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Aussie wine trends: 9. Tasmania fervour

We consider the fast-growing interest and investment in Tasmania in our second of ten installments on Australia’s evolving wine industry.

In keeping with Australia’s continued search for yet cooler regions and leaner wine styles, its southernmost state, Tasmania, is becoming one of the most fashionable sources for grapes.

The fact the so-called Apple Isle exhibits a similar climate to New Zealand – both North and South Islands – is a further incentive for Australian winemakers, particularly those attempting to produce Down Under’s best Pinot Noir.

While plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay may be nothing new to Tasmania, grapes once exclusively destined for sparkling wine – the island’s most famous export – are increasingly being used to make still wines.

And proof of the island’s quality potential has been powerful in recent times: for example, Penfold’s Yattarna 2008 was crowned best Chardonnay in the inaugural James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge in September, and the famous producer had sourced 89% of its grapes from Tasmania in this vintage.

As Peter Gago admitted in a meeting with the drinks business at the end of last year, “If there is a trend in Yattarna Chardonnay, it’s that there’s more and more Tasmanian fruit in it” – pointing out that 96% of the Chardonnay in the more recent 2010 vintage had come from the island.

However, with the other 4% from the Adelaide Hills, he added, “Tasmania is more important but not all important”.

Meanwhile, Australia’s prestigious Jimmy Watson Trophy was won by the Glaetzer Dixon Family’s Mon Père Shiraz 2010, which was made exclusively from grapes grown on the Apple Isle.

Tasmania’s wine producing areas

Investment in Tasmania by major Australian winemakers has also intensified in the last couple of years.

Most recent was by Robert Hill-Smith – owner of Tasmanian sparkling wine Jansz (along with Barossa still wine brand Yalumba) – who announced in December the acquisition of 300 hectares of land in Tasmania’s Coal River Valley, including 40ha of mature Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Speaking to the drinks business about the purchase, Yalumba’s chief winemaker Louisa Rose commented, “The wine industry in Tasmania is growing quickly and the price of grapes is going up each year – so we wanted more stability.”

Continuing she said, “Everyone has the holy grail of making great Pinot Noir and Tasmania has lots of different suitable sites [for the grape]. It’s also new, cool – which is trendy – and you get complexity, intensity and finesse at same time.”

Earlier, back in September 2011, Robert’s cousin Michael Hill-Smith MW had bought a 20 hectare single vineyard is the same Coal River Valley.

As previously reported by db, 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, priced at AU$65 for the Chardonnay and AU$75 for Pinot Noir in Australia.

Speaking to db about his decision to invest in the island, Hill-Smith said, “There is the potential for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of extraordinary intensity.”

He also admitted that he would “end up” building a winery on the island to produce Tolpuddle Wines, although he’s currently using the Hardy Wine Company’s Bay of Fires winery on Tasmania.

Furthermore, a year before, Tasmania was described as “the new, exciting frontier” for Australia by Brown Brothers owner Ross Brown, speaking to db after his decision to buy Tasmania’s Tamar Ridge in 2010.

Finally, writing for db last year, leading viticulturalist Dr Richard Smart echoed others’ views when he said that Tasmania was well-suited to the production of premium sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and aromatic white varieties.

Noting that the island has similar climatic zones to New Zealand’s most famous wine regions, such as Marlborough and Central Otago, he commented that “the homoclimes in Tasmania have the potential to produce similar wines to their illustrious New Zealand counterparts”.

Nevertheless, it should also be pointed out that Tasmania’s impact in volume terms will always be small – considering the island currently contains 1,300 hectares of vineyard, it represents less than 1% of Australia’s total plantings.

Click here to read the first instalment of db‘s top 10 Australian wine trends, which focuses on the development and export of extremely pricey wines from the country.

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