Industry insiders have long regarded the wines of Tasmania as exceptional. Excelling in cool-climate varietals like riesling and pinot noir, for wine-loving travellers it’s an enticing place to investigate. Here we look at one particularly fine example – Pooley Wines. Now led by third-generation Anna Pooley, this is a Tasmanian winery that’s gone from strength to strength.
Words Winsor Dobbin
She’s worked in high-pressure corporate environments, done vintages around the world and is regarded as one of the brightest winemaking talents in the country. But nothing prepared Anna Pooley for the intensity of the past 12 months.
The former Wine Society Young Winemaker of the Year, who crafted the Tasmanian brands Heemskerk and Abel’s Tempest for Treasury Wine Estates, made the decision last year to return to work for her family winery in the Coal River Valley.
That life-changing switch coincided not only with the arrival of her first child Molly, but also the construction of a high-tech winery she helped design and have ready for this year’s vintage.
“Planning a move, a winery and having a baby didn’t really add up to much of a break between jobs,” she laughs. “I’ve never worked so hard in my life. When we moved to Tasmania full-time last Christmas, Molly had just started crawling – and teething,” she recalls. “Not only was the winery under construction, but my husband Justin and I were keen to get into the cellar door to see what people thought of the current release wines – and January is the busiest time of the tourist year in Tasmania. [But] it was great for us to both get back to grass roots.”
Pooley Wines was founded in 1985 – well ahead of the rush to plant vines in Tasmania – when Anna’s grandparents, the late Denis and Margaret Pooley, put in 10 rows of riesling and seven rows of pinot noir. Margaret was a hardy Scot and could be found tending vines during even the coldest Tasmanian winters. “She was the main driving force behind it,” says Anna’s brother and Pooley Wines viticulturist, Matt. “She put us all to shame.”
In 2003, John Pooley, son of Denis and Margaret and a leading Hobart luxury car dealer, bought Belmont Lodge with his wife Libby. The grand heritage property, with a classic 1830s Georgian homestead, is now the family base. The property also holds the cellar door, which has some expansion plans in the works. So, with the ascension of Anna and brother Matt, Pooley Wines is the first third-generation wine operation in the state.
Great success has followed the expansion of Pooley Wines, taking home 18 medals and two trophies at the 2011 Tasmanian Wine Show, before an onslaught of recent awards. These have included being named vineyard of the year and pinot noir producer of the year in Tasmania for 2012. The Pooley 2011 Pinot Noir was also awarded two trophies, including best pinot, at last year’s Royal Melbourne Wine Show.
If anything, this standard is set to improve even further. “Rather than using contract winemaking teams, we now have total control of our wines, from vineyard to bottle,” John says. “We want all our wines to be handcrafted – super premium wines demand total control.”
And while the buck now stops with Anna, she seems unfazed by the pressure. “The differences I’ve discovered between big companies and boutique winemaking are mostly good ones, to be honest,” she says. “My winemaking philosophy hasn’t changed. I just let the vineyards express themselves. I don’t try to do too much; just nurture the fruit through to completion.
“Setting up the winery was interesting because it made me look at the way I make wine and consider whether I needed every single piece of equipment. The lead times in getting equipment from Europe were difficult, so I needed to look at my philosophy and get the absolute essentials installed. We only got the refrigeration system set up in the last week before vintage.”
Much of their grapes come from the nearby Cooinda Vale vineyard north of Campania and a warm growing season meant they were picked earlier than usual this year. Anna was delighted with what came into the winery. “Flavour ripeness came in early, and acid and sugar ripeness were not too far behind,” Anna says. “I knew that the fruit was good, so the most important thing was to give it the attention to detail it deserved. It was more exciting than intimidating, really. For me, the balance was there, especially with the reds.”
So, how does it go working so closely with family? “It is great being part of a family team – we know we can rely on each other,” Anna says. “What is great is to have complete control. I’m so close to it, from the vineyards to the wine. Day in, day out I am here, which wasn’t the case with Treasury. There is also [the luxury of] being able to pick exactly when you think fruit is ready, rather than grappling with a big company that may have priorities elsewhere.”
Growing up in the Coal River Valley, Anna knew as a primary school student that she wanted to be involved in the wine industry. She recalls that at age eight she was already lured by the aromas of freshly pressed grapes, wild yeasts and the intensity of toasted-oak barrels. She wrote in her diary that she wanted to be a winemaker. “From an early age I saw the romance, and the whole family getting together and picking the grapes, and I knew this was something I wanted to be involved with,” she says.
Anna studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College in South Australia, taking a Bachelor of Agricultural Studies majoring in oenology, working at Tatachilla and Wolf Blass while studying, and joined what was then the Foster’s group straight out of uni.
Now 32, a couple of years ago she said: “In the future I’d love to be doing what I’m doing now in Tasmania and be based there full-time. My ideal is to be in my gumboots in the vineyard with a couple of kids, living off the land, living a sustainable life, building a house.”
Those comments have proved prescient. At Christmas, 13 years after she left for Adelaide and vintages spent at Salomon in Austria, Riecine and Castello di Gabbiano in Chianti Classico, Italy, she and her winemaker husband Justin Bubb moved to Tasmania to join the family business. It helps that Justin is the former chief winemaker at Italy’s Castello di Gabbiano.
“It is terrific to be able to also work with Justin because he and I are on the same page when it comes to winemaking philosophy,” she says. “He’s got an incredible amount of experience and is still making his own wines in Italy, and bringing them into Australia, so we’ll be spending some time in Europe each year. We are still learning and it will be great to see what the rest of the world is doing. Justin’s having a great time here; working with me in the winery and also helping Matt in the vineyards. For us this creates a real life-work balance.”
Because the pair hit the ground running, they are still living with her parents, although they are looking for a house nearby. “It’s been great,” she says. “We haven’t decided yet whether we want to buy some land and build, or whether to move into Hobart in the short-term.”
The Pooley family’s vineyards are among the best in the state. They sell shiraz to Jimmy Watson trophy winner Nick Glaetzer and a percentage of their Campania chardonnay goes into Penfolds’ flagship Yattarna.
As for Anna’s plans for the winery, they include a top-notch Pooley chardonnay, although none was made this year when total production was around 80 tonnes. “We don’t want to become too big, although we are about to plant some more pinot noir,” she says. “We’ll cap production at around 200 tonnes, but we’ll probably tweak the range each year depending on what is looking particularly good in the vineyard. Pinot and riesling have always been the main focus for Pooley and I don’t really see that changing.”
Anna is clearly relishing being back on home territory. “I’m extremely passionate about Tasmanian wine and the future here is extremely bright,” she says. “It is wonderful to come full circle and join the family team, working with John and Matt, and helping to add to the great work that they have done for the last 25 years.
“In the time I’ve been away there has been a real progression in the Tasmanian wine industry, which makes it an exciting time to come home. It was asleep when I left and things have moved on in leaps and bounds. There is just so much more awareness of Tasmania and what we do well. The wines are really sought-after, which is fantastic,” she says.
“I just love working with cool-climate fruit and there is nowhere better to do that than Tasmania.”
Dip into the top-notch wines of the Apple Isle with our Tasmanian mixed dozen. Alternatively, download your free Spirit of Tasmania touring guide and plan a wine-filled weekend.
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