An Introduction to Tasmanian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Tasmania lies off Australia’s south coast and is separated from the rest of Australia by Bass Strait. The Australian island state is cool, windswept and largely wild. Tasmania is home to a small wine industry defined by one GI (geographical indication), Tasmania, and seven informal wine growing regions. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the two most-planted varieties, so they are a good place to begin our exploration of Tassie wine. All three wines were provided to us as tasting samples.

Tasmania wine regions map
Tasmania wine regions map courtesy of Vineyards.com

The western half of the Tasmania is battered by strong west winds (the Roaring Forties) and rain from the Indian Ocean and is mostly preserved as national parks, conservation areas and reserves. Tasmania’s wine growing regions lie along its coastline in the eastern half of the island where the weather is warmer and drier.

Temperatures in these eastern coastal areas are moderated by the Bass Strait and Tasman Sea, but wind and rainstorms can be significant, as can be threats from frost and botrytis. That said, Hobart is Australia’s second driest capital city. The placement of vineyards in the protection of mountains can help mitigate these threats and the best sites are northeast facing slopes with ample sun exposure. Tasmania’s stony soils retain heat, which warms the vines on cold nights.

Successful and sustained wine growing and winemaking efforts didn’t take hold in Tasmania until the late-1950s, but its early history is too interesting not to include. The first grape vines were planted in 1788 on Bruny Island by none other than William Bligh, captain of the HMS Bounty, when his ship stopped there. This early planting did not succeed. 

The first commercial vineyard was planted in New Town (a suburb of Hobart) by ex-convict Bartholomew Broughton in 1823. Tasmania was the source of vine material for the first vineyards in Victoria and South Australia when settler William Henty sailed from Launceston in 1834 for Victoria taking grape vine cuttings and plants with him.

The modern wave of Tasmanian winemaking began when French winemaker Jean Miguet established La Provence (now Providence Vineyards), near Launceston, in 1956. In 1958 Claudio Alcorso, an Italian immigrant and textile merchant established Moorilla Estate near Hobart with Riesling. This estate was purchased by Tasmanian gambler David Walsh and is now part of MONA – Museum of Old and New Art.

Graham Wiltshire established the Heemskerk vineyards in 1966 and released his first commercial wine in 1976. He went on to establish Jansz Tasmania (sparkling wine specialists). Also in Pipers River, Dr. Andrew Pirie developed Pipers Brook Vineyard in 1974 in the northeast of Tasmania. 

Tolepuddle Vineyard

2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, Tasmania photo
2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, Tasmania

2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay, Tasmaniapale yellow-green in the glass with salty, flinty grapefruit aromas. Stony minerality and flinty notes blend harmoniously with stone fruit, melon and hints of grapefruit. A bit of weight, bright acidity and a very long finish make for a perfectly balanced and complex Chardonnay. 13% abv. SRP $60

I’m certain this will be one of the most memorable wines I taste this year. Stunning is not an overstatement when describing this Chardonnay. Not one drop of this wine went to waste.

The Chardonnay was hand picked and whole cluster pressed before being fermented in French oak. The wine spent nine months in barrel with gentle stirring and then rested on the lees. 20% malolactic fermentation. Aging took place in barriques and barrels, new to third-use, for 9 months. The wine aged in the bottle for 8 months prior to release.

2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir, Tasmania photo
2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir, Tasmania

2017 Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir, Tasmaniatranslucent ruby-garnet in the glass with aromas of red fruit and berry bramble. Flavors of red cherries, cranberries and raspberries are supported by mushrooms and berry bramble. Tannins are smooth in a barely medium body with bright acidity and a medium-long finish. 13.5% abv. SRP $75

This gorgeous Pinot begins to seduce the instant it is poured into the glass.  Its translucent color and generous aromas give it away as Pinot Noir and the flavors that follow upon tasting it will leave you feeling contemplative. If you love Pinot Noir you must taste this one. Seriously.

100% Pinot Noir was fermented in open-top stainless steel tanks over ten days. Malolactic fermentation and aging took place in French barriques and barrels, new to third-use. Aging for 11 months in oak was followed by 8 months of bottle aging before release.

Tolpuddle Vineyard was established in 1988 by Tony Jordan, Gary Crittenden and Bill Casimaty. Michael Hill Smith, MW described his and cousin Martin Shaw’s first visit to Tolpuddle Vineyard as love at first sight. In his words, “20 hectares of mature Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines planted on a long even slope, with lean soils, forests above and water below and great vineyard exposure. Fantastic.” Hill Smith goes on to describe their 2011 Tasmanian road trip as guided by equal doses of advice from friends and serendipity.  According to Michael, “So it had taken us less than two days to find our perfect vineyard – but a vineyard not even on the market! On our return to the mainland Martin made an initial approach via Tony Jordan and much to our delight negotiations commenced and were soon successfully completed.”

The name of the vineyard comes from the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six English farm laborers, who in 1834 were sentenced to transportation to Australia for taking an illegal oath. The offense that actually earned this sentence was their formation of a trade union to protest their poor wages and the group was transported to Tasmania. Brothers James and George Loveless were the group’s leaders and George Loveless spent part of his sentence working on a property that is now part of Tolpuddle Vineyard.

Dalrymple Vineyards

2016 Dalrymple Pinot Noir, Tasmania photo
2016 Dalrymple Pinot Noir, Tasmania

2016 Dalrymple Pinot Noir, Tasmaniatranslucent ruby in the glass with generous aromas of red and dark fruit, berry bramble, dried herbs and loamy earth. Flavors of dark cherries, cranberries, berry bramble and dusty earth are underpinned by hints of cedar and dried alfalfa. Tannins are smooth and well integrated. 13.5% abv. SRP $53

This lively, lovely Pinot Noir is a bit tart with plenty of complexity and pleasant earthy qualities. It announces itself as Pinot Noir with the first pour and will please Pinot Noir lovers. By comparison to the Tolepuddle, this Pinot Noir tastes less earthy and a bit more tart. Both are delicious expressions of Pinot.

Pinot Noir is sourced from estate vineyards in Pipers River and Coal River Valley as well as from grower vineyards at Swansea and Ouse. This combination of sites brings complexity to the final blend. Each site is harvested at its prime, destemmed and put into small open-top fermenters. After fermentation the wine is pressed and pumped into French oak barriques (one-third new) where malolactic fermentation takes place. After aging for 11 months the wine is blended. 

Dalrymple Vineyards is located in the northwest of Tasmania in the Pipers River region overlooking Bass Strait. The vineyards were established in 1987 by the Sundstrup and Mitchell families. In 2007 Dalrymple was purchased by Hill-Smith Family Vineyards. Since 2010 Peter Caldwell has been responsible for viticulture and winemaking.

Beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, look for Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Tasmania. 

Our first experience with Tasmanian wine was Jansz sparkling wine quite a few years ago. With that positive experience in mind I headed straight for the Tasmanian table at the Australian Wine Winter Trade Tasting 2019 in San Francisco. It was at that table that I tasted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the 2016 Tolpuddle Pinot Noir among them, and fell in love. I’ve been longing for another taste of Tasmania since. Thank you to Winebow for making that happen.

Cheers!

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