Tamar Valley Wine Route: www.tamarvalleywines.com.au
Northern Tasmania, while still in its infancy in viticultural terms has attracted considerable interest from Australian and European wine corporations as a combination of Champagne meets the Rhine. Recent years has also seen a proliferation of new wineries along the Tamar Valley making wines in a styles more familiar to New Zealand and Western Europe than mainland Australia.
There was some early colonial era viticulture in Northern Tasmania in the 1840s. A Dr. Matias Gaunt was making wine in East Tamar, while a William Lawrence was running a small vineyard at the junction of the Esk and Tamar Rivers in Launceston. However, all viticulture had disappeared from the whole of the state by the turn of the century.
A French migrant working on the hydro-electric scheme, Jean Miguet, established Tasmania's first 20th century 'commercial' winery, La Provence (now called Providence), in 1956 about 20 km north of Launceston. The considerable local and official opposition to this venture is described in the Providence entry on this website.
Fortunately attitudes had softened by the time Andrew and David Pirie established Northern Tasmania's first major commercial venture, Piper's Brook, in 1975 (although it is now owned by Belgian company Kregliner). Graham Wiltshire started Heemskerk on adjoining land the following year.
The densely forested Piper's Brook area has proven to rather good for cold climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The climate is similar to France's famous Champagne region so not surprisingly this has led to some significant investment by sparkling wine producers from France, Belgium and Australia.
It was Domaine Portet, while he was at Taltarni, who realised in the mid 1980s that he could make sparkling wines from this area that had a fruit intensity and acid he could never achieve with Victorian Pyrenees fruit. This investment has become the Clover Hill vineyard. Hardys has set up the Bay of Fires, while Yalumba now owns the famous Jansz vineyard.
A handful of small family owned wineries such as Brook Eden, Golders, Delamere and Dalrymple, also operate in the midst of all this Australian and European corporate investment. More controversial is the involvement of forestry company Gunn Ltd with the Tamar Ridge winery and a number of associated Tamar Valley brands. Some eco-friendly sections of the Melbourne wine industry are informally boycotting Gunn Ltd owned brands over plans to develop a pulp paper mill on the banks of the Tamar River.
The emergence of wine tourism since the 1980s has opened up a second area of north Tasmania. The spectacular Tamar Valley has over fifteen boutique wineries stretching from Beauty Point (just in from Bass Strait) down to Relbia in the foothills to the south of Launceston.
Most lie on the west bank of the valley along the A7 highway. The large body of water and the low yielding soil along the valley seems to mitigate the climate so that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can be produced (not always) without the overly herbaceous character of many Tasmanian Cabernets and Merlots.
Like New Zealand the Riesling and Pinot Gris/Grigio varieties can do well here. The Rieslings tend to have a semi-sweet green apple aspect to them that is closer to a German style than the dry limey style from the best Australian wine regions. The Tamar Valley's climate is often compared to the Rhine Valley. Local winemakers need a bit more courage with the acid levels to try and realise the potential to make some really great Rhine-inspired Rieslings.
Wineries from both areas collaborate in wine tourist terms to market themselves as the Tamar Valley Wine Route.
There are also a couple of small wineries lie further to the west near Davenport on the tourist route to the Cradle Mountain. top