Deep in lockdown, with restaurants shut, borders closed and tourism non-existent, a group of Tasmanian winemakers were looking for an out. Even if bottle shop and online trade was booming in the big cities, for those specialist vintners whose market comes more through boutiques, restaurants and their own cellar doors, the stream had dried up.
Enter Wines of Tasmania. Launched in September by Katrina Myburgh and a collective of makers (including Delamere, Holm Oak, Moores Hill and Sinapius). The online shop brings some of the most exciting independent Tasmanian labels together in one place, with the goal of supplementing the cellar-door experience and sharing rare and hard-to-find local wines with the rest of the country.
Each month, a Wines of Tasmania panel run a blind tasting of premium local drops, then use the results to fill changing red, white and mixed packs that are available by subscription on a rolling basis. So, one month the red pack might showcase pinot noir from different labels, while the white could bring together biodynamic sauvignon blanc or chardonnay matured on lees (the yeast left behind post-fermentation) and supplemented with something special.
For Myburgh, though, it’s the sparkling that’s generating the most interest. Tasmania and sparkling wine have an illustrious, if not long, history, starting with Louis Roederer’s 1985 partnership to plant the common Champagne grapes – chardonnay and pinot noir – with Heemskerk, which acted as something of a catalyst.
Now, we have makers such as Hardy’s Ed Carr, who with Arras consistently produces sparkling that ranks among the world’s best. But it’s the new wave of smaller winemakers, producing wines of poise and character, and often in smaller numbers that Myburgh wanted to showcase. “Basically, Tasmanian owned, grown, made wines is the criteria,” she says. “One sparkling brand here, Henskens Rankin, only do [around 1500] bottles of a particular vintage. All they do is sparkling, so essentially we’re giving that rare, hard-to-find promise.”
Fran Austin and Shane Holloway of Delamere are part of this wave, and with their own estate and vineyards, their sparkling can be more easily likened to grower Champagne, with a focus on terroir – or taste of place – and personality over a particular house style. The result is sparkling where the people growing and pressing the grapes are the ones disgorging the bottles, and pouring it at the cellar door, too.
“Sparkling used to be pretty much exclusively the domain of the big companies in Tasmania, but this is starting to change,” says Austin. “There’s been a real influx of new young players over the last 10 or so years and a huge increase in the number of independent brands, as well as the quality and professionalism of these brands.”
Like the larger players, these growers benefit from conditions suited for sparkling wine; Tasmania’s cooler climate results in grapes that strike a balance between fruit and acidity – something that’s much harder to achieve at a lower latitude. The result is sparkling with a Tasmanian edge. “We adore Champagne and draw great inspiration from that region. Our wines, however, focus strongly on the characteristics of our site,” says Austin. “Our goal is to make sparkling wines that are comparable to Champagne in quality, while being distinctly Tasmanian.”
The Wines of Tasmania packs, then, are built around these principles, with a range of styles in each category. A sparkling pack might feature pure, zesty Moores Hill Blancs de Blanc, floral Stefano Lubiana Brut Rosé and sweet, briochey Freycinet Radenti, if not a Delamere sparkling.
“Finding a collection of sparkling wine of this nature is rare because of the dominance of corporate winemaking in the sector,” says Austin. “Tasmania is still a region of intrigue. There’s so much untapped potential here. It’s a really exciting time to be part of building the Tasmanian wine-industry story.”