Tasmanian travel is all about terroir – the unique somewhereness of the place/island that you experience through all manner of things – the people, the food and unmistakably through the wine.
The Tassie wine industry, you’ll quickly find, is a broad church indeed. It has big-name producers and charmingly low-fi vineyards; its winemakers span all points on the spectrum from staunch traditionalists all the way to the new breed of experimental minimal-interventionists.
So what does this mean for the adventurous newcomer? Four wine trails make easy work of a road trip through this vinous island state. Hit the highway through the rolling green hills and let the network of cellar doors be your guiding star.
Tamar Valley Wine Route
Don’t be fooled by its relatively recent emergence on the wine scene. Over the past 40 years, the Tamar Valley has grown a global reputation for its exceptional sparkling wines. In fact, Tasmania’s principal wine-producing region is described in expert vinous circles as producing the closest thing to champagne outside of Champagne.
You could rename the Tamar Valley Wine Trail, an upside-down triangle stretching from Launceston north to Lebrina, Pipers River and Beaconsfield, as the state’s Bubbles Trail. The classic trio of champagne grapes - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - have been colonising the fertile Tamar soil from cattle and sheep. The touring route, consisting of more than 30 cellar doors, all joined by sinuous roads through gloriously green countryside, ably demonstrates why this region is on the global viticultural map.
“The region really exemplifies why Tasmania is so good for sparkling wine because the coastline lets the grapes have longer maturation without the sun heat developing the sugars too much,” says Elaine Curtis-Flynn, cellar door manager at Pipers Brook. Arriving is half the fun at this grand-daddy of the Tamar scene where everything is estate-grown and bottled: a picturesque drive through the vines deposits you at the architecturally imposing building housing a cellar door offering tastings of Pipers Brook, Ninth Island and Kreglinger wines, as well as a café championing the tasting platter. And do make sure you look north: “On a clear day you can actually see our Ninth Island namesake in the distance,” says Curtis-Flynn.
There’s more to the Tamar than sparkles. Among the pioneers, Winter Brook Vineyard is trialling the grape known as dornfelder alongside its more common stablemates such as pinot noir and riesling. Mostly unknown in Australia (there are only three vineyards around the nation growing the red grape), it’s hugely popular in Germany – which makes sense that Dutch emigres Nicole and Frank Huisman are behind its Tamar iteration. “We knew it was an excellent cool-climate grape. It’s intensely flavoured, more like a shiraz than a pinot noir,” says Nicole.
The Platonic ideal of the small, hands-on vineyard, Winter Brook is a two-person show: the Huismans do everything themselves, from pruning to hand-labelling bottles, and a similar ethos pervades the friendly cellar door, with the invitation to BYO lunch and enjoy it on a picnic table in the shade of the apple trees (and just for the record, dogs are welcome, too).
“I’d just really recommend making a great afternoon of the Tamar, sampling wine and having some great food,” says Fiona Turner of Jinglers Creek vineyard. Only 15 minutes’ drive from Launceston’s CBD, Jinglers Creek is emblematic of old Tasmania as well as its fresh new approach.
“It’s a real family affair,” says Fiona. “People can touch the vines and look at the chickens running around and I’ll be in my gumboots, but we’re a smart vineyard, too.” That means they’re trialling the latest technology, such as drone swarms to warn off birds, as well as a vineyard robot dubbed “the vine rover” designed to capture data about frost and nip disease in the bud. “We only have 410 vines – I feel I’ve almost given every one a name – and we want to make sure we get the very best quality of fruit.”
Southern Wine Trail
Tourism Tasmania and Chris Crerar
Thinking Hobart? Think the Southern Wine Trail. Comprising the Derwent, Coal River and Huon Valleys, all are within an easy day-trip drive of the Tassie capital, and they combine some of the state’s best offerings in wilderness and wine.
Thirty minutes’ drive from Hobart, Home Hill winery boasts a striking rammed-earth cellar door and jaw-dropping views of kunanyi / Mt Wellington – that’s if you can drag your eyes away from the alpacas and cows roaming the farm’s rolling hills.
“It started off as a hobby farm for a Saturday afternoon then it grew and grew,” says Rosemary Bennett of the vineyard she owns with husband Terry. It’s cold in these parts, but that suits their pinot noir and pinot gris: “They like the long, slow ripening process”.
Also worth checking out in these parts, the Stefano Lubiana winery is a Tuscan farmhouse idyll just 25 minutes’ north of Hobart, where biodynamic principles guide the award-winning pinot noir and more. And no visit to Hobart is complete without a visit to Mona and its vineyard sibling Moorilla, with tastings held in the moody underground barrel room.
East Coast Wine Trail
Supplied Courtesy of Craigie Knowe Winery
The east coast stands out for its gorgeous beaches and warmer climate. “It’s where Tasmanians go on their holidays,” says Sandy Travers of Craigie Knowe winery. It’s also the sort of place you can get swept away. Sandy and husband Glen bought the vineyard after a holiday.
“I famously said, fancy giving a town this size a name, and now it’s our home,” says Sandy. “The life here is relaxed and beautiful, and we try to keep that feeling going at the cellar door. We hadn’t grown grapes before we bought the vineyard, so we’re a good way in for people just learning about wine. There’s no such thing as a stupid question here, but there’s a heck of a lot of good wine.”
Also worth knowing: the East Coast Wine Trail enjoys a symbiosis with the spectacular coastal path of the Great Eastern Drive. Beginning in Orford and heading 176 kilometres north to St Helens, near the Bay of Fires, it’s a driving experience for the bucket list.
North West Wine Trail
It’s more of a newcomer to the wine scene, but the north-west coast is making up for lost time. In easy striking distance of Devonport, where the Spirit of Tasmania docks, the region has been best known for its natural beauty, but the growing number of cellar doors, including cideries and craft brewers, cheesemakers and other food artisans are making it a true tasting trail.
“We’re finding people are coming back just to try the region. They’ve done the Tamar and the east coast, now they want to try something a bit different,” says Gail Burns who owns the boutique La Villa vineyard with husband Marcus. Known for its pinot noir and chardonnay as well as a sparkling nebbiolo and savagnin (“It’s good to have a point of difference,” says Gail), La Villa is the last stop before the ferry terminal. “People might drop in an hour early to have a glass of wine under the portico before they have to get to the ferry. It’s a nice way to end your journey.”
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