Located approximately 20 minutes drive from Hobart, in Tasmania's south-east, the Coal River Valley has established a reputation for growing exceptional quality grapes. With a climate that is at the cool extremes for viticulture in Australia, it is no surprise that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir perform so splendidly.
An anomaly for such a cool climate is that the rainfall is significantly lower than many of Australia's other cool climate regions, with an average of approximately 500mm of rain per year. This cool but relatively dry climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly in autumn, without disease pressure that heavy rainfall can bring.
Heat Degree Days: 1180
Mean January temperature: 17.2ºC
Annual Rainfall: 500mm
Area under vine: 237ha
By Michael Hill Smith MW
Why Tasmania? This is a question Martin and I have been asked frequently since buying the highly rated Tolpuddle Vineyard in the Coal River Valley about 30 minutes from Hobart.
Long term insurance against climate change? Tasmania’s pristine environment? The undeniable excellence of the state’s best wines? Whilst these factors undoubtedly played a part – in the end it was serendipity and good fortune that won the day.
Halliday, Hooke, Stock and others have written extensively about Tasmania’s great potential so we thought we should take a look ourselves. More of a reconnaissance than a buying expedition.
Dinner on our first night was at the excellent Stillwater in Launceston with Tasmanian wine legend Andrew Pirie and former Hardy’s chief winemaker Peter Dawson. Pirie arrived with laptop in hand complete with climatic maps and data which proved to be enlightening. I hadn’t fully realized just how cold and dry eastern and southern Tasmania are, principally due to the rain shadow effect of the westerly mountains. This combination of dry and cold conditions produces grapes with outstanding flavour and acidity, but without the same disease threat of wetter climates.
After a bottle of Roederer, Bonneau du Martray, and number of good Tassie wines, Dawson boldly predicted that “Tasmania would be making Australia’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir within the next decade”. Martin and my attention sharpened noticeably! Dawson had just released his own Tasmanian Pinot and Chardonnay under the Dawson and James label – a joint project with the equally talented Tim James.
The following day we called in briefly to see Claudio Radenti at Freycinet on the East Coast. Claudio worked with Martin in Bordeaux in the late 80’s and has consistently made some of Tasmania’s finest wines. Great region but a long way from either Hobart or Launceston we mused on the beautiful drive south to our appointment at Tolpuddle – a vineyard near Richmond established in 1988 by Tony Jordan, Gary Crittenden and Bill Casimaty.
The moment we drove through the gate it was love at first sight. 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.
So it had taken us less than two 2 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.
Our plan is to make to single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the Tolpuddle Vineyard label – making a small amount of wine in 2012 for release in 2013.
So there you have it. A spontaneous road trip, some timely advice from mates and a healthy dose of serendipity. Some things are meant to be.