Tasmania is a true 'Down Under' wine region, being the Southern-most of Australia's 60+ recognised areas of wine production.
An island state located 240km (150mi) to the South of the Mainland, between 41° and 43° Latitude South, Tasmania's climate is significantly cooler than most of Australia, allowing for a different variety of wine styles to be produced.
While still relatively small in volume, Tasmania now hosts around 200 very passionate producers, highly focused on quality wines that have become a point of pride for all who live on the island.
There are two major wine making hubs in Tasmania, the state capital, Hobart in the South, and the Northern city of Launceston, found in the Tamar Valley in the North.
It is important to note, that while we will be discussing unique geographical areas in Tasmania for wine production, none of these regions are officially recognised by the Geographical Indications register of Australia.
The only legally protected name and wine region is simply 'Tasmania' which was recognised in 1994, and as such, these regions I will speak of are areas of growth and promise, yet remain unofficial in the eyes of Wine Australia.
Given the developing nature of these areas, I'll also throw out a star producer or two that I believe gives real drive to the wine region at large and growth to their local industry.
Let's check out a map of Tasmanian wine regions and we'll head from North to South to discover these fine wines!
The newest area in Tasmania to see viticultural development would be the North West region, where a handful of pioneering wine producers have planted in this coastal region.
Vineyards are most often planted here close to one of the several rivers that find their way to the sea here in the North West, particularly the Forth, Don and Mersey Rivers.
At the mouth of the Mersey River you can find the northern port city of Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania ferries depart for mainland Australia, arriving in Melbourne after 11 hours at sea.
North West is also known for it's creative place names, with towns called Nook, Penguin, Nowhere Else, Sassafras and many more being common place in the area.
Local producer Ghost Rock, has been a shining star in the North West, being twice crowned Tourism Tasmania's 'Best Cellar Door', ranked as a '5-star Australian winery' by James Halliday and releasing an excellent selection of aromatic whites, and Pinot Noir.
Due to it's coastal location, aromatic wine styles impress, with lime-infused, mineral-focused Rieslings stacking up well against the always stand-out Pinot Noir which here brings us a subtle spice, earthy forest floor aromas and well structured acidity, proving that while small in size these are wines well worth mentioning.
The Tamar Valley is a fertile valley, fed by both the North and South Esk Rivers and is touted as the most developed wine region on the island.
A combination of aromatic white varieties grow easily in the cool climate, that is still considered warm for Tasmania. Along the length of the Tamar you'll find Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and even Gewürztraminer, yet there is also a continuing focus on Methode Traditonelle sparkling wines in the style of Champagne.
The valley offers a variety of styles for the undisputed regional red, Pinot Noir, with the Lower Tamar vineyards offering fresh fruity aromas of raspberry and red cherry thanks to the maritime influence, while in the Upper Tamar Pinot Noir graces us with lifted black cherry as well as earthy mushroom and truffle notes, thanks to it's inland, elevated position.
One of the modern pioneers of the Tamar Valley is Josef Chromy, who has spent decades developing Tasmania's wine and food business.
Chromy has been heavily involved in the Tasmanian wine industry since 1993 and went on to own and develop several well-regarded brands, including Jansz, Tamar Ridge, Heemskerk and Rochecombe (now Bay of Fires), before founding his own Josef Chromy brand in 2007, based at Relbia in the Upper Tamar.
A number of small producers dot the bends and curves of the rivers, with dozens that have less than 10ha(25acres) or less planted to vine.
Pipers River is located 50km(31mi) North-East of Launceston in the Tamar Valley and surrounds the path of it's namesake river as it flows from Mount Arthur, out to sea at the Bass Strait.
A unique terrior profile, separates Pipers River from nearby Tamar Valley, having a maritime-influenced climate, hilly landscape and iron-rich volcanic soils that have brought together a small cadre of passionate, high-quality wine producers.
First pioneered by Andrew Pirie who founded his Pipers Brook vineyard in 1974, Pipers River has grown to now encompass around 30% of Tasmania's wine production, with much of this focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, often combined to produce high-quality sparkling wine. This reputation is so well regarded that some even refer to the area as 'Sparkling Tasmania'.
The sunny, warm weather coupled with the cooling breezes, bring about a long growing season, and well drained soils allow for deep-rooted vines, producing elegant wines with subtle acidity and balance.
North East & East Coast:
The Eastern coastline of Tasmania is just about as picturesque a place as the island state can produce, with hundreds of thousands of tourists driving the Tasman Highway each year, with the centre piece, Freycinet National Park looking to even cap visitor numbers to the park.
The majority of small vineyards in the East Coast are located along the highway from Hobart leading up to the park entrance, giving them a serious popularity amongst travellers.
One of the earliest and most spectacular vineyards in the area is Freycinet Vineyard, planted in 1979 by Geoff and Susan Bull.
They decided take advantage of a natural amphitheatre site for their vines, that with it's gently sloping hillsides afforded excellent sun exposure and access to unique soils of brown dermosol over Jurassic dolerite on the North-facing slope and black vertosol ( alkaline clay with superior water retention qualities).
This heat trap of a site allowed for such high quality Pinot Noir to be produced that writer James Halliday once called Freycinet Vineyards "One of Australia's foremost producers of Pinot Noir".
While the East Coast only plays host to a handful of producers, the quality of the wine and the popularity of the region for tourists is a recipe for success.
A special mention goes out the efforts of Priory Ridge Vineyard, located in the North of the East Coast of Tasmania about 1 hour North of the Freycinet area. The vineyard is planted on a north-facing site near the town of St. Helens and has a distinct terrior that has set this site apart, with soils composed of Devonian granite ideal for Pinot Noir and aromatic whites.
Coal River Valley:
Located just 20 minutes from Tasmania's capital city, Hobart, the Coal River Valley wine region is located on the western banks of it's namesake river.
A handful of high-quality, boutique producers have been making cool-climate style wines in this valley since the 1970's with particular focus on lean, elegant styles of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling, all varieties that have now made Tasmania famous.
Most vineyards here are planted facing North-West, where the ample sunshine hours of the region, combined with cooling breezes off the sea and low annual rainfall, result in a long growing season.
Grapes here will continue to ripen into the Autumn with plenty of ripeness balanced by structural acidity.
Much of the soil in this area is alluvial based, with clay sandstone overlapped with sandy free-draining soils. This combination means that the roots are never water-logged at the surface, yet with clay trapping the water beneath them, have a healthy water supply year round.
One of the stalwarts of the Coal River Valley is Pooley Wines, founded by Margaret & Denis Pooley in 1985 and run today by the second and third generation of the Pooley family.
Until 2010, when Margaret Pooley passed away well into 90's, the daily operations, including viticulture and winemaking were run simultaneously by all 3 generations of the family.
This incredible drive is something that set this winery apart, with passion driving their initial plantings of ten rows of Riesling and seven rows of Pinot Noir. Today, the Pooley Wines are award-winners and winemaker Anna Pooley is considered one of the finest in crafters of wine in Australia.
Derwent Valley lies just to the North-West of Tasmania's capital Hobart, following the flow of it's name-sake river which then passes through the city and out into the d’Entrecasteaux Channel.
Vines here have been planted primarily on the Southern banks of the Derwent, especially on the North-facing hills to the South-West of the river which receive plenty of sunshine, and are effected by the cooling winds that blow in from the Tasman Sea.
Typically white varieties like Chardonnay are planted closer to the river on alluvial soils, while Riesling is planted a little higher up on the hills, where the diurnal (day to night) difference in temperature is slightly greater, allowing for slower ripening and more acidity.
Even higher up the slopes, the vines find maximum exposure in the strong Southern Sun, so Pinot Noir and any other red varieties are often planted up here, where there is enough warmth and light to fully ripen, and the nights and maritime winds continue to be cooling influences that allow for structured and balanced wines to be produced.
One of the founding vineyards in the Derwent Valley and indeed Tasmania is Moorilla Estate having planted their first vines (Riesling) in 1958 and first bottled from the 1962 vintage.
The founder Claudio Alcorso, an Italian textile merchant, who purchased the land in in 1947, ignored advise that the land was better suited for fruit trees.
He and his family continued to advance the wine industry of Tasmania until the site was sold to David Walsh in 1995.
The site is also now home to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) which draws visitors from across the globe. To this day Moorilla continues to produce the stalwarts of Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and now offers Methode Traditionelle sparkling wine, Pinot Gris, Syrah and many others besides.
The Huon Valley (sometimes known as Channel) Wine Region is located to the South and South-West of Hobart. Though the vineyard plantings here rank as some of the smallest in Tasmania, the Huon/Channel area nonetheless has several passionate producers that will likely drive further development.
A few of the producers here are nestled along the Huon River Valley which empties into the d'Entrecasteaux Channel about 40 minutes from Hobart near the town of Huonville.
The area has long been famous for it's bountiful apple production, though in the last 2-3 decades a small number of apple growers started thinking whether the reliable rainfall, maritime climate and grey loam and clay soils might be suitable for certain slow-ripening cool-climate grape varieties.
Huon Valley itself does have many challenges for growers, with often severe frosts requires strict irrigation programmes
A standout producer near Huonville is the Home Hill vineyard planted by Rosemary and Terry Bennett in 1992 which is comprised mostly of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a small planting of Sylvaner.
After their first vintage in 1998 they soon started winning awards and have recently reached National acclaim for their Kelly's Reserve Pinot Noir which has been repeatedly named by renowned wine writer and judge James Halliday as one of the finest Pinot Noirs in Australia.
In the battle for the Jimmy Watson Trophy for Best Wine of Show at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show 2015, two vintages of the Home Hill Reserve Pinot Noir were deemed so fine that they had to face off against each other for the Champion Trophy.