Tasmania is experiencing a planting boom, all instigated by mainland wine companies. The island is increasingly seen as a cool-climate option that could act as a safety valve in the event that climate change makes mainland wine regions too hot for high-quality grape-growing.
Tasmania’s viticultural climate is cooler than Dijon in Burgundy, Reims in Champagne and Roseburg in Oregon, all of which are key competitors in the cool-climate sparkling and table wine game. The Derwent, Tamar and Coal River valleys all enjoy lower growing season temperatures than their Northern Hemisphere rivals. Summer and autumn are also drier, which provides the extra advantage of reliability.
The area of vines on the island has grown from less than 50 hectares 35 years ago to more than 2,000 hectares today. It’s still a fraction of Australia’s total wine industry by vineyard area (less than 1%) and wine volume, but in value and quality terms, it’s highly significant. There is hardly any cheap wine in Tasmania: the average price for wine from the island is $22.44 a bottle, compared with $8.13 for all Australian wine, according to Wine Tasmania, the state’s peak wine industry body. In addition, there’s no Tasmanian wine that sells for under $15 a bottle, but 93% of Australian wine sells below that mark.
Add to these stats the fact that Tasmania specialises in styles and grape varieties that are in demand and you have a compelling package. The wines encompass high-quality sparkling, and light-bodied, early-drinking table wines from pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and riesling. Pinot noir and chardonnay are multipurpose grapes: around 40% of Tasmania’s grapes go to make sparkling wines.
The stampede to Tasmania started some years ago; Yalumba/Hill-Smith Family Vineyards buying the Jansz brand could be identified as the starting gun. Yalumba then purchased another established brand, winery and vineyard: Dalrymple. Recently, it’s planted more vineyards down south and even erected a winery – hitherto, the Jansz grapes were shipped to the Barossa for vinification and bottling.
In 2010, Brown Brothers made a widely publicised investment, buying three substantial vineyards (two of which it later sold) and the Tamar Ridge winery. It made no secret of its motivation: the climate is heating up and who knows what the future will hold for the growing of grapes for fine table and sparkling wines on the Australian mainland.
It could be many years – even decades – before global warming really bites the wine industry, but it’s wise to be prepared.
Shaw + Smith followed Brown Brothers, buying the established Tolpuddle vineyard in the Coal River Valley in 2011, and immediately began producing jaw-droppingly good chardonnays and pinot noirs.
Recently, Western Australia-based Fogarty Wine Group bought land and established vineyards in the south of the state, with a focus on the Coal Valley. Another Adelaide Hills winery, Bird In Hand, was expecting to settle on land purchase on the East Coast at time of writing. Leading NSW Southern Highlands winery Tertini began producing Tasmanian wines from the 2017 vintage while establishing its own vineyard in the Coal Valley.
Several other mainland wine companies, while not actually investing in property, are making wine from Tassie grapes. These include Giant Steps and Handpicked.
With a view to the future, when its 100 hectares of new vines are in production, Fogarty has also invested in a major winery. Two years ago, it bought the major share of the largest contract winemaker on the island, Winemaking Tasmania, now known as Tasmanian Vintners. This company has for many years turned the grapes of between 20 and 30 small vineyards into wine every year – boutique vineyards with owners who don’t want or can’t afford to build a winery and employ a winemaker.
Some of these clients will probably have to look elsewhere to have their wines made, and some of the overflow may be taken up by the winery currently being built at Cambridge by Peter Dredge, of Dr Edge wines, and his business partner. They’re likely to do some contract winemaking on the side, and the winery will be ready in time for the 2021 harvest.
It’s all go on the Apple Isle.