Sparkling wine – Tasmania

What
A cool climate Australian sparkling wine producing state, at latitude 42° – the same as Barcelona, in Spain. Modern viticulture started in the late 1980s, since when it has become both a valued source of high quality base wine for mainland producers’ top cuvées, making wine either locally or transporting to the mainland for further processing; and for predominantly small-scale local artisanal production of high quality. There are 1500ha (2013) under vine, the majority being pinot noir and chardonnay, with 40% of the  crop going to sparkling production. Tasmania works under a single eponymous GI (Geographical Indication).

Where
There are two main viticultural regions – in the north the Tamar Valley (a little inland) and Pipers River (coastal and coolest), and in the south the Coal Valley and East Coast regions, including the Freycinet Peninsula (all classed driest).

Climate
A maritime climate, with daytime temperatures moderated by cooling westerly winds blowing across the cold Southern Ocean, sheltered in the rain shadow of intervening mountain ranges from the moisture in these same westerlies. [There is a renowned rain forest in the west].  Most rain falls in winter, in the ripening autumnal period it is very dry – so lots of sun.  A cool climate with cooler nights and long, dry and sunny autumns allows the grapes to mature slowly, gaining flavour precursors – whilst retaining high levels of acidity.  Spring frost is a problem, and wind protection necessary on seaward slopes.

Soils
The geography is complex with a wide range of soil types.  As a generalisation moisture retentive clay in the north and peaty alluvial soils in the south.

In the north, Piper Valley has deep free-draining fertile red soils; whilst the Tamar Valley has gravelly basalt over moisture retentive clays and an ironstone base.

In the south it is very varied, with soils based on sandstone, schist and peaty alluvium.

There are no calcareous soils in Tasmania.

Marketing
The single GI enables strong branding and simple undiluted marketing.

Tasmania is actively seeking to grow its wine producing sector.  As reported in Decanter 2013, a delegation from Tasmania was sent to try and interest Champagne houses into investing there, demonstrating climate similarities and the opportunities – 40% of Tasmanian wine is sparkling, on just 1400ha – the idea is that the area under vine could rise by an order of magnitude in coming years.

Tasmania is a good source of base wine material for sparkling producers on the mainland, and Tasmanian finished wine has a good reputation in the key Australian market.

Premier quality wines are present in the UK market – I have seen Jansz and Bay of Fires.

Production
Currently there are about 160 producers, most are very small.  It is the only State with a demand for premium wine exceeding supply, and with a per litre rate of return 2.5 times that of the mainland average.  Also Tasmanian grapes attract a higher price per tonne – 7 times the national average.

The Tamar Valley and Pipers River are the most important of the vineyard areas, with 1/3 of growers producing 1/3 of the total (all styles) wine volume.

Major producers:

  • Bay of Fires (owned by Champ Equity) – for example Tigress Rose NV, a pinot noir dominated sparkler. Grapes sourced from Coal Valley, Pipers River and Tamar Valley.
  • Kreglinger (Belgian owned) – vineyards in the Tamar Valley and Piper’s River.
  • Jansz (owned by Hill Smith) – solely sparkling wine production, they made the first traditional method wine – but now they call it Methode Tasmanoise.  Barrel ferment in old French oak. Vineyards in the Tamar Valley and Piper’s River.
  • Pirie (owned by Brown Brothers) – makes a small range of sparkling wine.

Others of interest

  • Freycinet Vineyard – on the east coast of the island growing chardonnay and pinot noir.  Produce a single sparkling wine, small production, soon sold out.

Viticulture
As an island it is currently phyloxera free.  Viticulture is protected from moisture in the westerly winds by intervening mountain ranges, reducing disease pressure, but necessitating irrigation.  Plantings face from north through northeast to east, avoiding the strong westerly winds.

Plantings in decreasing order of area planted – pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier.

Risks – botrytis, spring frost, bush fires with ensuing risk of smoke taint, and strong winds.  Wind machines and overhead sprinklers are common against frost, and training systems and vineyard practices against fungal infection.

Training/pruning example – VSP, spur pruned, with hand pruning in winter and machine hedge trimming of shoots in summer.

Examples seen of lyre in Pipers River, double cordon VSP in Coal River Valley

Vinification
High quality traditional method wines made from chardonnay and pinot noir; along the sentiments of the French method – gentle fractional pressing and so on.

Chardonnay grapes maintain a high natural acidity, so MLF is standard practice, which, coupled with fermentation in old French oak, leads to complex premium quality wines.

Some 1st ferment in tank, but all premium wine is then bottle fermented.

Ageing
Premium wines – 5 years on the lees plus 1 on the cork prior to release;  8-10 years post release ageing capability.

Tasting note

References

Updated: 14/11/16

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
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