Excitement about Tasmania is playing an important role in reinvigorating interest in the Australian wine industry as a whole, according to one producer.
“There’s something about Tasmania that people have a real affinity with,” remarked Andrew Harris, wine ambassador for Brown Brothers, which bought its own vineyards here in 2010. “It has great food, it’s green, there’s lots of wildlife – there’s a great connection there.”
Although the state currently contains just 1,600 hectares of vineyard, divided among around 160 licensed producers, average prices are more than double that for Australian wine as a whole and the Tasmanian local government is keen to attract further investment in the region. Meanwhile, recent years have seen Australia’s total wine exports falter, with the country experiencing a 6% volume export decline in 2013.
Earlier this spring, Brown Brothers launched its “18 Eighty Nine” Sauvignon Blanc into the UK market for the first time, having switched to using Tasmanian fruit for this line from the 2012 vintage onwards.
Highlighting the positive reaction to this shift from the domestic market, where the brand is already well established, Harris reported: “It’s sold twice as fast as when we made it in Whitlands,” an area of the King Valley in Brown Brothers’ Victoria heartland.
Indeed, looking more generally at the company’s recent sales performance, Harris remarked: “Our domestic market is really picking up,” a shift he attributed not only to changes in the 18 Eighty Nine range, but also Brown Brothers’ Tasmanian label Devil’s Corner, which he reported “has been growing at an enormous rate in Australia.”
In the UK, this summer will see Tesco introduce an exclusive label Tasmanian Pinot Noir from Brown Brothers, which is due to retail for around £12.99.
“We want to keep it as fresh and vibrant as we can,” said Harris of the stylistic approach taken with this particular offering. “We look to Freycinet Peninsular with its warmer site for berry fruit and a warmer flavour, then complement that with the freshness of Tamar Valley.”
Describing the new listing as “exciting”, Emma Clark, brand manager for Brown Brothers’ UK agent PLB described it as “a response to demand from the public for cooler climate wines and Pinot Noir.”
Despite the exciting results from Tasmania, which have seen a number of high profile producers buy vineyards on the island in recent years, Harris acknowledged the challenge presented by its “fickle” climate, noting: “in some years it’s cooler than Champagne.”
“In 2011 we dropped over half our Pinot Noir from the biggest vineyard which was a bit of an eye opener,” he recalled. “Then 2012 was amazing quality but there wasn’t a lot of quantity to show the market. 2013 was perfect.”
Cool conditions during the latest growing season have led to a late harvest and “a little bit of poor fruit set”, leading Harris to offer the mid-harvest prediction that “there’s probably going to be a lower quantity, but usually that pans out into better quality.”
Despite the challenges presented by such a marginal grape growing climate, Harris highlighted this as a source of appeal for many Australian producers. “With the drought risk we’ve had, that move to cooler climate viticulture is important,” he remarked.
Although Brown Brothers was already located in the relatively cool area of Victoria, he pointed to the recurring problems caused by forest fires in this region during recent years “so we decided to diversify.”
Brown Brothers’ current vineyard holdings in Tasmania include 180 hectares in the Freycinet Peninsular on the east coast of the island, with a further 130ha in Tamar Valley and an “even smaller” site in nearby White Hills that was left over after the company sold its vineyards here to Treasury Wine Estates last year.
A more detailed look at the performance of Australian wine exports will appear in May’s issue of the drinks business.