9 July 2015
What a great place Tasmania is - idyllic landscapes, Georgian architecture, exciting food, MONA and of course wonderful wine. This, all in a place small enough to navigate in a day, yet with a true sense of space and far from the madding crowd (apart from MONA that is). I recently visited Tassie, catching up with friends: Nick the cheesemaker and Matthew the pig farmer, then set off to explore the wineries up north.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Tasmania is a much bigger player in the wine world than it is, looking at its healthy representation on restaurant wine lists. But of the close to 2600 wine producers in Australia, only 160 are in Tasmania, and the majority of these are tiny, with almost 60% crushing less than 20 tonnes. To put this in perspective, someone like Brown Brothers in Victoria crushes over 15,000 tonnes. Tassie has about 1800 ha under vine and produces less than 0.5% (yes, that’s half a percent) of Australia’s grapes. Despite this, Tasmania pulls more than its weight when it comes to quality. Wine Tasmania’s Strategic Plan 2013-16 notes that 100% of Tassie wines sell for over $15 a bottle compared to a national figure of just 7%. Wow!
This isn’t the only way Tasmania does things a little differently. The most common variety planted nationally is Shiraz at 24%, but this doesn’t even rate a mention in Tassie. Wine Tasmania figures for the 2014 vintage show that Pinot Noir accounts for 40% of plantings (nationally 2%), Chardonnay 22% (nationally 21%), Sauvignon Blanc 10% (nationally 6%) and Riesling 7% (nationally less than 2%).
The reason for this varietal make up is of course climate. Being the most southerly wine region in Australia, Tasmania is cool which makes it well suited to producing some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the country. The Pinot here is very much in the leaner style and as Huon Hooke noted in SMH Good Food, February 2015: “Pinot Noir in Tassie has arguably the best potential of anywhere in Australia.” He similarly observed that Tassie Chardonnays are “among the most delicate and restrained Australia produces, with naturally high acidity and tight, fine, complex flavours, not relying on oak or high degrees of ripeness.” As these two varieties are the main constituents of sparkling wine, it’s no surprise that many of the best examples of this style of wine also come from Tasmania.
James Halliday notes in his introduction to Tony Walker’s Vintage Tasmania: The Complete Book of Tasmanian Wine, “the Tasmanian wine industry of today is the most vibrant in Australia, pulsating with success, and with virtually unlimited potential.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Despite having some of the earliest plantings in Australia in the 1820s, the Tasmanian industry collapsed as labour rushed to the mainland for gold in the 1860s. By the 1950s the official view from the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture was “the island is unsuited to the commercial production of wine” (The Australian Wine Encyclopedia p304). It was only in the 1980s that commercial plantings once again re-emerged.
So I headed to Launceston and the Tamar Valley, where the majority of Tasmania’s grapes (about 40%), are grown. This beautiful region stretches north of the city, along the Tamar River, with most vineyards on the western bank. Nearby, there’s a separate sub-region called the North East, also known as Pipers River, which accounts for 19% of the state’s plantings and whichhas emerged as one of the premier wine growing areas of Tasmania. It’s about an hour’s drive northeast of Launceston and is a little cooler and wetter than the Tamar. There’s just a small cluster of wineries here, including Pipers Brook and Jansz.
Most small producers in Tasmania have traditionally grown their own grapes and used contract winemakers to produce their wine. But there’s a new wave of young and very talented winemakers wanting to do it all themselves and it was these ambitious and self-reliant producers that I was keen to find.
Here are two that fit the bill.
Originally planted in 1981 by Richard and Dallas Richardson, Delamere is one of the oldest vineyards in Pipers River. Dynamic duo husband and wife, Shane Holloway and Fran Austin purchased the property in 2007 with 6.5ha of vineyards.
In 1995 Fran completed a winemaking degree at Adelaide University then embarked on several years of vintages in various parts of the world including: Oregon, California, the south of France and Australia. With time spent at Domaine Chandon and Croser (Petaluma), her passion for cool climate sparkling wine emerged. Fran then spent 3 years at the Houghton winery in WA, at the time owned by The Hardy Wine Company. When Hardys decided they needed to be part of what was becoming the best sparkling region in the country, Fran was sent to set up the new Bay of Fires Winery in Pipers River. Not only did she succeed in this but she was awarded Young Winemaker of the Year in 2005 - a huge achievement! This was followed with selection as a finalist in the Young Guns of Wine in 2007 and as a scholar in the prestigious Len Evans Tutorial in 2009.
But the Delamere talent doesn’t stop there. Husband, Shane Holloway is originally from the Adelaide Hills, where his family ran a vineyard. After deciding to pursue marine biology and aquaculture, which is what brought him to Tassie, a stint as a casual in the vineyards of Pipers Brook ignited his passion for wine… as no doubt did his meeting Fran. A postgraduate degree in winemaking followed, with several vintages in Australia and Oregon. Shane was a Young Guns of Wine finalist in 2009 and 2012, and was winemaker for Dalrymple, in Pipers River, until 2006 when it was sold to the Hill Smith family.
Only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown on the estate, and it’s this fruit that goes into the Delamere range. Fruit sourced from local growers is used to produce their Naissante wines - an entry level range which includes a Riesling, Pinot Gris, Fumé Blanc (oaked Sauvignon Blanc) and Pinot Noir.
Fran and Shane are passionate about making their own cool climate wines, which is why they chose Pipers River. Since then they’ve planted 5 more hectares and worked hard on reviving the old vines.
Delamere Pinot Noir 2012
Of the several wineries I visited, this was my favourite Pinot and it’s a true, lean Tassie style.
With the vineyard too steep and narrow for a machine, the grapes are handpicked. They’re then crushed and left on skins, with 30% whole bunch, for 5-7 days, after which natural yeasts initiate fermentation. The ferment lasts about 5 days and is hand-plunged between 2 and 4 times a day. One of the by-products of fermentation is heat and Fran likes to let the ferment run warm, up to 32 degrees. She sees this as important in attaining texture, weight and a better (velvety) tannin structure. After ferment the skins are left to soak for around 2 weeks, before the juice is pressed off and aged in French oak (30% new) for 10 months. There is a light fining and filtering before the wine is bottled on the estate’s own bottling line.
This vineyard has always produced a lighter style, which is not surprising given the cool Pipers River climate and the vineyard’s several southern facing slopes. But the couple spent two hard years working on the older vines, pruning off the woody heads and cleaning up the vines’ growth habits and Fran sees the 2012 as a breakthrough wine. It’s one she and Shane are very proud of and clearly shows their intuition about the vineyard was right. The painstaking work on the vines, coupled with the ideally warm 2012 growing season, showed it was possible to get delicacy as well as depth of flavour.
It’s delicate, elegant and taut, with a focus on depth, length and complexity rather than concentration and richness. With luscious juicy cherry flavours there’s also a real savouriness to it. Couple this with firm acidity and you find a sophisticated Burgundy-like structure.
Fran has experience as a wine judge and knows wine shows are not the forum for Delamere wines. Their subtle style gets lost in a show system often suited to big, upfront wines. You won’t find too many critics reviews but James Halliday givesit 93 points.
This is how Pinot should be. Beautiful.
You'll find it on the list at the groovy Black Cow in Launceston for $79.
I can offer it for $40 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
Most winemakers and restaurateurs I spoke to recommended I visit this vineyard. And the comments were the same… they’re true artisans and they’re doing really interesting things.
Sinapius (sin-ay-pi-us) is a beautifully situated vineyard, very close to Delamere. Originally planted as Golders Vineyard in 1994, it was purchased and renamed by Vaughn Dell and Linda Morice in 2005. The name comes from the surname of one of Linda’s ancestors who migrated from Prussia to South Australia in the 1800s.
The couple, originally from northwest Tasmania, moved to Sydney to pursue further education, but in the middle of a sports science degree Vaughan saw the light. He promptly enrolled in a combined viticulture/winemaking degree by correspondence at Charles Sturt University, and the couple headed off for stints in the Yarra Valley and Margaret River.
In 2005 the couple moved back to Tasmania to follow their dream of making their own wine and at the ripe old age of 24,purchased the 2 hectare vineyard. Since then they’ve gradually expanded the vineyard to almost 4 hectares. Interestingly, they’ve adopted the Burgundian preference for ultra-high density planting of vines, so although they have 4 hectares, it’s equivalent to about 6 or 7 hectares of conventional Australian plantings. Chardonnay and Pinot sourced from new clonal material were favoured, but they also planted small amounts of Grüner (Austrian white) and Gamay (Beaujolas).
The vineyard is tended with what I call pragmatic minimalism. Cultivation is as hands-off as possible, but this can be a difficult climate in which to grow grapes, so cautious intervention occurs when necessary. The winemaking is approached in a similar non-interventionist way; natural yeasts, extended lees ageing, minimal additions, minimal fining and filtration and minimal use of sulphur. Current production is around 800 cases (about 20t) with the aim to cap production at 1000 cases. At this tiny scale everything is literally done by hand.
“Vaughn Dell and Linda Morice are making some of the most exciting wines in Tasmania.” Winsor Dobbin, The Sunday Examiner, October 12, 2014.
And Sinapius has already gained 4 Stars in James Halliday’s Wine Companion, a great effort in such a short period of time.
On a recent visit to Tasmania Jancis Robinson MW noted: “One of the names that impressed me most was Sinapius.” She described their wines as having “intensity that transcends the norm” (highly complementary by her standards).
Sinapius’ exciting wines have very quickly gained a following among groovy sommeliers in Melbourne and Sydney. Sinapius currently make 4 wines, but this was my favourite.
Sinapius Home Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
The fruit for this wine is all estate grown from the ‘Home Vineyard.’ 75% is from 20-year-old vines, 25% is from a newer ultra-close-planted vineyard, totalling 5 different chardonnay clones. The yields are incredibly low (approx 1 kg/vine or 4 tonne/ha) which helps ensure perfect ripeness. The fruit is handpicked, whole bunch pressed, fermented with wild yeast and has the lees (dead yeast cells) stirred, adding texture and complexity. It then spends 12 months maturation in French oak barriques (225L) and puncheons (500L), of which approximately 50% are new and 50% are 1 year old.
This is a delicious wine.
“Very modern Australian Chard style with solids influenced sulphite layer sitting atop early picked fruit spectrum. Green citrus and stonefruit blend with savoury sulphites and a little new oak varnish. Should be fully integrated by the start of 2015. Medium bodied with a rich creamy texture and complex flavours of flint, oak spice and creamy lees, with grapefruit, lemon and green nectarine fruit flavours. There is another layer in the Sinapius wines and as with good Burgundy you will see different characters every time you return to the glass. The concentration of close planted mature vines and super low yields shows through on the super long finish. Shows great potential now and possibly brilliance in a year’s time.” Tim Stock, Vinous 2014.
Few critics get to see these wines and this is a recent release, so here are the winemaker’s notes:
“A highly aromatic, textural wine. An intensely floral bouquet with citrus, orange blossom, and hazelnut praline, lead to a beautifully intense, focused palate of yellow and white fruits, salted popcorn, marzipan, pistachio, biscotti, and malted oatmeal.”
When I last spoke to Linda, Vaughan was off travelling through Burgundy, Chablis, Alsace, Champagne, Jura and Beaujolais. Follow with interest.
This is at Guillaume in Paddington for $100 a bottle.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle. Click here for new vintage