Michael Hill-Smith MW’s decision to launch a new wine brand from Tasmania is further proof the island has grabbed the attention of Australia’s leading winemakers.
Having bought a 20 hectare single vineyard in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley near Hobart in September 2011, Hill-Smith, who is co-owner of Shaw & Smith in the Adelaide Hills, will be unveiling a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay called Tolpuddle in September next year.
Hill-Smith is just one of a host of investors in the region, including his cousin, Robert Hill-Smith – owner of Tasmanian sparkling wine Jansz – who announced earlier this month the acquisition of 300ha of land in the same valley, including 40ha of mature Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Meanwhile, Tasmania was described as “the new, exciting frontier” for Australia by Ross Brown, speaking to the drinks business after his decision to buy Tasmania’s Tamar Ridge back in 2010, an operation founded by Andrew Pirie.
Confirming the island’s potential for quality still wines was news that Penfold’s Yattarna 2008 had been named the best Chardonnay in the inaugural James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge in September – Penfolds had sourced 89% of its grapes from Tasmania in this vintage.
Speaking to db about his decision to invest in Tasmania, Michael Hill-Smith said, “There is the potential for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of extraordinary intensity.”
He described his new single vineyard as a “monopole” and said that the 20 year-old block of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay had been supplying high profile Australian brands, such as Eileen Hardy and Yattarna.
Hill-Smith’s upcoming label will be called Tolpuddle Wines after the vineyard, which itself takes its name from Britain’s Tolpuddle Martyrs – a group of agricultural workers who were transported to Tasmania after attempting to form a union.
Michael Hill-Smith MW
According to Hill-Smith, their leader, George Loveless, worked in this area in 1848, and occupied a cottage on the site of the current vineyard.
The vines acquired by Hill-Smith were planted by by Dr Tony Jordan, Gary Crittenden and the Casimaty family over 20 years ago, and the first vintage from Tolpuddle Wines using fruit from the 2012 vintage has been processed at the Hardy Wine Company’s Bay of Fires winery.
Hill-Smith admitted to db that he would “end up” building a winery on the island to produce Tolpuddle Wines but would continue to use the Bay of Fires “in the short term”.
He said that the site was colder than Burgundy, but drier, and hence the vineyard does have irrigation.
The wines will be shown to the UK at the Liberty Wines tasting in September next year, and Hill-Smith said they would be priced at AU$65 for the Chardonnay and AU$75 for Pinot Noir in Australia.
Hill-Smith stressed that the new wines were “a standalone vineyard project – Shaw & Smith will always be Adelaide Hills.”
He also said that he wouldn’t be tempted to make a sparkling wine using fruit from the Tasmanian vineyard.
“Why make a sparkling when you can buy a major Champagne brand [in Australia] for AU$30.”
Helping Hill-Smith with the new project is a full-time vineyard manager, while he has also appointed a new winemaker, Adam Wadewitz, who will start at Shaw & Smith’s Adelaide Hills’ winery in January.
According to Hill-Smith, Wadewitz, 35, is a University of Adelaide oenology graduate and has worked in the Adelaide Hills, Werribee, McLaren Vale, the Hunter Valley plus stints in France, Chile and the USA.
Over the last six years he has made a reputation for himself in Great Western at Seppelt and Best’s where he made the 2012 Jimmy Watson Trophy winner, the 2011 Best’s Bin 1 Shiraz.
Hill-Smith described his appointment as “like getting a new guitarist in an ageing rock brand.”
In 2010, Shaw & Smith took on David LeMire MW as global sales and marketing manager, meaning the company now contains two Masters of Wine.