Discover the diverse and rich wine regions of Tasmania. From the winemakers of Tasmania to the wineries and wine, uncover all that Tasmania has to offer.
Discover the wine and wine regions of Tasmania
Discover the the wine regions of Tasmania with James Halliday's Wine Atlas of Australia
Tasmania can claim to have founded both the Victorian and South Australian wine industries. Wine was being commercially made and sold in Tasmania several years before vines were planted in either of those states, and it was the source of the first vines for those states. When William Henty sailed from Launceston to Portland (in Victoria) on board the schooner Thistle in 1834, his personal effects included ‘one cask of grape cuttings and one box of plants’. John Hack planted vines in South Australia (said by some authorities to be the first to do so, although the records are not conclusive) in 1837, followed by John Reynell in 1838; both men obtained their cuttings from Port Arthur in Southern Tasmania.
The state’s first commercial vineyard was planted by Bartholomew Broughton in 1823, and in 1827 he advertised that he had 300 gallons (1365 litres) of 1826 vintage wine for sale. By 1827 commercial nurseries were offering vine cuttings, and by 1865 had 45 varieties available, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Ironically, that decade marked the sudden collapse of the industry, due in part to the gold stampede on the mainland draining Tasmania of labour. There was a brief flurry of activity in the 1880s when Diego Bernacchi obtained cuttings from St Huberts in the Yarra Valley, planting them on Maria Island, east of Hobart, and exhibited a wine at the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition of 1888–89. He subsequently sought investors, and is said to have attached artificial bunches to his vines and sailed past the island at night with potential investors, pointing to the vines with the aid of a lamp. They were unimpressed, and Bernacchi faded away.
Tasmania’s winemakers have so far taken no action to establish official regions, and until the new millennium may have been prevented from seeking registration by the 500 tonne requirement. However, it is no longer a bar to (taking a few examples) the Pipers River or Coal River/Richmond areas so doing. Declining official registration may well be an astute move: brand Tasmania has both domestic and international strength.
At some point, however, the wide spread of Tasmanian vineyards, and the marked differences in site climates and soils, may lead to a change of philosophy. For the flip side of the coin is that outside observers not only habitually exaggerate the extent of Tasmania’s viticulture, but are oblivious to the diversity of terroir and climate in the island’s extremely complex geography. There are sites which are both warmer and very much drier than southern Victoria (for example, the Coal River/ Richmond area north-east of Hobart, and, in terms of warmth, the Tamar River valley south of Launceston). The one clear pattern is that Pinot Noir finds itself at home in all parts of the state, with the qualified exception of parts of the Tamar River valley.
Zinfandel was once grown successfully at Coal River, while the colour and extract of the Tamar River red wines is extraordinary, hinting misleadingly at a warm to very warm climate. Instead, the island’s major producers have hitched their future to such cool-climate varieties as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the latter two for both table and sparkling wine use). However, the apparent effect of climate change – or at least, some warm vintages – has led recently to some impressive Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz coming from the warmer sites of the Tamar River and the Coal River.
A high level of corporate takeover activity between 1994 and 2004 has seen the emergence of some well-resourced, medium-sized companies, and also investment by Hardys. Tasmania no longer has a doll’s house-sized industry, although happily many tiny producers continue to populate the scene, relying entirely on the tourism which is such an important part of the economy of this island paradise.