Wine column for week of 22 September 2014

In recent years Tasmania has developed a global reputation for sparkling wine along with its name for great still wines that made the island state famous a decade earlier. Between 42 per cent and half of all grapes grown on the island state are used to make premium fizz.

Tasmania, 240 kilometres off Australia’s southern coast, produces only half of one per cent of all Australian wine. But its wines have won major prizes this year.

Ed Carr, group sparkling winemaker at Accolade Wines since 1994, is Tasmania’s most successful sparkling winemaker. His 2005 Arras Grand Vintage was named best Australian sparkling wine at this year’s International Wine Challenge in London.

Arras also won four gold medals at the inaugural champagne and sparkling wine world championships. Results were announced this month. The latter was organised by Tom Stevenson, former chair of Decanter’s champagne judging panel. You can read the results at http://www.champagnesparklingwwc.co.uk

Carr said Tasmania had become noticed globally in recent years. “Tasmanian sparkling is in the media all the time.” He believes it has the potential to equal Champagne in terms of quality and price.

Tasmania has a stable climate and produces good fruit each year, which was not always the case in places like the UK, Carr said. “Tasmanian wine is only going to get stronger. Demand is certainly there and winemaking is well sorted.”

Pipers Brook is another of Tasmania’s iconic brands. James Halliday, probably the most influential of Australia’s wine writers, described the viticulture and winemaking at Pipers Brook as “fastidious”. Their premium sparkling is called the Kreglinger, named for the Belgium conglomerate that purchased the estate in 2001. Halliday rated the Kreglinger sparkling 2003 rose as one of the best he had ever encountered, only bettered by the current 2004 vintage.

Rene Bezemer, chief winemaker at Pipers Brook, has been with the company for 25 years. He said Tasmania’s terroir and climate gave it the potential for greatness.

Yet back in the 1990s, noted local wine writer Mark Smith, most Tasmanian growers and winemakers focused on table wines, and only made sparkling with fruit left over from table wine production. Sparkling wine has since become fundamental to the business of the Tasmanian wine industry, he said.

Tasmania has seven sub-regions. The Tamar Valley in the north of the state is by far the biggest, producing 45 per cent of the state’s grapes. Launceston, the second biggest city after the capital Hobart, is at the southern end of a long estuary with the Tamar Valley on either side. Piper’s River (16 per cent) and the Coal River Valley and the East Coast (14 per cent each) are the next biggest.

Tasmania was one of Australia’s earliest wine regions, established in the mid 1850s. But it languished for almost a century until Graham Wiltshire launched the Heemskerk vineyard in 1966. Dr Andrew Pirie established Pipers Brook in the early 1970s.

Despite the long history, most of Tasmania’s vines are under two decades old – a reflection of recent investment. For the past five years Tasmania has averaged 7,900 tonnes of grapes a year, Wine Tasmania figures show. Carr said the total could be closer to 10,000 tonnes in two to three years because of recent plantings.

The industry is a combination of family-owned boutique operations and big companies. Some of the better-known boutiques include Delamere, Goaty Hill, Holm Oak, Pooley and Sinapius.

Most of the big players on the mainland have invested in Tasmania because of the quality of the fruit. Accolade Wines owns Bay of Fires and House of Arras. Brown Brothers control Tamar Ridge and Devil’s Corner. Yalumba and the Hill Smith Family Vineyards own Dalrymple and Jansz. Grant Burge from the Barossa Valley makes his Helene sparkling wine in Tasmania, and Shaw+Smith released its first wines last year under the Tolpuddle Vineyard label.

Treasury Wines Estates owns the Heemskerk and Abel’s Tempest labels. Abel Tasman of the Netherlands discovered the island in November 1642. The story goes that a storm drove his ship to the island he named Van Diemen’s Land. Tasman’s ship was the Heemskerk. His middle name of Janszoon provided the name for Jansz sparkling.

Dr Andrew Pirie’s latest project is a small-scale but super premium vintage sparkling wine venture called Apogee in the Pipers Brook district. Apogee is two hectares, about the same size as an average Champagne vineyard. Last year Apogee was named Tasmanian vineyard of the year.

Words: 735. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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