Tasmania - wines and vines facts
By Mark Smith
Tasmania is located approximately 300km south of mainland Australia amid the vastness of the Southern Ocean. Access by plane is the most direct method for travellers. Australia’s major domestic airlines all offer regular daily flights to the island, with Hobart and Launceston being the most frequented destinations.
For those wanting a more leisurely route, the journey by sea from Melbourne to Devonport via the Spirit of Tasmania takes less than 12 hours. Tasmania’s best known vineyards in the Tamar Valley are a little over an hour away from the TT Line’s ferry terminal.
The whole island of Tasmania is a single official wine zone.
There are no formally registered wine regions as such, but the industry itself recognises that there are seven distinct patterns of viticulture within the State. These are known as the North East (or Pipers Brook), the Tamar Valley, the North West, the East (or Freycinet) Coast, the Derwent Valley, the Coal River Valley, and the Huon Valley/D'Entrecasteaux Channel.
The Tasmania GI was finalised on 26 January 1994, when the name was entered in the Registrar of Protected Names. The term defines the region’s physical boundaries and proscribes its use under Commonwealth of Australia law (Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980).
Vines were first planted in Australia’s smallest wine state back in the 1820s. Hobart Town’s Bartholomew Broughton was turning Pinot Noir – ‘black cluster’ – into sparkling wine two decades before Johann Gramp began making his start in the Barossa Valley.
Indeed, vine cuttings from colonial Van Diemen’s Land were used to establish the first vineyards planted in Victoria and South Australia in the 1830s.
Alas, the island’s leading light was to peter out with the discovery of gold and a mass exodus of the State’s manual labour force to central Victoria during the 1850s. The few vineyards still left to soldier on were ill-equipped to fight on fronts defined by the local temperance movement and government bans on distillation and the production of fortified wine.
Apart from an ill-fated venture on Maria Island during the 1880s, Tasmanians would have to wait half a century and more to see vines prosper again at 41 degrees south and beyond.
The establishment of sites near Launceston (La Provence in 1956) and Hobart (Moorilla Estate in 1958) signalled the re-introduction of viticulture to the State during the latter part of the 20th century.
Until recent times, the pace of industry development has been slow. For example, in 1991, the island could boast barely 200ha of vines. Today, there are some 265 vineyards totalling 1549ha in area.
Although production still accounts for less than one percent of Australia’s overall wine grape crush, Tasmanian brands account for around 12-15 percent of Australia’s premium wine sales and are well represented among the country’s premium wine exports.
Many large national and international players such as Constellation Wines Australia and Foster’s source Tasmanian wine grapes for some of their premium brands.
Tasmania has a cool temperate maritime climate, with prevailing westerly winds from the Southern Ocean ensuring weather conditions across the State’s vineyards are typically free from extremes.
The resulting mild spring and summer seasons combine with warm, generally dry autumns to allow wine grapes to ripen slowly on the vine. This encourages maximum varietal flavour development in grape berries as well as aiding the retention of the high levels of natural acidity that give Tasmanian wines their intrinsic freshness and balance.
Spring frosts and/or high humidity on many sites offer the greatest viticultural challenges.
In general, there is widespread variation in site attributes, including vineyard slope and aspect, soil type, and mesoclimate. Simply inferring that the State’s most southerly vineyards are coolest is fraught with danger. The reality is that while some are, others - such as those in the Coal River Valley and on the East Coast – number among Tasmania’s warmest as well as driest.
Heat summation data in Tasmanian vineyards ranges from below 1050 to 1350 degree days.
The zone’s highest monthly rainfall totals are typically recorded during winter and spring. Across the growing season, a 310mm-380mm range in rainfall dictates that supplementary drip irrigation is often required on all but the coolest of sites.
From vine to glass
On national and international markets, the Tasmanian wine brand is strongly associated with premium quality, cool climate wine. However, much of it is bought and/or consumed within the State, leaving little for sale on overseas markets. In 2006-2007, export sales for wine labelled Tasmania amounted to almost $500,000. Its top five destinations were the UK, the US, China, Belgium and Finland.
Tasmanian vineyards at a glance:
- Tasmania Zone
- GI registered 1994
- Located 41°07'S (Pipers Brook) - 43°36'S (Lunawanna)
- Altitude: 50m-210m
- Heat degree days: <1050 to 1350
- Mean annual rainfall: 450mm (Campania) - 940mm (Lunawanna)
- Growing season rainfall: 310mm (Launceston) – 360mm (Hobart)
- Mean January temperature: 16.8°C (northern Tasmania) - 17.2°C (southern Tasmania)
- Planted area (2008): 1549ha
- Principal varieties (in order of planted area):Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling
- Typical harvest period: March-May
- Total crush (2008): 9628 tonnes
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